SPIRIT GUIDE, A NEW FRIEND, A NEW ADVENTURE

The clicks and dings of the free AOL Dialup Fax crawled through the air as my resume traveled from my PC to Paramount Pictures. It felt like this fax was taking longer than normal. I couldn’t be late for my LNT job, but I was convinced if I didn’t get my resume in right then, I’d lose the opportunity to interview. I couldn’t stand the idea of someone else taking my potential job.

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I was on my way to becoming an adult. After finishing my semester “abroad” I had secured an apartment on my own. From the suggestion of TV Trenches, I was working at Linen N Things (LNT) and was able to make rent and pay bills. I was happy to be working, but when you move across the country to work in entertainment, there’s a difference between working and working in Hollywood.Looking for a Job - Cardboard Box

Before bed, I sent an email to an alumni group, explaining I wanted to get my foot in the door at an entertainment company. When I woke up I had an email from Spirit Guide. She was a Paramount Page; they were hiring. Not knowing who I was, she told me to fax my resume in and she’d vouch for me. I would never put my name on the line for a complete stranger, but here Spirt Guide was doing just that.

I thought I was going to cry.

The clicks and dings of the free AOL Dialup Fax crawled through the air as my resume traveled from my PC to Paramount Pictures. It felt like this fax was taking longer than normal. I couldn’t be late for my LNT job, but I was convinced if I didn’t get my resume in right then, I’d lose the opportunity to interview. I couldn’t stand the idea of someone else taking my potential job.

Shortly after that morning, LNT had a fourth round of  layoffs, which I was part of. I continued to look for work. Weeks dragged on. I was stretching my severance, but I hadn’t heard from Paramount and the severance money was virtually dried up. That’s when I got an interview at a European Canadian Co-Production Company. After the interview they handed me a script and asked me to submit coverage (essentially a book report). I turned it in the following Monday and was offered a job assisting the Development Department. A couple days passed and I was informed I’d be assisting the president because the current assistant was leaving.

Swimming with SharksI was excited for the new work and the full time employment, but that position turned into one of my worst jobs.

Ever!

I gained immeasurable weight, my skin broke out and I was always on the verge of tears. One day the president would berate me if I asked a question. The next day I wouldn’t ask a clarifying question and when I screwed up, he’d berate me for not asking a question. The following day I needed to protect myself, so I asked clarifying questions. He would eviscerate me for asking questions.

On one of the particularly terrible days, the Paramount Page program called. They were setting up interviews.

Thank you Spirit Guide!

The interview would be in June. My heart sank. I couldn’t go; I’d be in CT for my sister’s wedding. I apologized and tried to reschedule. They told me not to worry; there would be another round in August.
In my August Interview, I wore the Talbot’s power suit my parents and grandparents gave me several Christmas prior. I was ready.
Power Suit
Except, I was not. This was not some one on one interview. Fifty of us were in one of the original RKO screening rooms and we had to get up in front of the people we were competing with and explain why we’d be good at the job. I was more nervous explaining my assets in front of my peers than speaking publicly. I talked about college, my love of the entertainment industry and gave examples of leadership skills from church camp (such as leading night hikes and camp fire songs), and was careful to leave off the church part.
My work to be a less shy version of my high school self paid off— I got one of the coveted jobs.

I needed to do something nice for Spirit Guide. I couldn’t afford lunch, but thought coffee would work. She told me that she didn’t drink coffee.

Who doesn’t drink coffee?

Paramount Water TowerApparently, Spirit Guide. She countered with ice cream from the on-lot convenience store. Since there were no toppings, I even threw in a Coke. We ate our ice cream underneath the Paramount Water Tower. Over our snack we talk about goals. We both were aspiring TV writers. She told me I needed a writing group and invited me to join her’s. She explained it was mainly a collection of college friends who were writing majors. She named names and despite all of us having the same writing degree from the same small college, I didn’t know any of them. Again, I was blown away by her generosity. Apparently, this is who Spirit Guide was, a genuine person who likes helping people. Despite all the new people I met at church, she was the first person I really connected with that I didn’t know before my move to Los Angeles. I was so excited to know her and grateful for her help.

 

It was a simple bowl of ice cream for a simpler (more broke) time. But, one can still make an epic sundae from a convenience store with no official sundae toppings.

