Wannabe: A Hollywood Survival Guide
By Rick Cipes
I came to Hollywood “seeking,” but contrary to the popular trend, I came seeking something other than showbiz entirely. Since I was a little boy, I always wanted to make a name for myself in the field of restaurants. Specifically, I came to Hollywood with aspirations of becoming a waiter. I don’t want to be rich and famous, I want to serve the rich and famous.
I have been here for ten years now, and after six years of therapy, I understand where my need to become a waiter emanates from: I am still trying to gain approval from my parents. Because when I was growing up, the youngest of three siblings, I was never allowed to set the table nor serve the food. The one time I tried to set the table, I mixed up which side to put the knife and fork on. On the occasion I was allowed to serve, I dumped a plate of spaghetti and meat sauce on my mother’s white, chiffon dress. From that point forward, I was demoted to full-time supper guest, while my brother and sister got all the glory. Damn them. And damn my parents for being such perfectionists.
Sorry. Dr. Schwartz taught me that anger is not the healthy response, and through much hard work he has enabled me to see the light. I now accept that success is the best revenge (I even have the license plate frame to prove it). Before I am through in this town, I will demonstrate to my parents, and siblings ( both of whom are doctors), that I am the Culinary King of Hollywood. All the stars will ask for me by my first name: Schmedrick.
I don’t fool myself into thinking that I can just get off the bus and get a gig working at The Ivy without proper training. A waiter must be “prepared” before he meets “opportunity.” He must hone his craft like no other, so that when his one shining moment presents itself, he will be ready to light up the dining room.
I begin my noble path by designing a daily training regimen which consists of practical exercises, reading books (e.g. Waiting Tables For Dummies), and viewing inspirational videos. Some of the videos I favor are the Rocky and Karate Kid movies, Tony Robbins, and Norma Rae, because one day when I serve you, “you will love me.” A few of my exercises include: walking with a cook book on my head, which serves to improve my posture while I osmosisly absorb good culinary vibes; voice and diction practice ( “pee-pe-pa-po-poo” ) with a bone-prop in my mouth, ensuring that I won’t shower my future customers with spray; and practicing my smile in the mirror, until it is etched upon my face, all shiny and white like a synchronized swimmer when he comes up for air.
While in training, a waiter has to make sure he has no undue distractions. Therefore, I alert my family, and what few friends I have, that their calls and wishes will be addressed every Sunday night between 5 and 7 o’clock, Pacific Standard Time.
All inquiries from prospective employers should be handled immediately, and rarely do I leave the house per chance they might call. That means no going on holidays or weekend getaways, as it has always been said in Hollywood: Right when you leave, the phone will ring. I refuse to let this happen to me. As John Lennon said: “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”
A day job is an absolute necessity when pursuing a career in the restaurant field. I find one as a substitute school teacher. It allows me to work three to four days a week and still have time left in the day to go on interviews.
I also recommend finding a roommate so you can lighten your financial burden. My first roommate is an insurance salesman about my age who I have absolutely nothing in common with. This is the type of arrangement I suggest, as there is no practical value in wasting time being friends. (He is my friend as long as he pays his rent and bills on time.) One must sacrifice a great deal for their art, and suffering should be included as part of your plan. Van Gogh cut his ear off for his art. What would you do for yours?
My roommate is also very helpful because he allows me to practice my skills on him. I order out for food (of course he pays half) and when it arrives, I like to serve him, simulating a fancy dining experience. I take extra care to make sure the table is always set, and even take Polaroid’s of my perfect settings to send home to mom and dad, bless their scrutinizing hearts.
Once you build up confidence in your craft, it is imperative that you get out and do some schmoozing in order to build up your contact list. I always treat my fraternizing like it is the real thing, and make sure never to leave the apartment without first shaving (I use Edge Pro Gel for all out comfort), clipping and filing my nails, slicking my hair back (I prefer old fashioned dippity-doo), and dressing in a black pants/white button-down ensemble. ( I have fourteen sets so I only have to visit the cleaner every two weeks.)
I also carry a resume with me wherever I go, because you never know who you may run in to. (It does not matter if your resume is made up, as the only rule in Hollywood is that there are no rules.) All the credits on my resume are from off-off Restaurant Row in Manhattan, because you know what they say: If you can make it in New York…
Once out and about, I take extra care to walk up-right and proud, projecting myself in a dignified light. Slouching posture translates into one thing: lazy waiter.
I like to frequent the bars of the chic restaurants toward closing time, because these are where waiters and managers hang out while winding down from their shifts. For some odd reason, I am usually pegged as a “newbie,” and even when I offer to buy drinks for prospective connections they turn them down, often thumbing their noses up at me. I do not let this discourage me. If you want something badly enough, rejections are par for the course. And in Hollywood, one needs to have a thick skin as protocol is based on who can reject whom. Madonna was rejected by every man in town until she became a pop star. And now look at her credit list.
An aspiring waiter must also always be demonstrating his prowess. A favorite technique of mine is to hang-out in restaurants and spout out exotic food dishes to no one in particular. If someone overhears me and notices how confidently I speak of, say, an Escargots a la Bourguignon, they will recognize my worthiness and usually ask me that inevitable question: “Excuse me, sir, are you a waiter?” At which time I proudly respond: “Why, yes, thank you.” They most assuredly walk away impressed, and my confidence level rises one notch.
