Again I have a problem with the question…It seems this will be my lot with this particular endeavor, having to define the question for myself in order to give an answer which seems worthy of the time to write (or read). For example, this question is “What Was Your First Boss Like?” To be honest, I’m not sure. I’d have to think of my first job and again, not sure I can do that.
I mean I was doing kid modeling when I was 11 or 12. I worked out of the Lenz Agency under first Bernie Lenz and then Tena Houser. But they weren’t really bosses per se. Nor were the various clients, like Adidas or Hot Gear (ski wear). I also did a couple of filmed things as a kid, and I was part of the Rainbow Company Children’s Ensemble starting from age 9. That was a phenomenal experience for sure – Jody Davidson (né Johnston), who founded the theatre group (and is now a first-class dog trainer), certainly set a number of my work ethics and personality traits, not to mention my love of theatre, in place.
Interestingly, as I started to write this answer, I had in mind that the bosses I really wanted to talk about were Jessie Horsting and David Leach, not my first bosses by any stretch, but absolutely two of the more influential ones (and ones I will talk about). But as I started putting words down, I started remembering various bosses I had, those already mentioned, sure, but also the guy (whose name escapes me now) who first hired me at KLAV AM 1230 radio or Tina, my boss at Waldenbooks at the Meadows Mall back in ’84 (when the mall was relatively new). And these are just the early bosses.
Fascinating when you think about it, to see how these various people have impacted your life, how connecting with them can change your trajectory. But then again, I guess that’s what this whole exercise is about, at least for me. It’s an exploration of what’s made me who I am and a look at various stopping points along the journey.
All of which brings me back around to Jody Newman and the International Model and Talent Competition in 1983. At least I think so. Being that it was 37 years ago and I can find no trace of it online, is there any way to know it actually existed, but in my mind it did and does. So take everything I’m about to say about this as my truth because honestly, I don’t really know anymore, but I’ll tell you that part of the story and then move on to things and people I do remember a bit better.
Back in the early 80s, though, somehow I was put in touch with Jody Newman, who was running an international modeling competition. I was hired to drive her around Vegas, having recently gotten my license. Of course, my yellow (or was it orange at that point?) 72 Superbeetle (which I had learned to drive on) was not going to work for this gig, so I ended up borrowing my grandfather’s Ford Thunderbird and I became a chauffeur for a week or two. I kept in touch with Ms. Newman and when she returned to town to do the big modeling competition, she asked me to come and work for her again, this time to help run the model floor. By this time, I was also working at Macy’s department store as part of their Teen Model program – myself and several other kids my age would do bi-monthly fashion shows or living mannequins or whatever was needed to promote the brand. So when I got the call, I immediately enlisted my Macy’s compatriots and we went to work, keeping things safe and sane for a 600+ person competition.
Again, the fascinating aspect of this exercise is I haven’t thought about her or this gig in years. So why now, when I’m jotting down these notes? I think it’s because she instilled a confidence in me that allowed me to do other things. Sure, I had a bit of confidence anyway. I’ve always been an outgoing, enthusiastic person, but with this woman’s encouragement, I think I actually got that thumbs up from an outside source, from someone who wasn’t related to me.
I think it was this confidence which allowed me to call up every radio station in town asking for a job I was eminently unqualified for (and which I ended up getting at KLAV). And ultimately, being one of the first steps in the chain which gave me the confidence needed to move to Los Angeles.
In LA were the other two bosses I wanted to mention. The first is Jessie Horsting, writer and editor extraordinaire.