At a convenience store (like the Water Tower Cafe), you have plenty of crumbled cookie options, various candies and even fresh bananas. If you prefer to drink your snack, there is always a root beer float! If I wanted a sundae, the me of today would not be stymied by no official sundae bar. I’d insist that Spirit Guide and I throw caution to the wind and create a calorie-laden treat.

*RAINBOW CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES – A GOOD WAY TO SAY THANK YOU

Her kindness astounded me. First she buys me dinner when she’s struggling herself and then she strategizes ways for me to stay in Los Angeles and continue to fight for my dream of working in entertainment industry. That one dinner changed my life.
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I like food. I was a foodie before being a foodie was trendy. I’ve baked cookies or big meals to stuff my dates (or potential dates) in an effort to show love. But, like your Italian grandmother, stuffing friends and family with food has been a way for me to show love too.

TV Trenches and I met in college and bled for the various TV organizations we belong to. Like Multi-Cam Maven, she and I were hungry for a career in TV and these organizations satiated that hunger. While in our Los Angeles, “semester abroad,” I learned two important things. To survive Los Angeles, you need a Thomas Guide and a good friend.

TV Trenches was that friend.

Oakwood ApartmentsDuring our semester, students in the L.A. program lived at The Oakwood Apartments in Burbank. While a lot of colleges use it for their “semester abroad” housing, real people live there too. Most of these people are traveling professionals and child actors accompanied by their families. TV Trenches lived in a double with her best friend and long time roommate. I was living in a quad with girls I met the day I moved in. I was on the shy side and lacked lots of life experience. They had lifestyles of excessive drinking, drugs and sex. One roommate sold ‘shrooms and liked dropping acid or E depending on the circumstance. Another would have sex in our shared bedroom while I tried to sleep. Heck, they almost got us kicked out of the student housing for throwing a wild party and serving alcohol to child actors! We had a disciplinary hearing. I was in tears and the only reason we didn’t lose our housing is because the head of the program didn’t have the heart to punish me with the three roommates.

I was adrift.

I didn’t understand my roommates and I understood Los Angeles even less. TV Trenches recognized I was struggling. She had recently become acquainted with a local church and invited me to go with her to the college and young professionals service on Sunday evening. It was very different than the small New England church I was raised in. The room for the young professional service was cavernous and the exposed steal beams reminded me a lot of Costco. Despite lacking two things I needed, liturgy and hymns, the praise and worship band provided an element of Church Camp.Church - Pasadena

TV Trenches and I sat next to each other almost every service. Despite the differences from my New England church, Rock Band church soon felt like home. After we “graduated” the L.A. semester, we continued to go, but rarely sat together since we were commuting from different parts of the city.

One March, the minister announced a community dinner to encourage members to commune as “a body of Christ.” We could pay whatever we wanted or could afford. I was depressed with my financial and career struggle and intended to sneak out.

TV Trenches found me. With her limited funds she dropped money in the basket for me and then for herself. Over dinner she gently said, “Sarah, you’re broke. You’ve worked hard to get here. You need to do something to stay in Los Angles.” She pointed out Linens-N-Things (LNT) was opening in Pasadena and doing a massive hiring. She worked at another LNT and said I should use her as a reference.

Even though she was a friend, her kindness astounded me. First she buys me dinner when she’s struggling herself and then she strategizes ways for me to stay in Los Angeles and continue to fight for my dream of working in entertainment industry. That one dinner changed my life.

Linens-n-things-towelsWith her reference and key words to use on my application, I got the job. It took a team of eight of us over four weeks to unpack boxes to stock the Bath Department. We even learned to fold towels in the proper LNT way.

There was a lot of refolding.

I hated it less than the job I had for a day selling cheap merchandise at Pavilion’s under the auspices of child advocacy, but all that folding dried my hands, lint got caught in my throat and it was over eight hours a day standing on a concrete floor. Days became more difficult when the store opened and I had to wear fancy shoes with no support while being nice to rude customers who were frustrated by the largeness of the new store, abrasive when I asked the required, “What can I help you find today,” and unsympathetic when I had difficulty running a new register system.

