Two Steps Forward . . .
"Honey, are you up? There's a call for you."
There's a call for me. I'm sorry, but is there one morning when I don't wake up with that pulse-jumping late-before-you-start feeling? Like I've forgotten something and by the time I remember it, it will be too late. I mean, could I have one day when I don't wake up wanting someone else's life? Someone who gets a lot more sleep than I do.
"Honey, are you awake?"
I fish my arm out from under the covers and try to focus on my watch. The latest must-have designer model, but I still can barely read the dial because God knows a watch isn't about time anymore but about making a statement. Like, I have the time. I squint at the dial. 5:30, I barely make out. That would be A.M. judging by all the light pouring in through the blue toile curtains lining the windows of what used to be my old bedroom before Amy talked Helen into letting her redo it as the guest room. I don't know which was more insulting, my kid sister wanting to erase all traces of me, or my mother letting her.
"Alex? Are you up?"
At 5:30 A.M.? I don't think so, except now I'm realizing that must be L.A. time, because in all the screwing around last night with the delayed flight out of LAX, which meant another delay in O'Hare before I finally landed in Philly at God knows what hour, I forgot to change my watch. So that means it's really-- I try to do the math and give up. Too fucking early.
"Mom," I say, or rather croak. "Can you just take a message?"
"Oh, you are up."
The bedroom door cracks open, and twenty years flies out the window. Amazing how that happens every time I come home. Instead of Alex Davidson, president of one of Hollywood's oldest publicity agencies--DWP-ED/PR; that's me, the second D--divorced but with a serious boyfriend who's about to meet my parents for the first time, I'm Alex Bradford, high school honors student with my kilts in the closet, an egg on the boil downstairs, and Mom at my bedroom door.
Mom. Even at this hour, she's perfect. Or rather, error-free. Silvery-blond hair neatly coiffed, crisp white shirt, slim trousers, flats. Imperturbable. Mary Tyler Moore would play her in the movie.
"I'm glad you're up, because there's a Jennifer Schwartzman or Schwarzkopf on the line."
"Yeah, I'm up," I say, struggling to sit up, rubbing my eyes and pushing my hair from my face. When I come to, Helen's handing me the receiver.
"She called me on your line?" I have a cell phone, an assistant with a cell phone, and an office back in L.A. with twenty-five different extensions, but Jennifer Schwartzbaum tracks me down at my parents'?
Helen shrugs. "She's already called three times."
"That's what she does, Mom," I say, reaching for the phone. "She calls me three times, ten times, when once would do."
Helen smiles one of her unreadable smiles and turns for the door. "I'll leave you to your call."
"Jennifer," I say, flopping back in bed.
"Alex, thank God I reached you."
I don't even bother asking. Her tone of voice is one decibel short of a 911 call, but given the cotton candy world swaddling Jennifer Schwartzbaum, a former exotic dancer and now bride-to-be of Jeffrey Hawker, the much-married, much-divorced star of the long-running drama Taskmaster; her problems, such as they are, tend to top out at "Collagen or Restylane?"
"What's up?" I say, stifling a yawn.
"Okay, so I was going over the print media list, and I see InStyle is the only magazine confirmed."
"Well, that's because--" I manage to get out before she cuts me off.
"Okay, but then the prototypes came in."
"Prototypes?" I say, racking my brain.
Jennifer sighs. "The gift bags!" she says so loudly I have to hold the phone away from my ear. "I mean, the Stila lip glosses are fine and the new Oliver Peoples sunglasses are fabulous and I totally love the new BCBG fragrance. But we have a serious problem with the garters."
"The garters?" I say, flaking for a moment. Oh, right, the garters. The traditional wedding favor, along with the cake slices wrapped for all eternity. Now that gift bags--or goody bags, if you live in New York--are de rigueur at every event, public and private, it had taken me a minute to remember this was an actual wedding, not a movie premiere or a charity gala.
"Yes, the garters," Jennifer snaps.
