Friday, July 29, 2011

8 Percent

I need to stop waiting tables.

Lately it’s been grating on my nerves more than usual. I’ve gone from the sweet, unassuming “I’m grateful for whatever tip you chose to give me” server to the server who will “accidentally” spill water on you if you tip her less than 18%.

The breaking point came a few months ago.

Auditions had slowed down as it was turning into summer. This meant, instead of looking at my serving job as a ‘thing I do on the side when I’m not auditioning” it turned into a “thing I do always, all the time, always, ALWAYS.”

This particular day I decided to try and make myself feel better so I wore my contacts, earrings, and a little extra eye shadow.

Clearly God is a feminist as this later proved to be a mistake.

The night started off normally. I was working with one other server and we decided to pool the tips we made and split them down the middle. A group of forty-something men came in for a business dinner and we both agreed I should take them (being the female I would probably be able to get a higher tip.)

They instantly perked up when I walked over and I noticed one man in particular slide his eyes up and down my ever-attractive buttoned up long-sleeved black shirt, long apron, and pinned-up hair.

I know – sexy.

I smiled and launched into my speech about our menu, our drinks, and our specials. They all ordered drinks and the man with the roaming eyeballs (let’s call him Dick) ordered a shot and a beer.

A shot. At a business dinner.

That one shot turned into five more and four more beers.

At first he was harmlessly flirting. It them became a little more aggressive, a little more inappropriate until finally, as I was walking away from the table, he shouted out for the entire restaurant to hear.


You could have heard a pin drop and I felt my face flush as the whole restaurant turned to look at me and – presumably – my ass.

I was livid. I felt the feminist inside of me screaming. I am a smart girl! I’m not just dyed blonde hair, gawky limbs, and slightly squinty eyes.


I pulled the other (male) server aside.

I’m not doing this anymore! You take the table. I’m DONE!

He tried to calm me down and to make me think about the money. The awesome, crazy tip they were going to leave me.

I thought about how I was late on my rent and decided to give it one more go.

Finally, mercifully, they were finished. I brought them their (very large) bill and skipped away. I had done it and it was going to be so worth it.

They left and the other server grabbed the tab, opened it, and looked shocked. I jumped up and down excitedly.

Is it big?? Am I going to be able to pay my rent AND my car insurance???

He had gone a little pale and I grabbed it from him and looked down at the bill.

I froze and all the color drained out of my face.


I blinked.


Less than 8% of the total bill.

Less than 8% for putting up with sexual harassment for two-and-a-half hours.

Less than 8% for compromising my ideals.


I felt something in me snap.

Now, I’m a pretty passive girl but this had sent me over the edge. I looked out the window and saw them standing outside, drunkenly waiting for a cab.

I slammed the ticket book closed and marched into my manager’s office. I explained to her what had happened and what I wanted to do. She stared at me for a second and then nodded her head.

I was out her door in a flash and marched past the bar where all the regulars were shouting their support and clapping me on the back.

I pushed open the door and marched outside. They were still standing on the sidewalk so I threw my shoulders back and marched up to them with the bill.

They saw me coming and stopped their conversation. I took a big breath, and…



Smiled and started talking.

Hi gentlemen. I’m so sorry to bother you but I’m just making sure everything was okay with your service. You see, I noticed you only left my 8% of the total bill which makes me think I did something to ruin your night. And here I thought we were all having such a nice time…

They stared at me, shocked.

I stared back at them, smiling.

The man who had paid for the meal handed me another $10.

Now we were up to a whopping 10%.

Suddenly, Dick reached in his pocket and slurred something about admiring my tenacity and handed me $40.

That was more like it.

I took the money, smiled, and marched back inside.

As I opened the door clutching the money the regulars cheered.

One point for Jessica’s pride.

It might have been a little desperate. It might have been a lot inappropriate but I felt great.

Finally, FINALLY I was not going to be pushed around. I was not going to give up all my power.

For the first time in a long time I felt I had control.

And that was worth at least 20%.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


A few weeks ago I was getting up at 4am, eating a diet consisting mostly of coffee, teasing my hair to an inch of its life, and dressing like an adult Rainbow Bright who went on an all night bender.

Oh yeah, and I was shooting the entire first season of Book Club.

(Photo by Ben Kusler

It was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It was also one of the hardest.

I’m not sure if you’ve seen me mention it (a million times) but we raised money to shoot the series.

In fact, we raised $10,025.