Despite the cons, the relatively steady paycheck made the woes of retail less bad. Besides, Sonodoro and I had just met through Yahoo Personals. Our routine after-work phone calls were a reward for a difficult day. We officially started dating in late April and that’s when the inevitable layoffs began. The employees knew it was coming; when opening a new store, it’s customary to hire a big batch of people and then systematically release them. I made it through four rounds of lay-offs before I lost my job. They handed me my last paycheck and then handed me a severance check. I was blown away.

PlatedShortly after the layoffs, TV Trenches had a game night. I needed something to show my love and appreciation. She guided me through a crazy semester and guided me to get my first legitimate job in Los Angeles. During times of financial struggle, I was often regulated to the 99 Cent Store for party food, where spending a little over $2 on chips and salsa was normal. This time, I could splurge on chocolate chip cookie ingredients! I decided to make them extra special by adding M&Ms.

Whenever I make chocolate chip cookies with M&Ms, I think about that batch of cookies and their significance. Often you hear creatives reminisce about struggles during their early Hollywood days. While I use food to show love, the night of TV Trenches brainstormed ways for me to stay in Los Angeles and fed me dinner stands out in my mind. She gave me a big push to continue to fight for the dream.

UPGRADED CHOCLATE CHIP COOKIES
Ingredients
*Inspired by the Original Toll House cookie recipe from Nestle.

INGREDIENTS
1 cup (2 sticks) margarin, softened
2 large eggs
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 16 oz bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 16 oz bag plain (FROZEN) M&Ms

STEP-BY-STEP INSTRUCTIONS

  1. CREAM TOGETHER margarine and sugars. Add eggs and mix again.
    Cream
  2. Gradually add flour and baking soda.
  3. When thoroughly mixed add in chocolate chips and frozen M&Ms.
  4. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
  5. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  6. Cover your sheet trays with parchment paper.
  7. With your cookie scoop drop your cookie rounds.
    Sheet Tray
  8. When the oven is up to temperature, bake 10-12 minutes.
  9. Transfer baked cookies to a wire rack.
  10. Repeat.

INSIDER’S TIPS:
*Keep cookie batter in the refrigerator while you’re waiting for one round of cookies to bake.
*Wait 1-2 minutes after you take the sheet tray out of the oven before transferring cookies to the wire rack. (They will hold their shape better.)

*ULTIMATE PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE COOKIE TO GET SOMEONE TO FALL MADLY IN LOVE WITH YOU

I was not smooth in high school. My lack of polish was accentuated because all the girls “my age” in TV and film were far more grown up and they oozed fineness. Being exceptionally short, having a small speech impediment, and lacking coordination I felt like a caricature of the awkward teenager nobody wanted to date. This did not make me feel attractive or confident to talk with my deep crushes. I typically crushed in silence. Through junior high and high school, I crushed on all four of my closest guy friends… (Mind you these are the same friends I was virtually mute around.)

2-28-14 BH 90210
I had an on again off again crush spanning 10 years on a friend that moved to my town in the second grade. The crush grew when he urged me to take Biology with him freshman year and resurfaced when we struggled through Algebra II together junior year.

There was the friend who played sax and sat behind me in Band starting in the seventh grade. He was funny and charismatic with the right amount of snark. He helped me laugh through the muck of high school.  He stopped taking Band senior year to focus on other things, but we still saw each other at lunch.

I met another in 6th grade homeroom. At first blush, he was the most reserved of the group, but he had a killer wit. He was incredibly kind; his yearbook inscription tells me that I made him smile when he was down, but he did the same for me. He and I are still in touch and meet up when we’re in the other’s city.

Then, there’s Red. He transferred to us in 9th grade. He was brilliant and quirky. He took fancy science and math classes, which I was not smart enough for. But, we sat next to each other in our upper division Spanish and English classes. We were theatre geeks and I helped with blocking when he was cast as Schroder for “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.” (Every time I hear the Book Report song, I think of him.)

2-28-14 You're a Good Man Charlie Brown Whole Cast

I was too nervous to do anything about the feelings I had for these boys, even when people tried to push us together.

The only thing I could do to express my feelings was bake.

I remember the Christmas I was crushing on Red vividly. I baked batches of Ultimate Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookies (To Get Someone to Fall Madly in Love With You). The cookies were a marriage between a peanut butter cookie and a chocolate chip cookie.

