Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"Story of a Writer - Part Twenty-Nine B"

We filmed six episodes of Lateline in Los Angeles. I believe I worked full time on those. We then filmed thirteen additional episodes in New York. On those, I served as a consultant, reading drafts of scripts e-mailed to me in Los Angeles, and making suggestions for ways of making them better. It turned out, however, that Lateline’s creators, Al Franken and John Markus wanted a greater participation from me. They therefore proposed an additional element to my job.

What they offered me was a schedule, wherein I would fly to New York during Lateline's hiatus weeks – every third week of production – and work full time, helping revise already written scripts, as well as co-writing original scripts with Al and John.

There would be six trips in all, ranging from nine to sixteen days in length. I’d be flown to New York First Class – with limo service to and from the airport – be put up at the Trump International Hotel, directly across from Central Park, and all my expenses would be covered.

I said I would do it.

You know what? I’ll talk about the work tomorrow. Today, it’s the perks.

Flying First Class. Ample legroom. Ice cream sundaes. And a cookie when you land. You also get to see famous people enjoying the same treatment as you are. (Which, inverted, to highlight the significance, means you’re enjoying same treatment as famous people.) I once saw Minnie Driver giving Matthew Modine a soothing foot massage. I had the faint hope that Minnie would be moving about the cabin, dispensing soothing foot massages to all of us. But no. It was just Matthew Modine.

The Trump International is, or at least was a decade or so ago, a hotel where famous people were put up, primarily so they could avoid the crowds. The building itself was unimposing. (Though “The Donald” might disagree.) No oversized lobby, it was not particularly showy on the outside (as compared, say, to the Waldorf Astoria). The Trump looks like a building of condos – half the building actually is condos. It’s also where they put people up who’ve been brought to New York for extended work stays, and the “they”, whoever “they” are, are paying.

Denzel Washington was there when I was there. Mike Tyson. And the hot teenie-bopper group of the day, Hanson. Although the venue was meant to insure privacy, the word had clearly gotten out, resulting in rotating teams of thirteen year-old girls, huddled across the street, on “Twenty-four hour Alert”, ready to report to the faithful, and scream rapturously, at the first glimpse of a “Hanson Sighting.” I’d emerge from the front door to looks of extreme pubescent disappointment.

The Trump International is a suites hotel. Every unit includes a living room, bedroom and a kitchen. There was no room service, although you could order up from the five-star restaurant on the ground floor. I avoided doing that, because it was ludicrously expensive, and not covered by my deal. Once I splurged and ordered a lemon tart. I believe it was twenty-two dollars.

I like hotel rooms with their own kitchens. Having a kitchen means you don’t have to go out for every meal. And when you order in, there’s a fridge available for storing the leftovers. In my situation, there was yet another bonus.

I was there over Thanksgiving, and Dr. M and Anna flew in for the long weekend. Taking advantage of the kitchen, after purchasing the appropriate cookware, Anna, then in her teens, proceeded to produce a perfect pumpkin pie and a chocolate-pecan pie, which she presented to the Frankens, our hosts for that year’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Sometimes, I’d run into famous people at the Trump. One evening, heading out to dinner, I found myself sharing an elevator with Denzel Washington, dressed in sweats, and heading for the hotel’s basement gym to work out. (Denzel needed to be in shape, as he was shooting Hurricane at the time, playing a character who had once been a top middleweight boxer.) I offered that it took a lot of discipline to go exercise at that time of the day. Denzel agreed.

“I’d rather be going out for a steak and a glass of wine,” he lamented.

We reached the Ground Floor. As I stepped out of the elevator, I turned back to Denzel and I said,

“I think I’ll have that.”

And I left him to his exercising.

The Trump International was extremely security conscious. When I had Chinese food brought in, the “Front Desk” always called upstairs to see if I’d ordered Chinese food, fearing, perhaps, or at least making sure, that the man carrying steaming bags of Chinese-smelling ingredients had not actually come there to kill me, or to snap my picture for the tabloids. I always appreciated their concern.

Was the arrangement perfect? Almost. One problem, however, did arise.

During a couple of my extended stays, I had availed myself of the hotel’s laundry service. This, it turned out, set off huge alarm bells at the studio.

Upon returning to L.A., I was ordered to present myself immediately to the office of the Paramount’s President of Television. When I got there, I was confronted by an agitated President of Television holding a serious-looking memo.

Apparently, my laundry expenses had been the hot topic of the studio’s most recent “budget meeting.” My hotel laundry bill – I actually knew this already, but I wasn’t paying, so “So what?” – was obscenely high. Setting aside the important issue of filmmaking, it was decided that, from now on, I’d be required to take my laundry to the local Dry Cleaners.

Which, on my following visit, I did.

The next day, I picked up my laundry from a Dry Cleaners’ a couple of blocks from the hotel. Tearing open the wrapping, upon returning to my room, I discovered that all my underwear had been shrunk to a size suitable only for very small Vietnamese children. I had to throw everything away.

The hotel’s laundry prices may have been exorbitant, but when you factor in the bill for replacement underwear, and it was pretty much – you should pardon the expression – a wash. I did not, however, charge the studio. Who needs to be the topic of another budget meeting?

The Lateline job conditions were a dream come true. I had always wanted to live in a hotel, ever since I saw “Paladin” do it on Have Gun – Will Travel. When I checked out for the last time, I gave everyone who’d been helpful to me during my multiple visits an appreciative tip. The Trump International had made an indelible impression on me.

A half a dozen years later, when I was visiting New York for Anna’s graduation from college, I asked if we could stroll by the Trump for old-time’s sake, and Anna agreed. As we passed the hotel, the doorman, who resembled the actor David Schwimmer, called out,

“Hello, Mr. Pomerantz. You haven’t been around for a while.”

Though hardly its most celebrated visitor, I had apparently made an impression on the Trump International as well.


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