Authors: Michael Fazio
“Yes,” I told her, “you did.”
“No, I didn't!”
“Yes,” I insisted, “you did. Susan signed for them an hour ago.”
“Where are they?”
“I don't know, Rosie. I'm not with you.”
“Well, they're not here.”
“Hold on, let me find Susan.” I put down the receiver and looked around the office. “Hey, Susan. Did you sign for Rosie's pages?”
“Yeah,” Susan said. “I went and slid them under her door.”
“Oh, there they are,” Rosie said, looking in the place where Susan slipped them the day before, and the day before that.
If Rosie was staying at a hotel, the complaints changed a bit. “My car's not here,” she called to let me know.
“Where are you standing?” I asked her.
“I'm in front of the hotel. I told you he's not here. This is terrible!
I can't believe you did this!
Rosie the celebrity had her cell phone, but I of course did not. I called the dispatcher, who radioed to the driver for a description of the vehicle. “It's a black car with a seventeen in the license plate.” That wasn't cutting it; it wasn't specific enough. “Do you see the car with the flashers on? Okay, the driver is holding his right arm up.”
She wasn't even embarrassed; she was too busy thinking of herself as the next Jessica Lange. But me? I was exhausted. The next time she had a shoot, I called my best friend at every hotel: the concierge. “Can you do me a favor?” I asked. “Could you describe the front of the hotel?”
He didn't even ask me why. “There're six gray planters and they have little round boxwoods in them. Then there's one big planter with a pine. Would you like me to draw you a picture and fax it to you?”
With anyone else, it would have been sarcasm. With the concierge, it was simply good service. “That would be great. Thank you so much.”
Sure enough, Rosie called again in the morning. “My car's not here!”
“Where are you standing?” I asked her.
“I'm in front of the hotel and he's not here.”
“Are you in front of the round boxwoods or are you in front of the tall pine planter?”
“I'm in front of the pine tree thing.”
“Is your back to the hotel?”
I knew from the dispatcher that there was a gray car, a maroon car, and then a black oneâin that order. “Look to your right. It's the first one.”
“No, that one is black. You said it was gray.”
“Now look to your, uh, other direction.” Silence. “You see it now? There it is.” I hung up the phone with Rosie and sat there.
There had to be more to life than this.
GREAT MOMENTS IN HOLLYWOOD SERVICE HISTORY
(1939)âAlfred the butler sits silently by whilst Bruce Wayne studies and exercises excessively, instead of seeing a therapist to deal with his parents' death. Wayne later grows up to lead Gotham City's nascent dom/furry community.
All About Eve
(1950)âEve Harrington moves into the upstairs bedroom to be the personal assistant to the famous Margo Channing, planning all the details of Margo's husband's homecomingâbut making sure to get title credit.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
(1962)âBaby Jane Hudson, who grew old but didn't grow up, serves dinner in bed to her sister Blanche. The spoiled woman refuses the parakeet delicacy.
(1967)âButler Mr. French convinces his boss to tell the kids the truth about where babies come fromâand creepily looks on as the man does so.
The Brady Bunch
(1969)âAlice helps Carol Brady (nÃ©e Tyler) cover up the murder of her first husband; he is never mentioned again.
Return of the Jedi
(1983)âLuke Skywalker uses an old Jedi mind trick on Bib Fortuna, Jabba the Hutt's “weak-minded fool” of a majordomo. Skywalker thereupon burns down Jabba's barge, while Jabba himself is strangled by Princess Leia.
(1983)âJoseph the majordomo helpfully tries to lock the former Mrs. Carrington in a burning cabin, not realizing he had locked the current Mrs. Carrington inside as well.
The Golden Girls
(1985)âCoco the gay houseboy is dismissed after one episode; the LGBTQ community instantly forgives and forgets the slight.
(1985)âTed Lawson constructs a robot servant, and attempts to pass her off as his daughter by programming her with a monotone voice and dressing her in the same 1890s pinafore every day.