 2-28-14 Cookies

Not to disclose my saccharine message, everyone in the group got the same tinfoil bedazzled package. I changed the sticker formation on Red’s so I’d be sure to give him the package that had 7 cookies instead of 6.

Several months after Christmas, Red asked me to prom. My heart was so happy, it did summersaults.

2-28-14 Happy Heart

I turned him down.

What if there was holding hands or kissing? I was not prepared for that. I took a friend I met the previous summer working at a church camp. He didn’t have a high school prom and since we were just friends it felt like the right choice.

RECIPE

I cannot stress enough when it comes to baking— Invest in parchment paper! Baking becomes infinitely easier.

INGREDIENTS
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
2 sticks margarine, softened (2 cups)
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup dry coarsely chopped peanuts (dry roasted, lightly salted)
2 cups of semi-sweet or dark chocolate for melting

STEP-BY STEP DIRECTIONS

Set oven racks to the top two racks.

PREHEAT oven to 350° F.

MIXING

In a Medium bowl, cream together:
Margarine, brown sugar, white sugar and eggs.

Add baking soda and mix.

Slowly add flour. When well blended, add nuts.

THE REST

Cover baking sheets with parchment paper. If parchment paper is too wide, fold to fit.

2-28-14 Cookie Dough

Spoon dough on baking sheets in dollops that are slightly larger than a quarter. You should be able to fit 4 across and 3 down. When you’re done with one tray, put it on a cool surface, then do your other baking sheet. When both baking sheets are ready and up to temperature, put them in. Set timer for 12 minutes.

When they’re “ready” check them. If you press down lightly on a cookie, it should bounce back. If it does, take it out. If it doesn’t, or you want a slightly crispier cookie, put it in for a little longer. (You must keep a close eye on cookies, baking goes very quickly at this point.) Once you take the top baking sheet out, move the bottom baking sheet to the top rack.

Quickly transfer the cookies from the sheet to your cooling racks. When you’re done with that, your second baking sheet should be done. Take them out and transfer cookies to cooling racks.

Now, using the same parchment paper and baking sheets, continue the spooning and baking process until the batter is gone.

Let the cookies cool thoroughly before doing the chocolate glaze.

CHOCOLATE GLAZE
Spread out wax paper for a cooling area.

2-28-14 Chocolate

In a double boiler on a very low heat, melt the chocolate. I like using dark chocolate candy bars. It might be tempting to add milk to help keep chocolate smooth. Don’t. If you do this, the chocolate won’t set up. Be patient and keep stirring. When chocolate is melted, dunk the cookie half-way in. Then put it on the wax paper to cool. Continue doing this until cookies are all gone. You’ll need to keep stirring the chocolate so it doesn’t stick to the pot, and you may want to have extra chocolate on hand, depending on how generous you are with dunking.

*CRUSH YOUR HEART VALENTINE’S DAY SPECIAL

My longing desire to date was fed by the popular Christian Slater romance films of the 1990s. Like most teenage girls who like boys, I crushed on unattainable ones, particularly the letterman basketball player (a junior) who was in my upper-division “Great Books” English class, (he did a brilliant report on Thomas Mann).  The seats and tables were arranged in a hippy circle, so we all faced one another. I spent the better part of my sophomore year staring at him.

Despite my lack of coordination, a friend encouraged me to join the basketball cheerleaders. Cheering didn’t affect my social status or lack there of. Nobody cared about cheer (it was only in its second year at my school), but I got to ogle, I mean cheer, during his games. Cheering for the team by extension brought me closer to him.

For Valentine’s Day, I decided to make gift bags of Hershey’s hugs and kisses, sealing each with curling ribbon. I gave them to the friends (that I barely spoke to) and saved one for the letterman. I carefully crafted the words that would accompany my gift, but shyness overcame me each time I could have given him the chocolates.

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The big game against our rival was that night. It was heated. Players on both sides were ejected, including the letterman. I couldn’t believe my eyes. He was completely within his right to throw the ball at the face of the opponent; the other guy fouled him first! I don’t remember if we won or lost. My heart ached from sadness because this ejection meant he’d be benched for several games.

