Office buildings in the entertainment industry are not air-conditioned for normal people. No. They are cooled to a comfortable temperature for executives who are predominantly old, white, fat, and wear suits. He who controls the industry controls the thermostat.
Everyone normal was left with one of two options: 1) Dress for arctic AC and swelter anytime they left the building in the 100+ degrees of summer in the San Fernando Valley, or 2) Dress for the exterior temperature and type with stiff, blue fingers.
I opted for a third choice. I brought in my New England ski gear and wore it over my light cotton clothes. A few other executive assistants followed snowsuit. (The Australian assistant even brought it a knitted cap with braided ear flaps.) More fashion-conscious executive assistants, cold and bitter (or just bitterly cold) complained that our attire was unprofessional. Instead of turning down the AC, Big Boss A turned the heat up on us snowsuits. An email from HR arrived: “Professional attire such as sweaters and blazers are strongly encouraged for those employees who find the office temperature slightly chilly. Ski parkas, fleece jackets, wool scarves, and fuzzy hats do no constitute professional attire and are strongly discouraged.” My ski attire went home and I went back to freezing. Even the wool blazer I left at the office was no match for the ice cube factory.
After ten days in balmy Hawaii, the office AC hit me like a snowball to the face. I had picked up one pretty, flimsy dress as a souvenir, and of course I wanted to play show-and-tell with it on my first day back after vacation. Instead, I huddled in my blazer at my flying saucer-shaped desk, shivering outside my boss’ office. I contemplated a giant pile of discarded faxes and files that had been scanned into the digital age. They’d make a nice fire. Maybe I could build one in my boss’ office. Wait a minute. His office had other possibilities.
There was no thermostat for all the assistants and cubicled coordinators outside of the executive offices, but each office had its own thermostat. It was summer, when industry execs go on vacation (i.e. obsessively watching the summer box office reports in luxurious surroundings with a drink – or two, depending on reports — in hand). My boss (we’ll call him Boss B), who had a sense of humor and was quite down to earth, was merely in New Jersey. For at least another week.
I went into Boss B’s office, set the thermostat at 95 degrees, opened the door wide, and basked in the warm air that flowed out of the office. I wore normal summer clothes and even (gasp!) SANDALS. I was the envy of all the assistants that week.
“How can you stand it?” asked one with a cardigan and blue lips.
I shrugged my sleeveless shoulders. “You know I used to ski in New England, right? Just took me a little while to get used to it again. If you couldn’t manage twenty below on a chair lift, you didn’t ski.”
Then I took some papers into my boss’s office, stood under the vent until I was almost sweating, and returned to my saucer.
Boss B returned. A crisis came with him. Our production company had greenlighted a script without due diligence. The movie they made was crap, released straight to DVD. But letters and emails had arrived from “investors” all over the country, insisting that they had given one of the producers money. (Said producer apparently ripped off the plot of The Producers. Even Hollywood criminal schemes are reboots now.)
Crisis mode involved me rolling a lot of calls, followed by me hunting up execs on foot, and finally Boss B spending an hour locked in his office on an important call overseas.
When he burst out of the office, Boss B – who was quite round and not a young man – was bright red in the face. His jacket was off, and sweat stained his armpits, chest, and neck. “I think I’m having a heart attack!”
Oh God. I had forgotten to turn down the thermostat. I helped Boss B to my chair. “Sit, sit, you just need some air. And water!” I hauled ass into the little kitchen/ break room, grabbed two paper towels, two cups of water, and raced back. I had Boss B drink one cup while I wet the towels and put them on his face and neck. Then I dashed into his office, set the thermostat as low as it could go, and ran back out to my desk.
Boss B still had the paper towel over his face. “Did you call 911?” Boss B hadn’t dialed a phone since the days of rotary phones. I wasn’t sure he knew how.
“Let’s give it a minute.”
“What if I’m having a heart attack?”
“Do you have chest pains? Does your left arm hurt? Or are you just really, really hot?”
“Hot as hell. That fever came on like a freight train. Call 911.”
“Give it another minute.”
“Are you trying to kill me?”
“Um, tried that already, apparently.”
Boss B pulled the paper towel off his face and straightened. “I think you’d better explain.”
“Oh, look! You’re sitting up! And you’re not so red. Yay.”
Now that the Boss B no longer needed medical attention, my coworkers showed up to help. They showered Boss B with faux concern while I admitted to tampering with the thermostat.
Behind me, Ms. Cardigan snorted softly. “New England chair lift. Right.”
The shipping coordinator laughed for five minutes, though, and Boss B joined in. I was not fired. Instead, the story of Boss B’s “heart attack” became a favorite joke on our floor. Other execs would make a point of checking the thermostat before a meeting in Boss B’s office. It was even funny, the first five times.
My office secret Santa gave me fingerless gloves and earmuffs that Christmas.
I wore them to work.
This time, no one complained.