A GIANT sum especially considering most of that money came from $100 donations or less.

That’s a lot of money.

That’s also a lot of pressure.

In other words, Normal Jessica Sized Pressure x 10,025 = MENTAL EXPLOSION (minus Xanax = slightly smaller mental explosion.)

(Photo By Anne Marie Fox)

But I tried my hardest never to let anyone working on Book Club see I was stressed. I tried to walk around like I was in total control and that I was not going to have a mental breakdown at every little problem.

Once when I realized we were out of Starbursts at the snack table I momentarily blacked out and found myself on the floor of the bathroom trying to breathe and convince myself that the shoot would go on even if we had no Starbursts.

Like I said, total control.

I just couldn’t get out of my head that we had people who believed in us so much that they donated their own money.

Money that they worked hard to earn.

Money from people I didn’t even know. (Like the librarian from New Zealand who said she loved that we made a whole series around literature.)

Money from people I do know. (People who I also happen to know don’t have the money to spare.)

But they donated anyway – for us.

It’s an overwhelming and humbling experience to have so many people show support in such a clear way.

And I kept thinking, all through the shoot, we have to make this worth it. And after watching our amazing actors and our incredible crew make Book Club come alive I can tell you it most definitely will be.

(Photo by Ben Kusler

And now I’m feeling $10,025 worth of gratitude.

So, thank you.

Thank you for believing in us enough to make it happen.

I owe you 10,025 hugs.

(And a few pounds of Starbursts)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Because I Didn't Send A Card...Again

When I was sixteen I went on my first date.

And by “date” I mean I went with a friend whose friend was going out with my friend and was too nervous to be alone.

Despite that I was E.X.C.I.T.E.D.

I bought a new dress, my mom did my makeup, and my friend came over to talk about how cool it was that we were going to the Perkins in Jamestown with two seniors!

Finally, my super-cool-senior-first-date walked in the door and I tried to act casual.

Hey. What’s up? Did you see Friends last week?

The evening was off to a good start.

But as we turned to leave, I heard my father yell after us.

Hey! Hold on just one second. I need to talk to you.

I froze. Oh. Dear. Lord.

My father proceeded to pull out a form entitled How To Date My Daughter, sat down with my date, and had him fill it out, step by step.

The questions included:

1. Do you own or have access to a van?
2. In 50 words or less what does LATE mean to you?

And my personal favorite.

3. Do you own a pickup with a mattress in the back?

I sat there as my date answered every single question.

Later that night, when he dropped me off, my father was waiting outside for me.

Holding a shotgun and grinning ear to ear.

Every time I share that story people listen with horror and then all ask the same question.

Were you so angry with your dad?

And I always say the same thing.

No. Not even a little bit.

In fact, I thought it was hilarious.

Because I am my father’s daughter.

From the moment I was born he has taught me to find humor in everything.

That the world will treat you better if you greet it with joy and kindness.

And that lesson was an important one when you were raising a kid like me. A girl who demanded, craved, and begged for attention.

A girl who pleaded with him to tape just one more movie she’d written and (of course) would star in. A girl who hissed at him through the side of her mouth, Zoom in, DAD!!! And begged him for just one more angle, one more shot, one more minute.

My dad was the only one who had enough patience to listen to me recite The Little Mermaid in its entirety (songs included!!)

He was the one who blared Michael Jackson records and encouraged my gangly flailing I called ‘dancing,’ telling me that I was a star.

He was the first one to show me that my dreams were not stupid by simply acknowledging them.

Instead of trampling on his daughter’s love for drama and imagination, he became an enthusiastic part of it.

And when he helped pack my car for Los Angeles what he didn’t realize was he’d already given me something more important than my earthquake kit or my color coded map of the city…

He’d given me his outlook on life.

Los Angeles is known to be a cutthroat, no-bullshit, drive or be driven on kind of town. But I trusted my father. And so, I greeted it with joy and kindness.

LA seems to value a lot of things: money, beauty, fast cars, and fast talkers.

And I don’t have any of those things. Not really. Not yet.

But what I do have – compliments of my dad – is a strong sense of self.

And with my father’s voice ringing in my ears, I have navigated a place for myself out here.

I have found that it does pay to be funny.

And it definitely pays to be kind.

In fact, everything positive in my career has happened to me as a result of treating people the way my father would.

Dad, you’re the reason I’m out here in Los Angeles and not falling apart.

You’re also the reason I always look out for matresses in the back of pick-ups.

I love you.