Wednesday, May 6, 2009


I worked at Universal Studios for eight years and four months. During that time I had three personal assistants.

The first assistant was Marti, an energetic pepperpot with spiky hair. When I arrived at my office the first day, Marti was sitting there. I didn’t have furniture yet. But I already had Marti.

She told me the job had been posted and, rather than waiting to be interviewed for it, she just walked in and sat down. The agreement was, “If you don’t like me, you can throw me out”, although, traditionally, agreements are arrangements that are mutually arrived at. Marti had worked this one out herself.

Marti remained my assistant for two years, after which she moved on to Disney, where they created a new dwarf specifically for her –


My last assistant was Beverly. Beverly was as capable as they come. She was especially skillful at proofreading, which was extremely valuable, since I frequemtly nake misnake4s.

Beverly’s other noteworthy attribute is that she and I were born on the same day. Not just we have the same birthday, we were born on exactly the same day. Years later, she reliably sends me a birthday card on our birthday. Usually with a dog on it. I send her one back. Usually with an Indian on it.

As mentioned, Marti and Beverly were my first and last assistants.

In the middle, there was Astrid.

Astrid would giggle provocatively at that statement.

“I don’t remember being in the middle of Marti and Beverly.”

If you’re just skimming, here’s the most important thing you need to know about Astrid. She always called me “My Prince.” (Astrid worked for my friend, Paul, before coming to me. When she did, she called Paul “My Prince.” It may not have been personal, but it was still really nice.)

Astrid was a diminutive English cream puff, with a lilting voice and white, wavy hair. You could easily imagine her as a conscientious street warden during “The Blitz”, reminding the citizenry to keep their “blackout” drapes shut, and that loose lips sink ships. Always firmly. But always with a twinkle.

Astrid was the last of the “secretaries.” She had been one for nearly thirty years, and showed no desire to be anything else. In keeping with the English tradition, she seemed comfortable with her “station in life”, choosing to excel at what she did, rather than using her position as strategic steppingstone in her master plan to take over the studio. It was extremely refreshing.

Besides being highly capable at her job (which she believed included bringing me a cup of tea and a biscuit every morning on a bone china cup and saucer), Astrid also had the characteristics of a bloodhound (or, more respectfully, a Scotland Yard detective.) Whenever I asked her to find some obscure person I needed to talk to for some reason, Astrid’s unswerving response was, “If he lives, I shall find him.” Minutes later, Astrid would “buzz” me, announcing that Mr. or Ms. Obscure Person was waiting on the line.

In the past, Astrid had, on occasion, been recruited for a specialized sideline activity. Because of her delicate hands and exquisite penmanship, producers would call for her services when filming the writing of love letters or suicide notes in movies and miniseries. While others, watching obscure “bit” players in classic movies, like to play “Name That Actor”, I find myself engaged in a more specific game called, “Are Those Astrid’s Hands?”

If fingers could wink, I would know for sure.

In a soap opera only life could create, there was this middle-aged English handyman at Universal who fit the widowed Astrid perfectly. But, alas, Larry was unavailable. The two settled for an “office marriage”, sipping tea on his daily visits, and connecting like a couple who’d been together for years.

When Astrid retired, she decided to return to England. She took her six cats with her, one of which lacked the traditional allotment of legs. Relocating in Northumberland, near the Scottish border, Astrid dutifully drove a substantial distance every day to visit her kitties in Edinburgh, where they remained in quarantine for six months.

We used to talk around Christmas and my birthday, but lately, the connection has faded. I’d like to say, “If she lives, I shall find her.” But that wasn’t me. It was her.

I hope she lives. And lives happily. In fact, I decree it.

I can do that, you know.

I’m a prince.


Ian said...

Yet again, Earl, another wonderful piece of writing. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Earl... what a nice way to start the day.
Anonymous Brian

growingupartists said...

That's so sweet! I hope Astrid finds you again, and is well.

A. Buck Short said...

Wonderfully touching -- and equally delightful strategic understatement. I hope Astrid and her ménagerie à six are enjoying life in St. Ives.

Joe said...

That was really touching and sweet!

UncleWalty said...

what a sweet little story. Neato :-)