(1988)âButler Mr. Belvedere advises Wesley to go play in the woods so as not to disturb the Owens' party.
(1994)âA teary-eyed Smithers helps Mr. Burns write a mash note to his girlfriend.
(2006)âTony Casemore, the hotel concierge, sacrifices time with his wife and family in hope of saving up enough in tips to retire at age forty-four.
A Hell of a Town
to leave L.A.
Even though I was just a go-to gopher for all these famous people, I felt like I was in with them. It was exciting, fun, and cozyânot like New York. New York was no bullshit. It was
. People weren't friendly for the sake of being congenial, like they were on the West Coast.
And yet I wanted to revisit my singing-songwriting aspirations and to do that I'd have to move. I was working with two girl rappers and it was making me crazy. Dolores had tried to throw me a bone by putting me in charge of them. I didn't know that their song “40 Dog” was about large male genitalia, so it's no wonder I wasn't exactly prepared. Working with them just made me want to sing again like I did during college, because they were doing it all and making a lot of money in the process.
My better half, Jeffrey, was originally from New York and we started traveling there more, visiting with his friends. “Maybe I could actually sing again,” I said to him one day. “I think I do want to be Baby Jane, after all. At the very least, I could manage theater people as a job. Their creativity is much more my vibe than the film people's is.”
“It's a big step,” he said. “Think about it.”
Of course he was right. It
a big stepâtoo big probably. What if I couldn't get hired? Where would we live? I weighed the pluses and minuses in my head. “Let's meet halfway,” I eventually told him.
“Florida. We can stay with your mom or dad until we find a place, and I could go back to singing on cruise ships.” Years before I had worked the cruise ship circuit, the fancy ones that held three hundred people. This time around, I could put together a CD. If I focused less on fancy and more on enormous, I could book myself on a ship with three thousand people. I felt confident I could capture 10 percent of them every week. If 20 percent of that audience bought a twenty-dollar CD, that would mean $1,200 a weekâplus my salary. With those numbers moving didn't seem quite as big of a step.
“You should be singing, and I trust your plan,” Jeffrey said. “I'm so over L.A.”
I went to travel agencies and looked at the brochures for cruise lines, studying the system so I could figure out how it worked. Cunard Cruise Lines had the most prestige; it was the
of cruise ships. I called them up and gave them my most name-dropping spiel. “Oh, I used to sing at the Mondrian where Michael Feinstein performed,” I told them, “and I played at the Playboy Club. The Sportsman's Lodge, too. Let me send you my clippings.”
I had made a collage with every little clip from the newspaper that had my name in it. Even if it just said, “Live on Saturday nights: Michael Fazio at the piano bar,” I kept a photocopy. To emphasize my profile, I added pictures of my name in lights. Literally, there was a photograph of my name on the marquee at two clubs where I had performed. It was very twelfth grade, but it impressed them at Cunard enough that they offered me work on the
We packed Jeffrey's turquoise blue Honda Accord to the gills and then bought a cell phone because we were going to be driving across the country. It was 1993, and the damn thing was the size of a baguette. I was booked to start on the ship two days after we arrived at Jeffrey's mom's apartment in Aventura, Florida.
Cruise ships are the place once-big acts go when Hollywood stops answering their calls and their shows get farther and farther off the strip. But to me, a celebrity was a celebrity and there were a good number of them working the cruise. Thanks to working with Glennis and Dolores, I knew how to push myself into the inner sanctum. I quickly found out that Lou Rawls was a total gentleman, Nell Carter was simply brassy, and Susan Anton seemed like she had just stepped out of a beauty pageant.
The ship set me up at a bar named Raffles in the back, and every night I put on my white dinner jacket and sat down to play songs on a clear Lucite piano. At the start of the week there would be nobody there, but by Wednesday it would be packed with people listening to me sing campy Broadway standards. Straight people from all over the world couldn't get enough of me. I was like their little gay clownâ“Gay people are so
!”âand I sold CDs left and right.
