I’d been looking for jobs pretty regularly since I stepped foot in Los Angeles, but with no success. I came to the realization when I was making my resume that I am only really qualified for one line of work: waiting tables. Maybe I could stretch that into some sort of other customer service gig, but it’s been over eight years since I was paid to use my brain as opposed to my smile.
I’d been employed at the same restaurant for over five years in New York City. One of the great things that came from this was that I never had to exert an ounce of energy into finding a new job. To explain…
The job of an actor generally has very little to do with acting. It’s a big old business, and there are a million ridiculous factors involved in whether or not you get a job, and that’s in the rare case that you actually get seen for a job. It’s a non-stop hustle. You’re sort of like a drug dealer, I guess (I’ve never used this analogy before…but I think it might just work). If you sit at home with a bunch of drugs, no one is going to know you have them. So you have to get out there on the corner and approach people and say things like “coke smoke”. And most of the people that walk by you look at you weird and think you’re kind of scary or desperate. But you keep hustling, because you know you’ve got “the shit”. But you start to find out that most people don’t want to pay you, because it’s just not in their budget. So sometimes you give the drugs away for free, so that they get a “taste”. Then when they come back for more, you have more leverage to demand money. And you keep hustling in the street like that for the hopes that one day you’ll be one of those dudes that can just hang out at his house and have people come over and buy from you without ever having to leave home (Meryl Streep).
It’s scary how well that analogy works. Sheesh.
My point to all that was that as an actor I was constantly having to hustle and look for work, some of which didn’t even pay. My schedule was always crazy and things would constantly be popping up last minute. So it was a huge blessing to never have to waste time looking for a Restaurant job. And I never had to pretend like working in Restaurants was something that I had always aspired to do.
So when I went to interviews, and people would ask me why I wanted to work there, I would say:
OK, OK, I sugarcoated it a bit…
Another benefit of working at the same place for five years is that I never had to worry about how I looked. After paying my dues for some time, I achieved the status of “good employee” and could get away with stuff. Sometimes I just felt like growing a beard.
“Jesse! What the hell is this?!” inquired George.
“Oh…uh…it’s for a role.”
“I’m never hiring an actor again” muttered George as he stormed away.The thing about George is that even if he got annoyed with it, he always allowed me to put my acting first. So during a particularly gruesome stretch where I was growing a beard for one project and keeping my hair long for another, he let me do what I had to do even if it was really driving him nuts inside:Now that’s a good man. Can you imagine if you were staying at a four-star hotel in Manhattan, came down to get the Chilean Sea Bass, and this guy walks up to your table?
So here I am in LA. Going on interviews. Doing my best to be enthusiastic about waiting tables. And I notice something happening to me:
Did you notice it? Ah, it’s so subtle, and I think I’m better suited to pick up on it than most. Let me explain.
My oldest brother is the King of accomplishing things in unorthodox ways. For example, he taught me how to make an origami rose out of a napkin before I went to college, suggesting it would make up for the fact that I brought a girl to McDonald’s for the first date. It worked. And if it didn’t work, then the girl was probably no good anyway. Talk about a win-win method…
Another one of his methods was taught to me with a disclaimer that it should rarely be employed. It was specifically to be used on girls that you wanted to piss off. For example, my good buddy in college had a girl that really treated him like trash, and wasn’t coy about it at all. So instead of telling the girl what I thought about her, I just had a regular conversation with her at the bar one night.
What’s the trick? A very subtle glance at the girl’s hair. Every twenty seconds or so. Make sure to hide it: if it’s too obvious then you will look like a jerk. But if it’s quick enough to look like you just couldn’t help it, then the girl you are talking to will be convinced that her hair looks ridiculous and that you are being polite by not staring.
No look in the mirror can put the girl’s mind at ease. Her night is ruined. Perhaps the rest of her semester until she can get back to Long Island to see her hair dresser, if she even trusts her anymore.
This subtle glance is something I am aware of, as I’ve used it. So when I noticed that pretty much every person interviewing me for work was doing it to me, I started to wonder what it was I had done to them. What did I do to deserve such treatment? We weren’t Saints, but at least my brother and I respected the power of this method, not just using it on some random person we had just met.
