A brilliant article about showbiz life, the meaning of which is: “Let the aspirant beware.” (Um, that’s the meaning of both the article and Hollywood life. So, you know: “Beware!”
by Jim Nelson
The dog snarls at me from his coffin. In life, Digger was the most golden of retrievers, but now he lies sideways, stiff and sculpted, a feeble paw pointing the way to some last, unfetchable bone. His coat, once alarmingly orange, has gone rusty and wet, like the juicy copper of expired batteries. He looks exhausted, as if he had taken the walk of his life. He looks—there is no running from it—like roadkill. And that mouth! His Final Groomers have wrapped the black rubber of his lips tightly around his incisors so that, defanged by death, he might growl into eternity.
I have heard that pet cemeteries exist, have even read books in which they figure, but until I drove up to the Valley for this service, I have never imagined hanging out with an embalmed canine. Here in the Mourning Room—a sad shuffle away from the office, where caskets, tiny and cute and tragic, are sold—Digger’s box sits below a celestial track light. Around him there is satin and frills and the sagging comfort of pink insulation. But nothing can soften the truth: He is going into that hole outside, and we are all here to witness it.
The turnout is small—my boss, a group of his shrinking circle of friends, and me. I am here as a delicate function of my job, which is blurry and difficult to define. I work in Hollywood as a writer’s assistant. My two bosses, M— and L—, are TV writers; Digger was M—’s dog, and, in a sense, one of my masters. I knew when I was hired that the position required a good deal of secretarial work: answering phones, setting up meetings, formatting scripts. What I did not understand is that the job of writer’s assistant is whatever the writers deem it to be. Writers, you know, are a terrifically creative bunch; they like to sit around all day thinking of new ways to employ their assistants. This often involves dogs, or any other pets the writers might have.
Take Digger, whom I have come to know through a series of rigorous walks. Indeed I have, upon instruction and in the middle of a busy workday, driven 4.8 miles to my boss’s Hollywood Hills home to unlock the door, fetch the leash, and let Digger take his airs. I have padded around the dog parks of Los Angeles, pulled him away from strange curs, fed him biscuits and livery treats. Yes, Digger and I have had our memories. But strangely, I find, I am not torn at his passing.
And yet I grieve, publicly, for the sake of my job. M— has requested my presence in a manner I take as a command. In the first flush of grief, he asked me to show my loyalty—“You’ll be there for Digger, right?”—using that sort of modern benevolent boss voice that pretends, for a moment, that there are no longer lines of authority and that, at the end of the day, I want to come to his dog’s weird memorial service.
You would not call M— a “people person.” He is acerbic, career-drunk, moving toward midlife friendlessness. Digger was his only steadfast pal. “Dogs don’t fuck you over,” he once bellowed at me in a conversation I surely should have been paid $250 an hour for. When he asked if I was coming to the funeral, I took it as: “Mourn with me—or else.”