Behind the Lines with DR: Finders Keepers – Your Moral Compass

The trendy bar was our starting-block for a night out in Austin. After a day of stumping my newest novel, my publicist and I met up with another couple for some laughs and a Texas-sized cold one. The joint had only just opened for the evening and no sooner had we slid into a corner booth than my publicist’s Gal Pal unthinkingly dipped her hand between the cushions and came up with an antique bracelet. Her face was instantly filled with delight as she modeled the jewelry across her delicate wrist.

photo credit tasospagakis.com

photo credit tasospagakis.com

“Oh my,” said Gal Pal. “It’s so beautiful. Can’t believe I just found it in the cushion.”

She asked my publicist to assist her in fastening the old clasp.

“Stunning,” said my publicist.

“And it’s so me,” said Gal Pal.

During the entire display, I was merely spectating. I’d only met the woman moments before we’d planted ourselves in the booth. Hell, we hadn’t even ordered our first round yet and I was watching her carry on over this bracelet as if she’d just won some kind of lottery.

“You’re not thinking of keeping it,” I found myself saying aloud.

“Why not?” she smiled back at me. “I found it, didn’t I?”

“But before you found it,” I countered, “Didn’t somebody have to lose it?”

“What’s to lose?” Gal Pal argued, her tone showing a little bit of teeth. “Not like it’s precious metal. Can’t be worth very much.”

“To you, maybe. But who knows? Might have some kind of sentimental value to the person who lost it.”

“Doubtful.”

“Never know,” I said.

“Finders keepers is what I say.”

By now, my publicist was trying to figure out who she should be staring daggers into. Her obnoxious Gal Pal? Or her client who couldn’t keep his yap closed long enough to be polite.

“Really,” I said. “You should turn it into the waitress or something.”

“Like she wouldn’t just keep it for herself?” pissed Gal Pal. “No way. I found it. It’s mine, now.”

She held out her arm, modeling it again for the table and, my guess, using the gesture to punctuate her argument. It was at that precise moment a comely waitress arrived. She opened her mouth, beginning to form the words that would signal she was prepared to take our order. Instead, her words were replaced by an involuntary sucking sound.

“Oh my God,” the waitress gasped. “Where in the world did you find it?”

“…Oh,” said Gal Pal, regarding the bracelet. “This?”

“I’ve been looking everywhere for it since last night,” said the waitress. “Thought I’d lost it forever.”

“We found it between the cushions,” offered my publicist.

“Thankyou thankyou thankyou,” gushed the waitress, holding back her tears. “My grandmother gave it to me. It’s all I have left of her.”

My publicist didn’t need to help remove the bracelet. Gal Pal had removed it in no time and indifferently handed it over to the rightful owner. The waitress was so grateful that she insisted on buying us our first round of drinks. And not long after those four free cold ones arrived at our table, Gal Pal found some lame reason to excuse her embarrassed self and her date for the evening.

“Was it something I said?” I smirked to my publicist.

“She’s sure not gonna forget you,” my date retorted.

I never saw the woman again. And I can’t say I’ve missed her.

About now you may be wondering what the snuff this has to do with showbiz? Well, I might reply with this query: must every post be about my hacking through Hollywood? I encourage you to read on. Because there will be a lesson here.

I was in my Warner Brothers office when I received a call from a Marine Sergeant stationed in the Los Angeles area.

“You don’t know me, sir,” began the Marine Sarge. “But may I ask you an odd question?”

“Okay,” was all I could think to answer at the time.

“Have you ever attended a Dodger game and had your car broken into?” he asked.

“…As a matter of fact I have,” I replied.

My memory suddenly arced backward more than year. I’d parked at the outermost ring of a lot section which overlooked Chavez Ravine and parts of downtown Los Angeles. And though my beloved Dodgers had won that night, I’d returned to discover that the window of my car had been smashed. I’d been robbed of a large duffel bag that had been in my backseat.

“Well, so was I,” said the Marine Sarge. “Two nights ago. Smashed in my windows and stole a buncha useless stuff. So useless I figured that they might’ve left some of it behind. So I went back to Dodger stadium and climbed way down into the ravine to look around and see if I could find some of my stuff.”

“Any luck?” I asked.

