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I am anonymous. And I am still afraid.
My fear did not begin when I sat down, trembling, looking over my shoulder, to write this. Nor will it end when I push SEND from the secret Gmail account that bears no resemblance to my name or place of employment. This is a town without pity. And I am always afraid. So are you, I bet. Because they may call you a lot of things when they talk about you, but dumb isn’t one of them. And I’m certainly as smart as you are. Even if I’m not, I’m probably more affluent. And I didn’t get where I am today by exposing myself, at least in public.
That’s why I intend to say nothing in this letter. Oh, there’s a lot I could say! But I won’t. Suppose somebody found out? When they get a lever into you, you can kiss your butt goodbye. Look what happened to Jeff Zucker. Guy announces he’s out. And boom. You can almost hear the locals dancing in the light of their digital bonfires, chanting and pounding their tweets in exultation. Until five minutes ago, he was everybody’s baby boy. That’s what happens in this burg. The wildebeest with the funky foot is always the first one eaten. But I don’t have to tell you, do I? If you’re reading this magazine, you’re already on the list of people who frighten me.
Take agents. You could say a whole bunch of invidious mucilage about them, if you were feeling like moving back to Des Moines. They never pick up a check, for one thing. In any other culture, that would qualify an individual for a lifetime of lunch at his desk. I once saw an agent from a huge, wealthy monolith pat his $2,500 suit all over and then, with a grin, tell a table of writers: “Gee, boys. Looks like I’ve forgotten my wallet.” It was he who ordered the aggressive little Zin, too, at $450 a bottle. And you know what? I don’t think he forgot his wallet, either. I think he was just sticking it to a bunch of squirrels who collectively earned the price of his Maserati. Which is why I’m not going to tell you what agency he worked for, though I will reveal — if further verisimilitude is needed — that he was dressed all in gray. Suit. Tie. Shoes. Face, even.
That’s all I’m going to say, even if you sit me down and push all my cuticles back very roughly, the way they do in low-end Vietnamese manicure places on Ventura. That’s because that same agent very well could come back from the serious reverses he’s experienced lately and be just as dangerous and obnoxious as he always was.
Or network executives. Oh sure, they look like a bunch of milquetoasts, but in private you never saw such a bunch of raptors. Most people have some level of schadenfreude. That’s pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. These guys also have gluckschmerz. That’s sadness derived from the success of others. This leads to some interesting behavior. Like, while they do root against their enemies, as most folks do, nothing really makes these guys happier than the failure of their friends. Every few years or so, one of them bites the dust. You should see the scramble to, you know, commiserate with the ousted dude. One time, I remember, this one executive was scheduled to be shot at dawn. All this guy’s pals found out he was toast the night before, when it was leaked. At which point all his “friends” in the business had a race to see who was going to be the one who got to break the news to him. The guy who won reached the victim at sunrise, right before the news broke in the trades. That winner, by the way, was himself hosed from his network job a couple of years later. Both are doing well now, in smaller gigs. And it could hurt me if they found out I was talking about them. So I’m not.
Studio heads? They make the network suits look like the Dalai Lama. They’re extremely sensitive, it’s super-easy to offend them, and then whoa, Nellie.* They’ve got memories as long as a herd of pachyderms and fangs as sharp as Bill O’Reilly‘s. They wait in their exotic, plush lairs, licking their wounds, festering over some injury or other inflicted long ago by who knows what or where. The perfect time arrives. Perhaps it’s an industry dinner, where gossip abounds. Or a phone call from a helpful blogger in search of daily prey. Or a business deal that could make or break a career. Then, without fear of retribution or even muted criticism … they strike! Their bite is almost always fatal. I’m not taking any chances with them, either.
I don’t have a whole lot of time. My boss could come in at any moment, and I will have to pretend I’m playing Farmville. But I would be remiss indeed if I didn’t make sure that I do not offend the writers and editors who cover us first and ask questions later. The good news is that a lot of them are choosing to quit their real jobs and go online, where they will be about as much a part of the national dialogue as Howard Stern became when he went over to the satellite. Until they’re all out of the newspaper and magazine business, I will simply exercise the better part of valor, which is discretion.
So much fear. So little time. Showrunners. Successful actors and their press agents. Crazy money men looking for a place to park their assets. Moguls. And assistants! God help us! Assistants! You ever try to get on the phone with Mr. Roover if Lance doesn’t like the way you address him when you call? Forget about it. Hi, Lance! How’s it going? Glad to hear it!
Have a nice day, all of you. I’m gone.
*Just an expression; not relating to any real Nellies.
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