x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

And the Oscar for envy goes to that writer guy

As awards season approaches, I am resigned to the fact that, in Hollywood, I will never be Customer of the Week

I used to live near a coffee place that had a fun tradition of choosing someone from their long line of customers and dubbing that person "Customer of the Week".

They'd take your picture and post it next to the cash register and you'd get free coffee for that week. Plus, you would bask in the approval of the pierced and tattooed young hipsters behind the counter, and pretend not to notice the other patrons noticing you, your glowing celebrity and the modest way you carried yourself during your special week.

You didn't get to jump the queue, of course, but the people directly behind you noticed that you didn't have to pay, and that was pretty cool.

I mean, it must have been pretty cool. For those who were honoured with the title. But not for some of us who patronised that coffee shop day in and day out and never forgot a please or a thank you, some of us who regularly slipped a dollar into the tip jar, who refrained from mobile-phone conversations when at the cashier in full compliance with the angrily penned sign taped to the counter, some of us - well, I'll just come out and say it - me. I'm talking about myself. To my baffled shame, I was never proclaimed Customer of the Week. I never quite made the cut. Despite years of loyal custom, it never occurred to anyone who worked there to dub me anything.

The closest I came was this: my best friend, an actor, was declared a Customer of the Week. I didn't handle it well.

One morning I walked into the store, took my place in line, and as I gradually moved to the front I saw my best friend's face, on a photo stuck to the wall, with "Customer of the Week" under it.

Now, look, I realise that this is a trivial thing. That the little coffee shop - it was one of those independent ones, with lots of quirky and individualistic touches - was just being playful with its customers. And the appropriate response was, I know, to smile and roll with the joke. But for some reason - and I'm not exactly sure what that was - the idea that my best friend had been named Customer of the Week and I hadn't was indescribably galling.

I'm not proud of it, but there you are. When I looked up and saw his face looking smugly into the camera, enjoying his free coffee or whatever, I was really mad.

No, worse than mad. Jealous.

When my friend sauntered in a few minutes later, I tried to make a joke out of it: "Hey, Customer of the Week, if only they knew about the bodies in your basement." It may not have been those exact words, but something equally lame. But I gave the game away when we sat together for a moment and I suddenly barked, "I don't get it. Why you?"

He did the right thing, which was to pretend that I couldn't actually be so childish as to envy him his status, so he pretended that I was pretending to be truly furious, that it was just a comedy bit we were doing. But it wasn't a bit.

What it was, was the sudden realisation that I am not affable. I mean, yeah, I'm friendly. I have friends. I'm not rude. But most of the time I don't really engage in an avuncular or friendly way with the world around me. I'm a customer, but I'll never be a Customer of the Week.

My friend, though, is a classic Customer of the Week. Friendly, affable, engaging. If I was working behind the counter and he came in every day, I'd make him Customer of the Week and I'd ignore the other guy he comes in with, the guy who mutters and looks down, and never quite seems to be there.

In other words, my friend is an actor. And he is, too, a very talented and successful one. I am a writer. And in Hollywood, the actor is always the Customer of the Week and the writer is always the actor's nondescript and forgettable friend. The actor is always the one who gets the big awards and the writer is the one who gets the ugly plaque.

After the difficult ordeal of being passed over for Customer of the Week, I tried to train myself to let these things slide, but each year around this time I suffer the same pangs. It's awards season, the time of year when the studios and talent agencies spend millions lobbying for this or that actor to win an Oscar or a Golden Globe award. They don't spend as much on the writers.

We have to be content with seeing our actor friends rake in the accolades and the trophies. We have to be content with being Best Supporting Friend, which is, I'm ashamed to admit, another honour I'll probably never win.


Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood

On Twitter: @rcbl