After the basketball game everyone piled into cars and hitched rides to the hockey rink to cheer on our classmates and watch fights that wouldn’t end in ejection.

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He was there too… huddled amongst his teammates and mere feet from where I was standing. I was emotionally and physically frozen. How was I going to do this? I gave myself a pep talk.

First period ended. The chocolates remained in my coat pocket.

Second period ended. I inched closer.

Somewhere during the third period I managed to hand him the bag of un-melted chocolates with crimpled ribbon. My carefully crafted message escaped my memory, and I blurted out, “I’m sorry you got ejected!”

He took the chocolates; said, “thanks,” trying to stifle laughter and passed them out to his friends, who clearly were amused by my lameness.

I didn’t regret giving him the chocolates. My only regret was that he was a junior and the greater embarrassment came from having to see him for another year and a half before he graduated and got out of my life.

CRUSH YOUR HEART VALENTINE’S DAY RECIPE

Put Hershey’s Hugs & Kisses in a baggie. Tie with decorative ribbon. Serve to an un-attainable crush in front of lots of people. Wait for laughter. Embarrassment soon follows.

*FIRST KISS SURPRISE

It probably won’t be a surprise to you, but I was quiet in elementary school. My sweet and quiet demeanor endeared me to teachers, and some boys (I was clueless at the time), and my short stature regulated me to the front row. Often, misbehaved boys shared the row with me so teachers could keep an eye on their shenanigans. Robbie Nelson was one of these boys. He played ice hockey in a local pewee team and is probably why for many years I was drawn to men that were tall and broad. He was a good foot taller than me and was incredibly strong.

Robbie is an October baby. He invited me to every party since Kindergarten, and by the time his third-grade birthday rolled around, I knew the benchmarks. His birthdays were organized chaos. We played in leaf piles, his dad taught us how to make paper airplanes, his little brother would get stuck in a tree and we would watch his dad coaxed him out. I was usually the only girl.

When my dad came to pick me up from his eighth birthday, Robbie walked me to the kitchen. His mom cajoled him, “Don’t you have something to give Sarah?” He gave me a Trapper-Keeper folder with a neon-heart (this was the 80’s after-all) and a kiss on the cheek.

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Holy smokes! It was a magical as rainbows and unicorns. My dad being a good man didn’t say anything about this kiss. During the car ride back, he simply asked me if I had fun.

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Of course I did!!!

Then, I went into my head, reflecting on the most contemporary media I was watching at the time: The Flintstones. After meeting her actor-crush, Betty Rubble was vehement to Wilma that she wouldn’t wash her hands. That’s how I felt; I didn’t want to wash my cheek. Being dutiful, I didn’t question my parents’ authority when they told me to wash my face before I went to bed.  Oh well.

Since then there have only been a few men that have given me a kiss that has elicited the same excitement I felt that day.

POPCORN BALL RECIPE:

As part of the birthday delicacies, there were always popcorn balls.

Popcorn balls are one of those foods that are often over-looked. Making your own for hostess gifts etc. gives what might be considered a mundane gift a little extra panache.

I find that being generous with the marshmallow (and using mini marshmallows) makes for an easier popcorn ball making experience and on the whole a more flavorful popcorn ball. I like the Kraft Foods recipe and have modified it only slightly to suit my cooking preferences.

INGREDIENTS

¼ cup  (1/2 stick) butter or margarine

4 cups mini marshmallows (or 40 large jet-puffed)

½ tsp.  vanilla

¼ tsp.  salt

3qt.  (12 cups) plain popped popcorn (air popped or stove popped)

OPTIONAL: A squirt of dye.

DIRECTIONS

MELT butter in large saucepan on low heat. Add marshmallows, vanilla and salt; cook until marshmallows are completely melted and mixture is well blended, stirring constantly.

PLACE popcorn in large bowl. Add marshmallow mixture; mix lightly to coat.

SHAPE into 10 (3-inch) balls with lightly greased hands. Place on sheets of waxed paper; let stand until firm.

*To make mixing easier, separate popcorn into 3 large bowls and evenly distribute marshmallow mixture between them. This way all the popcorn will be coated evenly.

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Special Thanks to The Party Animal Blog for use of the picture.