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Authors: Heather H. Howard

Chore Whore

BOOK: Chore Whore
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Chore Whore

Adventures of a Celebrity
Personal Assistant

Heather H. Howard

Dedication

For my son, Cayman, you are my spark and light.

And to my precious mother, Patti Howard,
my wise sister, Melissa Howard,
and my big sis, Laura Caplan,
I love you and appreciate you all.

 

I have been used,
abused, lied about and cheated. I have been blamed, shamed, screamed at and ridiculed. I have been stabbed, robbed, followed and sprayed with tear gas. I have been rammed, scammed and damned. I have been jacked over, run over and flipped over. I've had my ass kissed, my reputation dissed, my foot pissed on, my leg come on and my face spat on. All in the name of working as a celebrity's personal assistant . . .
a chore whore.

Today is December 18,
Steven Spielberg's birthday. Although not formally declared a national holiday, in Hollywood, California, and its environs, it is celebrated as one. A wicked form of paralysis cripples the movie industry. Celebrities, producers, directors and musicians—in fact, anyone who is or wants to be indebted to Steven—is at wits' end. Fingernails are being chewed, hair is being torn out and smokers who have quit, resume.

I prepare all year for this day, taking notes every time a brilliant gift idea presents itself. However, with so many requests from my clients, I still get caught short.

The week leading up to his birthday I can't sleep due to the spinning wheels in my brain working overtime.

The stars who employ me typically procrastinate, waiting until the morning of December 18 to call, desperate for ideas on what present to give Steven that will make them stand out amongst all his other gift-givers. What do you get someone who has everything?

Call me practical, but I always first suggest that they donate to his favorite charity, the Shoah Foundation, which his former assistant, Bonnie, who has since climbed the rungs of Amblin Entertainment's ladder to procure a loftier title, personally told me he prefers.

“Fuck that!” my clients say. They want theirs to be exceptional, not just another donation. Forget that Shoah documents the stories of surviving Holocaust victims and all that dribble, they want to give him something he'll never forget . . . a present of such extreme uniqueness that it will stick in his mind when he's casting his next big feature, something guaranteed to set them apart from the crowd.

Combine the usual holiday madness with Steven's birthday and December becomes a time worthy of heart attacks and drug overdoses.

Every one of my clients has a long Christmas gift list of what to get other celebrities, agents, publicists, household staff and assistants, not to mention families and friends. They know their yearly limit of creativity will be spent on Spielberg's birthday present, so they allow themselves to fall into the “rut” of giving charity donations to all the other folks on their holiday gift list.

Giving to charities makes the stars feel good once a year, it's a tax deduction (so everyone gets into the act), it benefits the downtrodden and it's a cure-all for what to give the person who has everything.

It just won't do for Steven.

To avoid additional pressure and stress in December, I descend upon my stationer in October and have the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa cards done early. I also start calling everyone in my clients' Rolodexes to confirm addresses, names, spelling, babies born, birthdays, etc. This time of the year, it is not uncommon for me to come home to messages from Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Tom Cruise, Elizabeth Taylor, Don Johnson, Garry Shandling and Pamela Anderson—all confirming or giving a change of address. By mid-October the cards are printed in raised gold lettering with envelopes lined in silk. By Thanksgiving, several thousand envelopes have been carefully addressed. I hit the post office on December 1, hauling boxes of cards to be mailed out to addresses across the globe.

A typical preprinted gift card reads: “The [insert almost any last name in Hollywood] family is celebrating this holiday season [not “joyous season” because one wouldn't want to offend Hollywood's depressed] by donating a financial gift to [pick your charity—preferably one dealing with disease, children or the Democratic Party, if it's an election year] in your name [never specify whose]. We wish you bliss and peace in the upcoming year. All our love, [insert celebrity name].

The recipient of the card feels warm and fuzzy for three seconds, never suspecting the giver has donated $500 total to the charity, spent $2,200 on the preprinted gilded cards and has sent them to 1,000 people, donating exactly 50 cents per person. Now, that's a gift!

