Monday, April 5, 2010


There is no such thing as having paid one’s dues. Only the ability to know when you have hit your threshold.  The ability to see just how much shit you can take to achieve what you think you want the most. People like to think that success is about ambition but really it’s about threshold and if you can figure out your threshold you can figure out anything. My threshold ended not with the fourteen-hour work days, nor with the pittance of pay, but with a chopped salad. My boss, a big time Hollywood producer, was on a very strict cleansing diet prescribed by a famous holistic doctor in Beverly Hills, and under no circumstances was he to have tomatoes. His health was in terrible shape, his marriage was a ticking time bomb, and his work was killing him mentally, physically and spiritually, and here I had forgotten to ask for no fucking tomatoes. Panicked by my mistake, I raced to the company kitchen and began violently stabbing tomatoes and flinging them into the garbage that rested below plaques of some of our box office hits. I ended up flinging more than just tomatoes as Steve Martin disapprovingly looked down at me from his “Parenthood” plaque. I glanced to my left and found Jim Carrey dressed as The Grinch scowling at me and my careless fuck up. Tom Hanks from “The Burbs” hosing my shame with a raised eyebrow as if he is saying, “great. fucking tomatoes.” When I looked back down at the colorless salad I realized that the missing tomatoes had greatly reduced the appearance of the salad and that either way I was in a losing situation here. A feeling I had felt before but had convinced myself that I was just paying my dues. The buying of his saline nasal spray, the working on weekends without overtime, the blackberry that I began to hear buzzing when it hadn’t, the anxiety dreams and gastrointestinal problems were all just a part of the dues. I’d been paying my dues for so long I realized I had forgotten just what it was all for. I looked at the remaining tomatoes and it struck me that perhaps there was something more that I could be doing with my overpriced college education. I had been working shit jobs for six years while I watched people I graduated with sell $500,000 scripts, star in movies with Ben Stiller, and skyrocket to success.  I wondered about the difference between me and my successful classmates. Certainly I was just as driven. Certainly I was willing to sacrifice and never once did I complain. But perhaps the difference was threshold- a daring version of self-respect.
I hid the remaining tomatoes under the bottom of the salad and served the plate to my boss. He ate the entire meal, never once even looking at the tomatoes stuck on his fork nor noticing their bitter taste. Watching him eat those forbidden tomatoes without even realizing they were there I knew that there was no amount of paying dues that I could do that could get me what I wanted. Just like no holistic diet was going to solve my boss’s mid-life crisis. The difference was in defining my threshold and once I did that I woke up.  Three weeks later, I quit my job, I found a sublet to finish out my apartment lease, I packed my Toyota with all of my belongings and moved to New York. I got an easy job that allows me to write and allows me the time to gather the courage needed to tell a story in front of strangers...if I ever do get picked to perform at The Moth.

As for my boss, after sixteen years of paying his dues as a company man, and earning them over a billion dollars in profit, he realized he didn’t want to be a producer and in fact always wanted to be a director. When he pitched a small budget movie with an incredible package- hot young actors, an amazing script, A-list cinematographer as well as creative and well-thought out storyboards for every frame of the movie, the company buried the project and told him to go back to what he knows, go back to what he always does, go back to what he is good at. The dues had become his identity. My boss quit that company six months later, took up surfing, saved his marriage and is now the picture of health and most importantly he is becoming a director.
Now, whenever I hear the expression “just paying my dues” I think to myself “at what cost?”


Carmen said...


tara said...

hopefully, a lot of money!!!