My So-Called Life
Like most Hollywood directors, I like to keep my drama on the set. It doesn’t always work out that way, of course, but I give it my best shot. If only my chaotic life outside the walls of the studio matched the calm, calculated goings-on inside, then I’d have it made.
In my director’s chair, I’m the epitome of poise and composure.
And why not? My cast and crew jump to attention when I give them instructions. When I step outside the doors of Studio B after a long day of filming, however, I must admit the truth --- I have absolutely no control over anything in the real world. And when you’re a director by nature, losing control is pretty much equivalent to appearing on Dancing with the Stars in your underwear.
I do my best to cope. Most people wouldn’t even know I’m struggling. But I am. I have serious need-to-know issues. What Hollywood director doesn’t? If I can’t control it --- i.e., “fix” it --- then what good am I? I’ve been trained to whip everything into shape. That’s why I spend my days on the Stars Collide set tweaking scripts, fine-tuning actors’ lines, and fretting over camera angles --- so that everything is as close to perfect as it can be before I commit an episode to film.
It would be nice to have those same capabilities once I step out into the real world. Problem is, the good, bad, and ugly scenes of my life never seem to get tweaked before they’re committed to the history books.
Okay, so I’m a control freak. I admit it. But hey, a director works off the script she’s been given. If I’d been handed the script of my real life in advance --- the one outside the studio walls --- I would’ve asked for a rewrite. First thing to go? My upbringing in South Central L.A. I would’ve asked the writers for a home in the valley, at the very least. Next? The many, many times my dad attempted to trade my mama in for a newer, younger, thinner partner. Those scenes would definitely have to go, replaced by family-friendly episodes of Father Knows Best or Make Room for Daddy. Finally, I would have penciled in the perfect Brady Bunch siblings who all got along, even under the worst of circumstances. Oh, and just for fun, I might’ve thrown in a love interest for myself. Maybe. If things at work slowed down a little.
On days like today, with my cell phone buzzing nonstop, I might have also asked for a little more patience. Unfortunately, those who pray for patience usually end up needing even more of it. I found that to be the case as I raced through a conversation with my mother while I made my way up the 405 headed to the studio.
“We’re so proud of you, Tia-mia,” Mama’s lyrical voicerang out, her Spanish accent still as strong as ever. “You’ve done really well for yourself in this job.”
I’d just started to respond with, “Aw, thanks!” when she completed her thought.
“Yes, you’ve done really well. But I do hope, now that you’ve made it big, that you won’t turn your back on your family. We’ve always been here to support you, and I hope you’ll return the favor.”
This seemed to be another in a long line of strange comments from my mother of late. Ever since our show’s Golden Globes win a few months back, she’d offered more than a few backhanded compliments. What could possibly make her think I’d turn my back on my family just because I’d achieved some degree of success in my field?
Then again, Mama was prone to beating around the bush. Likely she had something else on her mind.
Sure enough, she piped up with the real reason for her call moments later, now speaking in fluent Spanish. “I want you to get your little sister a job at the studio doing hair and makeup.”
I drew in a deep breath and counted to three before responding. “Mama, just because I’m the director of a TV sitcom doesn’t mean I have the ability to hire my siblings at will. Those decisions come from above.”
“From God, you mean?” She took a deep breath. “Yes, I know. But I’ve already asked him about it, and he’s keen on the idea, so I figured you would be too. I know how close you two are.”
I sighed. If, as Mama so aptly put it, the Lord had placed his stamp of approval on this “hair-brained” idea, who was I to nix it?
My stomach churned as I responded. “I’ll do what I can. Maybe I can talk to our producer. But Benita will have to fill out an application just like everyone else, and there are no guarantees, even if Rex goes along with this. As I said, these decisions come from above. The studio executives, I mean.”
“But she really needs a new job as soon as possible, honey. And I heard you say that your hair and makeup girl was taking another position on a movie set in mid-April. Isn’t that right?”
“Well, yes. Nora’s leaving in a few days, in fact. But why does Benita need a job, anyway? I thought she had a new one at that great salon in Beverly Hills.” I put on my turn signal, checked my rearview mirror, and eased my way into the right lane. “When I talked to her last week, she told me she had special connections that were going to keep her at the salon for years to come. She even said she was earning more money now than ever. And she mentioned something about perks. Sounded promising.”
