On a Wednesday when I worked in Beverly Hills I had no clients and decided to hang out, smoke some weed and set into a little home project I had been putting off: a desk that needed assembly.
The box had sat in our condo storage area for months and today was the day. The pot would make the bland experience interesting.
I ripped open the box in the bright sun-warmed section of the living room rug and placed the hunks of wood-like pieces in a circle, biggest to smallest. Now it was time to get my groove going.
I stuck a fragrant bud in my green acrylic bong and, exhaling smoke, I picked up the instructions. The first instruction was to gently yet firmly attach four of the grooved wooden pegs into the pre-drilled holes on the sides of the eight or ten pieces.
The exact number of the pegs was included with no extras. This meant that if I broke one it could result in the entire desk being off kilter and then good luck trying to return it to the office supply store. I sat and watched myself lugging a riot of right angles into the store with dismissive Hispanic employees wordlessly daring me to ask for their assistance.
Mexican food, I hungered for heaps of saucy enchiladas and Chile rellenos. Piles of steaming salted hot tortilla chips leapt into bright-red salsa.
My stomach gurgled as I sat sprawled on the carpet with my brain flying, quite a productive twenty minutes so far. I crawled to the kitchen to chow down for the next five.
While I devoured cashews, pickles and leftover pasta I tried to get excited about my furniture project: Once I get going with it this will be really fun, how great to lose myself in the process, I just had to get to that losing part.
I shouted to no one, cashew particles flying out of my mouth.
“I can do this, and I can do it well!”
I shoved a final handful of food in and marched over to the CD player.
This called for disco music, rife with high fructose energy and sexual innuendo. As the base beat thrummed I snatched the bag of grooved pegs and ripped them open.
I stuck them in their destined slots to the beat of “Hotline.” (“Hotline hotline…calling on the hotline…for your love for your love” (clap clap). Then I moved on to step two. This involved hammering metal screws that would act as receptacle slots for the legs. I swung the legs around like a tube-topped dance partner and screwed them in with cruel force.
My universe consisted solely of the next step on the instruction sheet, the pumping of the dance beat, checking my work and then off to the next step. An hour into it I could see the finish line- a few minor details and the desk would be done. I took a couple more puffs and began another round of munchies when the phone rang. It could have been work calling to say someone made an appointment for today or it could be my Mother wanting to check in so I sat and screened. My cousin Terri’s voice anxiously inquired if I were there. I pushed speakerphone.
“Hey, so you are home! I called your work and they said you didn’t come in, what are you up to?”
“Uh, finishing up a desk.”
“A desk. (Proudly) I put it together.”
“Oh, I’m in a tight spot here and I’m not far from your house, are you available?”
I braced myself for what might come next. I loved my cousin but the last time I heard that tone in her voice her she needed “background” for a cheesy vampire movie she was in charge of casting extras for, many of who did not turn up. The shoot was a party scene around a pool in casual clothes with forty other schmoes. The no-budget production took nearly all night and the only food on hand was potato chips and a few warm orange sodas. I had dragged along my other half and a couple of our friends:
“Oh c’mon it’ll be fun!”
And I got verbally abused from all three of them for a year, but Terri was family. She continued her pitch.
“It’s nothing like “Bleed Brothers” trust me. I’m on a dubbing stage in Santa Monica. I booked four atmosphere actors and one didn’t show up. All you need to do is walk around and talk with the others for some scenes, ya know small talk stuff and they’ll insert it into the film. It’s a legit movie and you’ll get paid, can you come…like, now?”
My stoned brain swirled: nearby & make a few bucks doing nothing.
I blasted the disco CD in the car during the ten-minute drive and savored my day. I had almost finished creating a functional, even impressive. piece of furniture and I was to get paid for mulling about for a halfway decent Hollywood production. Very high and happy I screamed along with The Village People’s “In the Navy” and turned it down when I pulled up to the guard at the gate. I forced myself to refrain from channeling Kate Hepburn kindly engaging one of the little people.
I parked the car and squirted my glazed eyes with Visine. Entering the reception area a tired looking security guard asked my name and had me sign in. I did so and tried not to breathe out too much ganja breath. He pointed to a door and said to go in quietly.
It was a huge darkened room with five men hunched over a vast computer board covered with levers and switches. In front of them a movie-theatre sized screen showed a scene of two men trying to break into an apartment. I waited till someone whispered
“Are you Michael?”
And was directed to cousin Terri located somewhere in the dark. I unsteadily made my way dodging cables and table legs paranoid I’d trip and bring production to a halt. Finally I found Terri and her band of voice talent huddled like the Von Trapps hiding at the convent. She shushed me even before I said anything.
“Quiet…touchy director on premises!” She whispered.
“Is there any other kind?” I whispered back.