Eight days before Christmas, the busiest time of the year for me, and Lucy Bennett, a two-time Academy Award–winning actress, called last night wondering if I might be “available” to whip up a meal for a small, intimate dinner party she plans on having . . . tonight.

The small, intimate part doesn't bother me. The cooking on such short notice bugs me only slightly. It blends in with all the other anxiety I'm feeling right now. The guest list is the intimidating part. Cooking is a job requirement. All my clients know I love to cook, so over the years it has been incorporated as an aspect of my personal assistant job, just like taking their dog to the vet, answering their fan mail or doing their grocery shopping.

I've been Lucy's personal assistant for twenty years—way before her first Academy Award score and way before she had most of the friends she's now inviting over for dinner.

To celebrate Christmas and the upcoming Academy Award nominations, she wants to entertain ten of her closest pals—John Travolta and his wife, actress Kelly Preston; Melissa Etheridge; Courteney Cox Arquette and David Arquette; Meg Ryan; Laura Dern and her rock star honey, Ben Harper; director David Lynch and his woman, Mary.

To complicate the dinner and my life, Lucy has given me a list of what her friends will eat, won't eat, can eat and what they would prefer to eat. Meg doesn't like salmon and she's on a diet that dictates food according to her blood type. John and Kelly lead a preservative-free life. Laura's no vegetarian but she doesn't do red meat or dairy, and Ben likes chocolate. No, scratch that, loves chocolate, especially chocolate cake. Melissa is giving the Atkins Diet a try, Mary's on the Zone, and both Davids are sold on the South Beach. Courteney doesn't eat anything that “pumps, thinks, filters or scavenges”—in other words, no hearts, brains, liver, kidneys or crab. I think every last one of them should abandon their programs for one meal so I can figure out a menu without short-circuiting my brain cells.

I ask Lucy if it would be permissible to perhaps cater the dinner, or at least part of it, what with the short notice and all.

“No, sweetheart. We've done all the restaurants. Now we want feel-good food. Corki food.”

So, Corki-style food is what they're going to get.

I hit the 24/7 grocery store in West Hollywood at four-thirty in the morning to do my shopping for tonight's get-together. Even though Santa Monica Seafood typically opens at nine, I called my favorite fishmonger and he agreed to let me come in at six
A.M
. Bless him.

My son, Blaise, however, doesn't feel the same way. He prefers to sleep in. If we need to leave for school at seven forty-five
A.M
., he wants to be awakened at seven-thirty. Waking him up at four o'clock in the morning to go grocery shopping, of all things, is akin to the worst torture humanly possible. He informs me that sleep deprivation may be a tactic allowed by the Geneva Convention for prisoners of war, but this is our home and it's a peaceful one at that, so can he please get some more sleep?

Blaise is ten years old with an I.Q. higher than mine. At five foot seven he is only one inch shorter than me and on a good day is mistaken for my little brother rather than my son. He is the duplicate of his father, with caramel-colored skin and light curly hair that is as unruly as he.

Amidst his blond starter-kit dreadlocks is a patch of even blonder hair smack dab on the back of his head. His brown features are exquisite topped off by piercing blue eyes—an oddity in “half-castes,” as an Israeli friend of mine stated. I can only wonder what relative amongst our antecedents had the piercing baby blues—his father's Eastern Caribbean background or my Jamaican and English background?

As I squeeze clementine tangerines for the juice, in which I will cook the salmon (sorry, Meg) and lobster (sorry, Courteney), I am on the phone with Pasquale Shoe Repair, the creators of Dorothy's ruby slippers, asking when Nicolas Cage's rattlesnake jacket will be deemed water-resistant.

I don't work for Nic but my celebs love to “loan me out” to their friends. “You need what? That little doohickey that takes the bubbles out of champagne? And your assistant can't find it? Let me call Corki. She's been with me for twenty years. Corki can find anything.” I still secretly revel in the fact that Tommy Lee Jones and folk singer Leonard Cohen called me a genius on the same day for securing hard-to-find items for them—during pre-Internet days.

The call-waiting tone beeps. I hang up with Pasquale after arranging to pick up the jacket later.

“Hello, this is Corki.”