I met Jessie when she was managing Outer Limits, which was the LA branch of London’s Forbidden Planet (there was some legal reason for the name change, but don’t ask me what it was). They were having a grand opening back in ’89 and even though the store was in the Valley, and thus far from where I was living at the time, for some reason I ended up there. While the store was packed, somehow I met a writer named Steven R. Boyett (and as I keep promising, there will be more about him at some point, just not now). Steve and I bonded immediately and when I mentioned I was (wanted to be?) a writer, he took me over and introduced me to Jessie
We talked for a few minutes, she was busy opening a store after all, and made a promise to keep in touch. She was editing/co-publishing a magazine at the time called Midnight Graffiti and we talked about me helping out. They had put out three issues by that point and I joined in on issue 4, doing things like reading slush, editing copy, and just generally helping out wherever I could. So in that sense, she wasn’t really a boss, since I wasn’t getting paid, but I think it still holds water.
Mostly, though, I just liked hanging out with Jessie and learning from her. Sure, she introduced me to some pretty amazing people and yes, there’s a character in the Sandman named after her, but really, she was incredibly patient and giving of her time to some young punk kid who thought he knew more than he did. She would look over my stories and offer tips. She would go over other people’s stories with me, stories she was publishing or were already published, and explain why they worked or didn’t work, what could make them better. She instilled in me a hatred of the word “that,” which, if you’ve ever asked me for my help in editing something, you’ve already experienced.
More than that, she was also like a big sister at times, helping me out with personal problems, letting me talk through issues, recommending me for other gigs. At the same time, she didn’t (and still doesn’t) take any shit. Just an absolutely remarkable woman and my life, and writing, are the better for having had her in my life.
The flip side of that is David Leach.
There’s a well-known axiom which says the best way to learn something is to teach someone else. I agree. Furthermore, I have this philosophy that if I want to learn something, I should get a job doing it. This philosophy has led me to a number of weird and wonderful places, one of them being City Scuba Dive Shop.
See, I wanted to learn how to be a diver. I’d been certified once before, during my first year of college in Salt Lake City. Thing was, a had a bit of a panic on my open water certification dives and even though I finished, I was never really comfortable in the water after that point. So I figured I’d try again. One day, driving down the street, I saw the shop and popped in to see if they were hiring. Whether they were or not, the owner, David, a tall, blonde guy with a beard, hired me. I started off doing retail sales, and soon graduated to computer work, including design and customer databases. I was recertified as a PADI diver (my previous cert had been SSI) through Advanced Open Water (still with my discomfort issues). I would help teach the theory parts of the dive classes, sell the gear, book the boats, etc.
Not long after that, I became the manager of the shop.
The reason for my promotion and multitude of various tasks was that Leach was notorious for not paying people. He’d send all the info to the payroll company, sure, in fact, I’d end up doing it from time to time, but then those checks would sit in the desk drawer because there was no money in the account to back them. We’d have to sell new gear packages to get the money to pay the manufacturers of the old gear packages we’d already sold. It was insane the contortions he would go through.
The best, though, was when investors would show up at the shop, spitting nails and so angry they would have flames coming out their ears. By the time they’d left, though, they were writing him another check. He was one of the most immoral businessmen I’d ever encountered. But so charismatic it was scary.
And for some reason, I stuck with him. Through several shop moves and then when he closed the shop and just ran dive trips and then when he gave up on diving altogether and went into ad sales for a bunch of different magazines in the Buckaroo Publishing group. I remember one night getting woken up by a frantic phone call regarding our dive insurance payment, which I had just sent off. The reason for the panic? A diver on one of our trips had died and he needed to know we were covered. And since we’d been using all sorts of delaying tactics with paying the insurance premiums, he wasn’t sure if they’d gone off or not. They had, because I took care of them, but until we got conformation we were, indeed covered, it was a bit touchy around the office.
Thing was, nothing, apart from that, and really, even that didn’t faze him too much since he was already scheming how to get out of it if our insurance wasn’t up to date. And he embroiled me in these plots and machinations wherever I would let him. It was fascinating and a master course in manipulation and salesmanship. So yes, I learned an incredible amount from him, a lot of it about myself and where my own personal lines were drawn.
So yeah, first boss, I don’t really know. But there have certainly been some memorable bosses who have all taught me things, good and bad.