I thought I was going to be fired for sure. I had been given a simple task and I failed to complete it properly, so I attempted to fix my mistake and only made it worse. I had scratched Diane English’s windshield on her Jeep Grand Cherokee.
While most of you don’t know who Diane English is, you’ve probably heard of Murphy Brown. Well, Diane English is the creator of the sitcom “Murphy Brown” and other shows such as “Love & War” on which I was employed as a production assistant. It was my first real Hollywood job way back in 1994. We shot on the same studio lot as Seinfeld and Rosanne. And while it wasn’t the job I had dreamed of, having completed my master’s degree, it was cool anyway.
As a production assistant, I had the important job of delivering scripts, transporting actors (I had the opportunity to drive Mariel Hemingway, Dennis Rodman, and Marv Albert to name a few), getting coffee and/or lunch, and taking the Producer’s car to the wash. The latter is what almost did me in.
Diane had asked me to do the simple task of taking her Grand Cherokee to the car wash. Before I left she specifically told me to make sure they got the globs of sap off her windshield. No problem I thought considering that I had completed the same task dozens of times over the previous year.
I took the Jeep to the wash in Studio City; the one with the big hand holding the car on Ventura Blvd., and let the guys do their thing. After paying, tipping and driving back to the studio lot, I pulled into Diane’s reserved parking spot. That’s when I noticed it. How I didn’t see it before that moment, I don’t know. But there it was, a giant glob of sap just to the right of the driver’s sight line. What I didn’t notice before, now appeared to be bigger than my head. Not wanting to drive all the way back to the car wash, I decided to get a sponge and fix it myself. How hard could it be?
Let me tell you now. Dish sponges with that scatchy side to get dried gunk off of plates and glasses are not good for car windshields. I grabbed a sponge from the office kitchen and proceed to lightly scour Diane’s windshield. It worked like a charm. I removed the sap with ease and the windshield looked great… except when the sun hit it at that perfect angle and… Crap! I had just scratched Diane English’s windshield.
Now, it wasn’t a huge scratch. It was actually several tiny scratches in a circular motion covering and area of about 3×3 inches. This was one of those moments when you break into a cold sweat as you see your career flash before your eyes. I could see it so clearly. Diane would say that famous line, “You’ll never work in this town again!”
I made a couple quick calls to see if there was any quick fix for removing swirling scratches, but now were provided. I was told that there was a protective coating on the windshield to which I replied, “obviously it doesn’t protect it from dish sponges.”
All I could do was tell Diane the truth and suffer the consequences. I rehearsed my story as I rode the elevator up. Explain what I did, how I did it, and offer to buy a new windshield. What else could I do. I’d considered pretending like it never happened. Or even blaming it on car wash guys.
I stepped off the elevator and headed to Diane’s office. But before I could get there, someone told me that my wife, Elisabeth, was on the phone for me (this was before everyone had a cell phone). I quickly took the call and responded to Elisabeth’s question of, “how’s it going?” with “I scratched Diane’s windshield… I’m going to get fired.”
I was off the phone pretty quickly and again headed toward Diane’s office. I asked Chris, her assistant, if Diane was in. She had just left. “What do you mean left?” Chris said she was gone for the day. I ran down to the parking lot to see if I could catch her, but she just driven off the studio lot.
I figured I tell her first thing in the morning. By then she would have seen the scratch already thrown a fit and maybe cooled off a little. I came in that morning early waiting for Diane to show up. The morning hours started passing, but she never stepped off the elevator. I went and asked Chris when Diane was coming in and he said that she had decided to work from home that day.
I couldn’t wait another day to tell her. I had to get it out. I knew Diane had a fax machine at her house (email wasn’t common place yet), so I did the only thing I could think of. I sent her a fax explaining every thing and offering to purchase her a new windshield. And for the rest of the day, I waited for a response which never came.
Those were a couple long nervous nights of preparing my resume before I saw Diane again. The next morning I was hanging out at the front desk when Diane entered. She came right up to me and asked the others who were around to give us some privacy. My heart moved into my throat. What was she going to say?
“I got your fax,” she started, “and you don’t have to buy me a new windshield. Actually, I didn’t even notice it until I got your fax. I had to go out and check for it.” I started breathing again. “What I want to know is,” she continued, “how did you do it?” I gave her my condensed story and again said how sorry I was and expressed how much I appreciated her graciousness.
Several times over the years I would tell people that I worked for Diane English as my first Hollywood job. Many of those people would say that they had heard she was horrible to work for; that she would berate her staff. I would always relate this story to those people.
I’m sure that my honesty went a long ways towards staying employed (if she had actually seen the scratch), but the experience taught me some humility and gave me a good feeling for grace.
Also, from that point forward, I don’t do windows.