“With my stuff? Nothin’. But I think I found your dufflel bag. Which is why I’m calling you.”

“You found my duffel?” I repeated, stunned.

I tried to recall the bag. Large. Black. Ballistic nylon. But if I recalled correctly there was no bag tag that identified me as the owner?

“Okay,” I continued. “But how in the hell did you find me?”

“Yeah, that,” said the Marine Sarge. “Had you been in some kind of wedding?”

He was dead-on correct. The weekend prior to my car being broken into, I’d stood up as a groomsman in a college pal’s big San Diego wedding. I’d driven directly to my office that following Monday morning, then to the Dodger game. Dirty clothes, a bottle of champagne and a gift from the bride and groom were in that aforementioned dufflel bag in the backseat of my car.

“There was a receipt I found in one of the pockets. It was for a tuxedo rental,” said the marine. “I called the tux place and they asked for the code on the receipt. Guess they still had your name and contact info on file.”

“Are you a detective?” I found myself asking.

“No sir. Just a Marine who got his stuff stolen. I figured if I couldn’t get my stuff back, I could at least get yours back to you.”

I made plans to meet the Marine Sarge at his Santa Monica apartment that very evening. The space was old, rent-controlled and smaller than Paris Hilton’s closet. He shared the apartment with his wife who appeared with my duffel.

“I’m really sorry,” she began. “Tried like hell to clean the bag the best I could.”

“Yeah,” added the Marine. “When I climbed down in that ravine, your clothes and everything were every which way.”

I squatted over my duffel and unzipped the top flap to find all my clothes, washed, pressed, and neatly folded in such a way I could never, ever replicate.

“Coupla white shirts in there I couldn’t get the rust stains outta,” she said. “Figured they musta been laying there on some kinda metal for a long time.”

“It was over a year,” I reminded them. “I can’t believe you did all this. You didn’t have to.”

“Yeah we did,” said the Marine Sarge. “It was the right thing to do.”

“It was, yes,” I said. “But you even washed and folded… everything. I’d have been impressed to get any of it back in a garbage bag.”

The couple offered me a seat and a beer. I gratefully obliged, spending the next hour with them, learning about their home in North Carolina and what led them to being stationed in sunny Southern Cal. As it turned out, they were big movie fans. Since I had none on the horizon, I was able to arrange for them to attend a movie premiere the following week. Hardly the kind of payback they deserved for all the kindness and care they’d showed me. But at least the night put a few smiles on their lovely faces.

Still wondering what the Sam Hell these stories have to do with working in showbiz? Well how’s this for a connection? It’s a business that is so overly-competitive that it is naturally rife with deception and dishonesty. So much so that to put a number on all the broken moral compasses I’ve encountered I’d need to employ a platoon of forensic accountants. Some of my showbiz compatriots are so accustomed to the sinful deeds that occur in the daily discourse of business that many have forgotten the simple and pure ethic of doing the right thing. It’s in moments like these that I remember the story exampled by that fine Marine and his wife. Or even myself in that silly case of the lost and found bracelet. The rewards for doing the right thing may be small to insignificant and, on paper, not worth the change in your pocket. But the deposits will be great to both your soul and character.

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2 thoughts on “Behind the Lines with DR: Finders Keepers – Your Moral Compass

  1. NealR

    Thank you for sharing these two stories… I’m not ashamed to admit that they brought tears to my eyes. I like to think I would have behaved the same as you and the Marine did. (Though I know there is no way I would have done all that cleaning that he and his wife did!)

    Kudos to you, sir.

    Best wishes,

    Neal Reynolds

  2. Michael Q. Martin

    Doug,
    When I was starting out, I worked on a sit-com called “Gimme A Break!” We had a receptionist in our office and some of the freelance writers who came in to pitch ideas to the producers treated her like she was some sort of servant and were not very polite to her. Fast forward a few years later. She was now a staff writer on another sit-com, and I often wonder if these nasty writers came in and had to pitch to her. You can always tell a person’s true character by how they treat waiters, waitresses, car valets, and people who they don’t want anything from. If they treat them nicely, they are probably good people. You know what they say, the hands you step on as you go up the ladder are attached to the rear ends you’ll be kissing on the way down.
    Best, Michael

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