It is very important to understand, that early on in a career, you must toot your own horn (very loudly at times) in order to build up the mystique surrounding you. To be successful in Hollywood, you must believe in yourself to the point that your beliefs become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Case in point: One day I happen to be standing in line at a Taco Bell, just allowing fancy Mexican dishes to trip off my tongue like, “Pechuga suiza” and “Epazote y frijoles de olla” (neither of which they offer at Taco Bell), when the girl behind me asks if I am in the restaurant business. I tell her I most certainly am, but between establishments at the moment. I ask her if she is in the “biz” and she informs me that she is not, but has a cousin who is employed as a dog walker for Wolf Gang Puck. As a spiritual waiter I am a firm believer in signs, and see my opportunity staring me in the face. And because I am always prepared, I reach into my pocket and produce a resume.
My Taco Bell friend looks it over and is impressed enough to give it to her cousin so she can slip it to Sir Wolfgang Puck. This excites me a great deal, and when I return home I phone my parents to fill them in on the good news. They want to see proof. All in good time, I tell them. Hollywood was not built in a day. Neither was Spago.
All that is left for me to do is wait.
I don’t hear from her for over a week. And “Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” is not a rule that anyone who wants something badly enough should abide by. So I call her. Six, seven times. Always getting an answering machine. On the seventh try I decide to leave a message. Three days later my call is returned. (Yes, people’s phone behavior is atrocious in this town. But do not be discouraged! In the meantime, make other calls, lots of them.) She tells me she has good news and bad news. I ask for the good first. The good: Wolfgang Puck saw my resume! The bad: It was covered with dog-doo.
Apparently, one morning when her cousin is getting set to walk Sir Wolfgang Puck’s dogs, she leaves the resume on a desk while going to another room to phone her boyfriend. She is already a half-hour behind schedule, and the dogs must know it. A breeze from an open window blows the resume on to the floor, and it is there that one of Sir Wolfgang Puck’s dogs decides to comment on my career. (Everyone is a critic in this town.) When Sir Wolfgang Puck un-expectantly arrives a few minutes later, he steps right in it. The girl is dismissed and told she will never walk another dog in this town, and my big break goes right down the toilet.
When your career is in the toilet it is very important that you have a kind ear to listen to you. Even if it comes at the expense of one hundred-and-fifty dollars an hour.
My return engagement with Dr. Schwartz teaches me the principle of the Three P’s: Persistence, perseverance, and patience. He also instills in me the ability not to worry about what they are saying about me at the family functions I never attend. “Following my bliss,” he says, is not about pride, it is about passion. (Two more P-Principles I learn.) He also encourages me to try and find work within the restaurant industry, even if it means that I can’t be a waiter right off the bat.
I follow his advice, and while keeping my day job as a substitute teacher, I get several odd jobs on the outskirts of the “biz.” (I drive a truck for a catering company, roast weenies at a mobile hot dog stand, and even scoop ice cream at a 31 Flavors.) Being in my element only helps to build up my confidence.
Confidence that I would not otherwise posses sitting at home dreaming and talking about my career. Success in Hollywood is all about action. Where would Arnold Schwartznegger be if he sat around talking all day?
About six months ago I am fortunate enough to get a job busing tables at a California Pizza Kitchen, with the promise that if I do well, I will be promoted to a waiter position.
I work my tail off to ensure I will make a good impression on the management, and when it comes time for my monthly review, I am sure the waiter position is in my sights.
Much to my dismay, the manager dismisses me, citing over zealousness as the cause. The trauma transports me back to my childhood days, and I want to stab the man with the nearest knife-fork-spoon combination I can find. Then I remember one of Dr. Schwartz’s credos: “Everything happens for a reason,” and I refrain.
I turn my bus-boy apron in and am on the verge of heading out of the establishment when I hear someone calling my name. It is my old insurance salesman roommate, (who had moved out several years before). He is sitting at a table with an older gentleman, and when I walk over to say hello he congratulates me for getting what he knew I worked so long to achieve. I tell him that I have yet to make it to a waiter position, and fill him in on my being excused from my bus-boy chores. Both men are gracious in their show of empathy toward me, and by chance, the older gentleman hands me his business card and tells me to call him the following day, he might have something for me.
It never hurts to have connections. (Where would those other Baldwin brothers be without smart Alec?)
Two days later I arrive for an interview wearing my customary waiter outfit. Upon entrance to the office building, I see several other men sitting around a waiting room dressed just like myself. All appear very nervous. My confidence drops. I wonder how I stand a chance at getting employed, and am just turning to go when the gentleman pops his head out of an office door and ushers me right by everyone. I get several angry glares from the other waiting waiters, but I am in my eleventh and desperate hour and I cannot be swayed by guilt.
When I walk in the office I am surprised to see three other people sitting before me. I had prepared myself for anything, but the Food Firing Squad is a bit imposing. I am introduced by the gentleman and everyone just sits there staring at me. I feel awkward. I stand there waiting for questions, but not one comes my way.
After a few moments the jury starts to nod their heads in unison, and I think rejection is just a stones throw away. Much to my surprise, I don’t get stoned. They actually break out in a simultaneous smile which causes a current of a confidence to surge through my body. A few seconds later it happens: I gain their approval.
Three days later I am on my first film set playing the role of a waiter in a movie-of-the-week to be aired on the Lifetime Network. I now have my S.A.G. card, and have booked three more jobs since then, enabling me to quit my day job altogether.
It looks like I will have something to share with my parents at the next family function. If they’re lucky, maybe I will sign autographs. But don’t expect me to serve unless I am getting my day-rate.
Moral: A wannabe must always be open to any opportunity which may present itself.
Copyright©2001 Rick Cripes
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