I recently got a new job. I've been hired as a coexecutive producer on my own TV show for ABC. Except for a brief period around age seven when I thought that, because my dad traveled a lot for business, if I were a stewardess I would see him on the plane, this job is what I've always wanted. It never even crossed my mind in all these years of wanting, however, that this job would be really, really hard. Maybe I'm just looking for company in my misery, but I can't help thinking President Clinton must have felt the same dull thud of reality on or about January 27 (it takes about a week to sink in).
I realize it's not exactly the same thing. If I screw up, then at 9p.m. on Saturdays TV viewers will watch the new show where Beau Bridges is a rancher. If Clinton screws up, thousands of voters will turn to Perot, the economy will be destroyed with simple country know-how, and civil rights will be a notion of the past.
Still, our jobs aren't exactly apples and oranges. We were both hired as outsiders. We both have big desks. I've never had to put up with Perot, but in concert I've had drunken, stupid hecklers.
One news broadcast recently had the nerve to say that Perot's approval ratings were up. Approval? For what? He's not in office. God, I hate this guy. He's such a con artist. He's Harold Hill from The Music Man without the charm--only if he were president we'd never even see the band uniforms. I've begun to blame him for problems in my personal life. I can burn toast and reason, "This wouldn't happen if that moron Perot would climb back under his massive pile of cash."
I worry that having practically the same job as Clinton has made me lose my objectivity, but I can't help having empathy for the guy. We're both trying to create something new within a stubborn old structure, while the press cracks wise a tad prematurely. There was a blurb in TV Guide the other day predicting that my show will fail. My show is in development; there's not even a script yet. Why would even a critic criticize something that doesn't exist? It's like seeing a sonogram and saying the baby's ugly. Clinton was barely in office before we started nailing him--and we elected him, for Christ's sake. It's not like he was forced on us by a hostile foreign body. What's the point? Why not just hit ourselves on the head?
Saturday-night prime-time television has been dead for years. I only hope that I am not blamed for that pre-existing state of affairs as swiftly as Clinton has been held accountable for the economy. It took twelve long years for the Republicans to drive up the deficit, and now Bob Dole can stand on the Senate floor with pointer and chart and claim that the Republicans can reduce the deficit better than Clinton can, without raising taxes. Apparently they had this plan all along, but only recently got hold of a pointer and a chart. If some network guy ever comes to me with a pointer and a chart, I will flip out.
I realize the president's probably too busy to form a support group with me, but I think it would really help if once a week I could embrace him and weep openly about staffing. I haven't been good at this at all.
One of the first people we hired was a young receptionist. She answers the phone like she's doing time. A friend who called me at the office said that when he asked, "Is Paula there?" the helpful reply was, "Paula who?" Clinton has it a little easier here. If someone calls and asks, "Is the president in?" the receptionist doesn't really need to know the first name.
I wash the coffee cups at the office so that my employees won't use paper ones. I've begged them to recycle, reuse, and conserve, and they pay me almost no mind. My show may be a one-season failure, but it's not gonna destroy the earth on the way down. Clinton may have it easier here, too: one of the things I would hope Al Gore will bring to the vice presidency is a first-rate office recycling program.
I notice that when immediate problems keep me from the work I feel most comfortable doing (thinking of funny things and saying them), I tend to stress out and focus on decorating the office. If, say, the researchers on the show are repeatedly bringing me the wrong type of information, the highly recommended writers I interview for an hour don't seem to understand a word I say, and ABC executives are on their way over to see some ideas, I'll have a sudden, desperate need to rearrange my custom-framed Fred Astaire eight-by-tens with my Imogene Cocas for the optimum wall-viewing experience. Clinton, I've noticed, likes to shake hands.
I've searched for information about how to be an employer. Someone gave me a book called The Supervisor's Factomatic. I figured it'd be a gold mine of information for me--and it will be, if I ever have to meet a demanding schedule on a widget order. It did say that if someone asks you for a raise, you should put them off for a while in hopes that they will become insecure and decide they're not worth it. It was a shocking glimpse into the psychological hell of a lowly widget maker. With knowledge there is an irretrievable and sad loss of innocence.
The man who owns the diner where I eat breakfast told me that the hardest thing about being an employer is the employees, and that he looks for people with experience who are neat. Clinton may have already talked to this guy. Ms. Bader Ginsburg has experience and is undeniably neat.