Okay! Still, how much can go wrong with a strip of elastic a half inch wide covered in ribbon? "Too big?" I say, sitting up in bed, trying to concentrate now. I hear her sigh, like I'm a complete dunderhead. "Too small?" I say, trying again, realizing I'm sounding like Goldilocks.
"The ribbon finish!" she hisses. "It's matte not sateen!"
I collapse back onto the bed. God knows, the gift bag matters. At some events, it's the only thing that matters. That and the WireImage photos. I should know. I'm a Hollywood event publicist. Known in some greedier circles as the Keeper of the Gift Bag. Like I'm a character in The Lord of the Rings, with a mysterious and enviable power to conjure swag from the air and bestow it on the deserving, perfumed, partygoing masses. Still, explaining the nuances of matte versus sateen, not to mention InStyle's bullying event coverage at 5:30 A.M. or whatever time it is, is going to take a lot more energy than this wizard has at the moment. At least before coffee. I sigh and punch the damage control button in my brain.
"Jennifer, that is a disappointment, but one, it can be fixed. Two, Steven is on top of the media coverage, and three, the gift bag is really something to bring up with him. He's the one handling the corporate outreach to, ah, our sponsors, as well as production of the garters."
I may be the agency's newest partner, president and account director for event planning or whatever title we've dreamed up for this jolly new service we at DWP-ED/PR now provide, but Steven, my former assistant and law school student for all of a semester until he realized how dull it was to actually sit in a law library, is the actual account executive. Aka the heavy lifter. The one who takes Jennifer's calls. Or depending on his mood, palms them off onto his assistant. And then there's Oscar. Our ace in the hole. A refugee from Colin Cowie's office with a bouncer's physique and Martha Stewart's organizational skills (preindictment), Oscar--aka Oscar Parties--is the hottest event producer in a town that does not lack for hot event producers.
In fact, event production is the latest Hollywood career du jour. First it was personal trainers. Then publicists. Then stylists. Now it's event producers. Even by Hollywood's normally lax standards for self-reinvention, the bar is inordinately low. Anyone who ever threw themselves a birthday party where people weren't too drunk to remember it the next day has hung out a shingle. Club promoters. Maitre d's. Interior decorators. Bored housewives. Heiresses. They've all joined Hollywood's newest growth industry.
And why not? God knows, it's not every town where someone just hands you a check for half a million to throw a party. And hands it to you every year. Because if there's any rule of thumb these days, it's this: stars come and go, movies come and go, series come and go, but the parties--the endless roundelay of premieres, benefits, awards shows, product launches, weddings, and bar mitzvahs--go on and on. An endless trail of gift bags yearning to be filled. Which means every publicity agency in town has opened an event planning division to cash in on the trend. Which is why, as the agency's head event publicist, I'm on the phone with Jennifer Schwartzbaum, listening to her ream me out about garter ribbons at God knows what time it is.
"Alex," Jennifer purrs, changing tactics. "I know Steven is on it, but I don't like it when I can't reach you."
I close my eyes. I'm out of the office for not even twenty-four hours, her wedding's not for another three weeks, and already she's hunting me down? No wonder no one wants to handle actors. All that hand-holding, 24/7. And that doesn't even include the members of their posses, which in Jeffrey's case are in the high double digits. Starting with Jennifer (who has her own posse) and ending up with his AA sponsor. Or maybe it's the other way around.
"Jennifer," I say, trying not to sigh audibly. "You have our office number, you have my cell number. You have Steven's cell. You even have Oscar's office number as well as his cell. I don't have another number to give you."
"Well, obviously there was one or I wouldn't be talking to you now."
Actually, how the hell did she get this number? Steven would never have given it to her. "Actually, how did you get this number?" I say.
"Your assistant gave it to me when I told her you weren't answering your cell phone."
Figures. Caitlin. Or Kaitlyn, or however she spells her name to distinguish herself from the other million Caitlin/Kaitlyns who've descended on L.A. in the past year, one of whom took up residence just outside my office. I'll deal with her later. Right now I have to get Jennifer and her gift bag issues down from the ceiling and off the phone.