“Hi,” comes the husky British trademark voice of rock and roll music on the other end of the line, “this is . . .” He doesn't need to say. I know who it is.

“How can I help you?”

“I just did a song for Spielberg's latest film and am struggling with what to get him for his special day. I spoke with Slash—you know him, right?”

“Of course!” I say as I continue to squeeze clementines.

“Well, he obviously knows you, too. He recommended that I call. Said you'd know what to do. I need something today!”

“Yeah, this is a yearly problem. How much are you looking to spend?”

“Doesn't matter. Whatever will do the job,” he says.

“Knowing that all you get as a tax write-off is twenty-five dollars?” I ask.

“I don't give a fuck if I can only write off one dollar.”

“Okay! You're aware that I don't give out my services for free, right? Did Slash tell you my fee?” I inquire as I wash my hands.

“No, and I don't care. I just want something memorable given to him as a gift.”

“Fine, I'll come up with something memorable. Now, I hate to say this, but you have a reputation amongst assistants for not paying your bills, so I'll have to be paid up front. I can include my fee on the credit card you'll be using to pay for the gift. It will be sixty dollars.”

The line is silent. I still hear him breathing, so I know he hasn't hung up, he's just been insulted, is all.

“You still there?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says after a long pause.

“Don't be offended, it's just that I'm a working woman. I'm a widow with a ten-year-old to feed and I've been screwed over before. I just can't afford for that to happen anymore. Would you still like to use my services?'

“Yes. That's fine.”

He gives me his credit card number, his formal name as it appears on his card, and the expiration date. He also tells me how the gift card should read and gives me a return number to tell him the amount and delivery time.

As I prepare to cut the leeks for tonight's gratin, I glance at the lobsters in the pail on my kitchen floor trying, in vain, to escape. This gives birth to an idea. I dial the number to Almor Liquor on Sunset Boulevard in the heart of Hollywood.

“Mary? It's Corki! Merry Christmas!”

“To you as well!” she says.

“Mary, I know this is last minute, as always, but is it possible to get a gift over to Universal Studios today by five?” I inquire.

“For Spielberg's birthday?” she asks.

“Gee, how did you know?”

“During his birthday week I sell and deliver a ton of champagne. In fact, I only sell more on New Year's Eve.”

“Well, here's my idea. Can you do an All-Clad lobster pot with two live, banded lobsters, a fabulous wine, some clarified butter and decorated with maybe netting, lemons, limes, the like?” I inquire, crossing my fingers.

“Hmmm. Nice idea. I just got in a great vintage, a '95 white burgundy. It's a Chassagne-Montrachet. The wine alone, though, will be a couple hundred.”

“Doesn't matter,” I state emphatically. “And when you're done calculating, will you add sixty dollars to the credit card so I can be paid? I told him I'd bill him that way and he said it was fine.”

I give Mary all the pertinent information and it is done. I can almost bet that Steven has never received live lobsters before. I ponder for a moment, wondering if he'll even eat lobster, since they don't have fins or scales and he is Jewish. Then I think of the rumor I heard that he doesn't drink . . . even wine. But, I decide, it's not the gift that matters; it's the uniqueness of the gift. This is what my caller wanted, after all—something that would stand out—and he got it.

I'm due at Lucy's house
to start cooking at five-thirty. My friend Shelly said she'd watch Blaise for the evening if I'd agree to pick up her daughter, Star, and niece, Eden, from school along with him. Fortunately, they're all in the fifth grade together and the best of friends. It is ten-thirty now and before I pick them up I have so many errands to run, I don't know how I can possibly finish them all. First, I have to go Los Angeles International Airport to clear a shipment of perfume through customs.

Daisy Colette, film star and now director/producer, has designed her own individual perfume line to give as one-of-a-kind Christmas gifts. The shipment was delayed in Paris, and unless I personally go down today and clear it, the perfume will not arrive in time to wrap and deliver before half her friends leave for a week of skiing in Aspen. And then I have to pick up Nic's coat and grocery shop, another last-minute request from actor Jock Straupman.

BOOK: Chore Whore
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