Then I realized that it wasn’t a trick at all. They were doing what the trick was trying to imitate. My hair looked ridiculous enough that they couldn’t help but glance up at it. My hair was getting particularly shaggy and out of control by this point. Perhaps this is what was preventing me from gaining employment! I needed to get a haircut, fast.
Now the thing about Jesse Gavin is that he is cheap and wary. For example, doctors. Why would I go to a doctor, when I have to pay lots of money to see him and he’s probably just going to write a prescription for something that will cost me even more money? To make it worse, most doctors don’t even glance up from their clipboard when you visit their office.
Same thing with Barbers. One key difference though – I can cut my own hair (After several attempts to surgically remove a hernia myself two years ago, I capitulated and had an MD do it).
The year was 1989 and my mom told me I had an appointment to get my haircut the next day. I calmly retreated to the bathroom with a pair of scissors and did the job myself. I was sick and tired of having my neck shaved a bit too close for comfort. I couldn’t stand the old yank they gave my hair before cutting it. So I took matters into my own hands and went with my instincts.
It’s possible that my 8-year old instincts were a bit off. My brothers laughed for a day straight and my mom had to apologize to the Barber, asking if there was any way to make me look reasonable without having to completely shave my head.
So yeah, I got off to a rocky start, but I knew what my destiny was. It wasn’t until 2005 that I made the official transition. Sick of having people give me terrible haircuts for 12 dollars, I decided to go to a place that charged 55. I figure if they’re going to charge this much, they must know what they’re doing.
First time, success. Second time, crappy haircut. It was an expensive lesson, but I learned that perhaps it wasn’t the technical know-how that was the issue. People that do it for living might just not give a crap sometimes (like doctors).
So I decided to become a self haircutter. If I do a bad job, I have no problem giving myself a piece of my mind. And I’ll even fix it for free. And I’ll keep fixing it until I’m satisfied.
As gratifying as this is, there is a down side. There is the three to four days between my First Cut and my Last Cut in which I look like a complete idiot. I’ll be out in public and notice myself in a mirror – “Gooo!” I jerk back in repulsion, aghast at the job I’ve done, unable to relax until I can get my hands on a pair of scissors.
This particular cut lasted four days, and I went to the gym on each one. The great thing about the gym is that there are mirrors everywhere, so I was able to assess from all angles. I also used the frustration of looking like such a doofus to get that extra rep.
Finally I felt satisfied. I looked in the mirror after the Final Cut and saw a guy that I’d be comfortable with coming up to my table and asking me if I wanted to order a bottle of wine. I was ready to get myself employed.
“Jesse. You cut your…hair?” asked my housemate Florian, in his thick French accent.
“Yeah.” I smiled, enjoying the fact that someone noticed.
“Oh. I like this better before”.
Leave it to the French to shit on your parade. Ok, Ok, I have to take that back. Not that the French don’t like to shit on people’s parades (literally, it’s an odd custom), but in fact he was giving me a compliment. He liked my old look, which was in fact much more “me”. He wasn’t shy about telling me he liked this “new” Jesse, that was just a plastic version constructed in order to gain employment as a waiter.
Over the next day, everyone in the house asked me if I cut my hair, and told me in their own way that they liked my hair better when it was longer (the Americans were less overt, resorting to the aforementioned “glance”).
Now I had to do what I did so I could get a job, and I don’t regret it. The haircut turned out fine, but I got to learn that it wasn’t my style. But more than that I got to learn that I lived in a house where everyone cared about me enough to notice I cut my hair, and that they liked it better before. A warm, fuzzy feeling in a wacky, wacky house where people are constantly coming and going.
“Jesse?” Kristham knocked on my door. “I leave next week, so we can video…more?”
Ah crap. I’d been so busy that Kristham and I hadn’t been able to schedule anything. We had eight days left before he would depart for Madrid. To once again quote Kristham’s hit single “My Turn”:
“I no wasting time/ I must hurry up”