I managed to make it to the exit ramp just as a Mercedes flew up behind me. The driver honked and rode my tail all the way down the ramp.
Mama released an exaggerated sigh. “Well, see now, she ran into a little problem there, Tia-mia.”
I did my best not to groan aloud as my mother called me by the familiar nickname again. Instead, I focused on the road, finally shaking the Mercedes at the light.
“It wasn’t a hair- or makeup-related problem, thank goodness.”
The lilt returned to my mother’s voice. “That would have been more difficult to overcome. This was something else. Completely unfair, I might add.”
“Hmm.” My sister’s degree in cosmetology was relatively\ new, but no one could fault her makeup skills. They were flawless. She put my mascara and lipstick skills to shame every time. There had to be more to the story than what I’d heard thus far.
Mama’s next words were rushed, as if she had to force them out. “Okay, from what I understand, she had a little fling with the owner. How was she to know he had a fiancée? The man led her on, and you know how vulnerable she is.”
“Mama! And you want me to bring her onto the set of Stars Collide, which is filled with handsome men?” My thoughts drifted not just to our show’s stars but to our cameramen as well. One in particular. Jason Harris might be hard as nails when the cameras got to rolling, but I still caught my eyes drifting his way on occasion. Not that he appeared to notice. No, his gaze was directed through the camera, not at me.
Mama continued to carry on about Benita’s cosmetology skills, but she lost me about halfway into a speech about the importance of lip liner. Listening to her lyrical Spanish conversation with its lifts and curls took me back several years to my childhood. Back then, Mama’s voice brought comfort.
These days I was so distracted that I rarely took the time to revel in those familiar feelings when they did come. No, I had far too much work on my plate for that.
In the background, I could hear Angel, my mother’s Chihuahua, barking nonstop. That dog was enough to drive even the sanest person crazy.
“Angel, calm down. Stop all that yapping!” Mama hollered so loudly I had to pull the phone away from my ear. “It’s just a car driving by, baby. Come and sit in Mama’s lap.”
The next couple minutes were spent listening to my mother comfort her dog. Go figure. She had the time and energy to be compassionate to a canine.
I pulled up to another stoplight and glanced in the rearview mirror to check my appearance. “Mama, I have to go. I’m almost to the studio. And it’s Monday. You know what that means.”
“Yes, I know.” She reverted to English. “You tell me every Monday. It’s the weekly roundtable reading. One of the most important days of the week.”
“Yes. We go over every inch of the script and iron out the wrinkles. So I really have to go.” I continued to peer in the mirror. A few tight lines around my eyes let me know that the wrinkles in the script weren’t the only ones I needed to deal with. All of this stress was aging my face prematurely. Someone who’d just turned thirty shouldn’t have lines around her eyes . . . right?
“Okay, okay. Just one more thing before you go,” Mama said. “I wanted to double-check that you’re coming over for dinner on Friday night. We’ll all be here, as usual --- the whole family. I’m making tamales.”
“All? So, Daddy’s coming?”
She paused, and I could almost envision the look on her face. “No, I don’t think I’m quite ready for that. Not yet.” Her voice sounded strained. Then again, who could blame her? My father’s issues were enough to drain even the strongest of women.
“He called again last night,” I said.
“O-oh?” Now she really sounded nervous.
“Yes.” I wondered why I’d mentioned it at all. Should I tell her that he’d admitted to his latest indiscretion and had even managed to work up a few tears afterward? Nah, better
not. Still, those tears --- real or fake --- had caught me off guard. Maybe he really planned to do right by Mama this time. You could never tell with him.
Thankfully, Mama got another call, and I turned my full attention to the road. Well, mostly. My thoughts kept drifting to her comment about how I’d made it big. If only she realized how insecure I felt, even after working on a major sitcom like Stars Collide . . . then she would know just how far I had left to go.
Oh, sure. A Golden Globes win should have been enough to squelch any lingering doubts I might’ve had about my directing abilities, but it had accomplished just the opposite. Now I felt the pressure to perform as never before.
I pulled my car onto the lot, determined to face the day with a more positive outlook. Before long, I’d be safely inside the studio, where everything was scripted and safe. There I could breathe normally again. Be myself. Take the reins and whip everyone --- and everything --- into shape. Praise the Lord and pass the scene board! I could hardly wait.