"Jennifer, it's Labor Day weekend, and actually, what time is it out there?" I say, trying to focus on my watch again.
"I know it's early, but I had to talk to you."
"We are talking."
"Jennifer." I sigh. "I'm in a suburb outside of Philadelphia, and I will be here for at least three more days. Either you can talk to me now or we can meet when I get back to L.A."
"I'm putting the garters in FedEx," she says, and I can tell by her tone she's accomplished her mission. Made her problem officially my problem. "Call me when you get them."
"Fine," I say, my only thought to end this conversation and start the day--ostensibly one of my only days off--over again. Maybe even catch another hour of sleep.
I look up. Helen, at the door with a tray carrying, if I'm not mistaken, a boiled egg.
"Well, I certainly hope you can take some time while you're here to relax."
"Mom," I say, taking another hit of coffee, "I'm totally relaxed."
I've made it as far as the kitchen. Not dressed and my hair in a ponytail, mascara smudged under my eyes, but I'm here, sitting at the old pine table in my old plaid flannel robe drinking coffee from one of our old Royal Doulton mugs while Helen tidies up the already surgically clean counters.
"Well, you know what I mean," she says, leaning against the counter and crossing her arms and eyeing me like she used to, like I'm pretending to be sick to get out of going to school. "It just seems that ever since you got that big promotion of yours, all you do is work. I mean, how can it be that you spend half your time in New York--"
"Mom, I don't spend half my time in New York," I say, flopping back in the chair. "I just go there more frequently now on business."
"I only meant that we're less than two hours away, and somehow we've never met Charles."
She has me there. Charles Evers, my former boss and now copresident at the agency--the E of DWP-ED/PR--and more important, my boyfriend, lives in Manhattan and where I technically live when I'm in town from L.A. Somehow, and I'm still not sure how this happened, but he--we--have never crossed paths with my parents until this weekend.
I mean, how long has it been--three years, plus or minus--that Charles and I have been together, although frankly, how does one carbon-date these things anymore? First time you sleep together? First time you go out? First time you start talking to each other regularly on the phone, telling each other things that you realize you are not telling anyone else?
It gets even trickier when you work together. As Charles and I technically did. Still do. I mean, when I started at DWP's New York offices God knows how many years ago, Charles was the agency's most senior publicist, just one notch below the three founders. More to the point, he was the agency's only good-looking heterosexual male under the age of sixty. Given how gay and female the publicity world is, he didn't even have to be good-looking to get noticed. Just a Brooks Brothers shirt, rep tie, and his slightly mussed, slightly graying hair would have done it.
Not that I really noticed. Not back then, when I was a newly divorced, newly minted junior publicist running around like a maniac just trying to learn the job. It wasn't until I made the leap out to L.A., got promoted to senior publicist, and the whole agency became ensnared in a very brief, very nasty little takeover coup with a rival agency, which caused Charles and me, together with our boss, Suzanne Davis, the original D of DWP-ED/PR, to band together and fight off the interloper, that I realized he was such a stand-up guy. And he liked me. There's always that Sally Field moment when you realize, no matter what your feelings are, nothing's going to happen until the guy decides he really likes you. Or at least is into you enough to ask you out. More than once.
So despite the fact that Charles still lives in N.Y.C. and I still live in L.A., we're an item. Or as much of an item as you can be when you're 2,800 miles apart. Which is most of the time, frankly. I mean, back when we started officially going out, I thought we'd be living together by now. Somewhere, somehow, we'd have a place together. Of course, back when I was at Brown, I thought I'd be married and have two kids by the time I was twenty-six. Still, I thought Charles and I were at least headed in that direction. But somehow it's never been the right time. Or the right place. Or the right something. So now we spend most of our time on the phone, in e-mail, or via Charles's favorite mode of expression, his BlackBerry. Am I the only girl in the modern world who's fallen asleep staring at I(tm)U on her BlackBerry, rather than having the sender in bed next to her? Cyber-love. Who knew?
Excerpted from The Gift Bag Chronicles by Hilary de Vries. Copyright © 2005 by Hilary De Vries. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.