Things were going well, but I found bad news waiting for me when I called Jeffrey back at home.
“My dad's really sick,” he told me.
. “How bad is it?”
“It's melanoma, and it's stage III.” He paused. “There is no treatment for stage IV.”
I knew that I had to get back to Florida to be with him so I got on the phone and called whomever I could. The first guy I managed to contact was a sleazy old L.A. has-been you wouldn't buy a used car from. Vic had his own version of a twelfth-grade brochure complete with a collage of photos of him with a cavalcade of starsÂ â¦ from thirty years ago. To his credit, he managed to find me a really lucrative job singing at an upscale South Beach club. As quickly as I could, I got out of my contract on the
. Soon I was making $1,500 a week on salary at the nightclub, but I was also clearing a ton in tipsâthe scar-faced drug dealers came in and threw hundred-dollar bills at me all night. Things were once again good, but it wasn't long before Jeffrey's father passed on.
“We've got to get out of Florida,” Jeffrey said. “I grew up here and now I'm remembering why I left.”
“I can commute,” I told him. “Let's move to New York, and I can fly down here to work. Airfare is only around two hundred dollars. I can do that for a while.” True, I was making good money. But being in Aventura, Florida, I couldn't help feeling a little like Peggy Lee: “Is that all there is?” Everyone around me felt really fake, posturing like they were larger than life. And though I really enjoyed singing, now I was realistic about my future: I wasn't going to be a superstar and I didn't want to be a fifty-year-old lounge act singing for tips in a bar the rest of my life.
“What are you going to do once you stop commuting?” Jeffrey asked me.
“I'll figure it out.”
But what else am I good at,
? I knew how to look after people. I knew that I could make people feel cared for since it was what I had done during my time in Los Angeles. Maybe I could work in theater with classically trained actors who might not be as demanding to deal with as the Rosie Perezes of the world.
I called around Manhattan and got an interview with the president of a small talent agency. I was ecstatic. To me, not being a native New Yorker, he epitomized everything I thought a “New Yorker” was. He looked just like a professor, with the little reading half glasses and everything. His office was a mess, but with “smart” stuff; all theater. “Yeah, you have some potential,” he said.
“Really?” I was thrilled.
“This is what I do for new agents. I'll pay you a thousand dollars a month. It's all commission, so you have to go get some clients.”
A $1,000 a month?
I was making
$1,000 a night
“Great. Let me get back to you.” I went back to the apartment Jeffrey had found for us on East 10th Street. The place was so small I couldn't understand how humans were supposed to live in it. It was a one-bedroomâin the sense that the bedroom accommodated precisely one bed, and that was it.
I told Jeffrey about the whole agenting situation, but by this time he was getting fed up. “You'd better figure something out,” he said. “You're all over the place. Do you want to sing, or do you want to be an agent? It's not cute anymore.”
“I'll find some job I can work at night so that days can be free for interviews,” I said. If I was a waiter or a bartender I knew I'd get completely fried, but if I worked the night shift at a hotel, checking people in at the desk, I thought I could manage. It would keep my days free and it would give me spending moneyâdefinitely more than $1,000 a monthâand I could think and construct my next career move.
Within a day, I wrangled an interview at the InterContinental Hotel on 48th Street. When I walked in I was struck by how old-fashioned but opulent the lobby was. The people walking through it seemed to be arriving from far and distant lands; all the men were in suits and the women wore the Chanel equivalents with big gold buttons. It was clear that none of them was there simply for pleasure.
“I'm here to meet with Ian,” I told one of the staff.
“He's right over there.”
Ian, the resident manager, was a handsome light-skinned black guy who defined elegance. He was meticulously put together, down to the silk pochette sticking out of his breast pocket. “Right this way,” he said. I followed him to his office in the hotel's executive suite. It looked like a gentlemen's smoking room, with big leather wingback chairs and a tufted chesterfield sofa. His huge desk even had clawed feet.