Saturday, February 14, 2015

Stanley Kubrick and the Hotel in NY

I believe that as we live our pathetic lives in our corrupt society, that we are all of us under a moral obligation to enliven and otherwise entertain each other, so that we do not all collapse into a puddle of stress and unhappiness. Sadly not everyone holds to this moral principle.

Also sadly, some of the attempted entertainment items, jokes, gags, whatever, are better than others. “I have a million jokes as good as that one” always sounds like a threat to me. Nevertheless, every once in a while things come together and work out to everyone's benefit. The point of this post is to review the structure of such a gag first used in 1997 that those who are interested in continuing in this great tradition may do so. For reasons that will be obvious in a moment, this gag would have to be updated to modern times or it would take an entirely new, and darker, feeling.

There are several ideas incorporated in this gag and so lets review them here. 1. It works to build up the mythology of the designated target in front of his or her coworkers in entertaining ways, 2. It uses as a primary mechanism certain behaviors that have been noticed in a class of worker in our society in order to achieve our goals without being physically present, 3. It seeks to achieve its goals by exploiting a weakness, in this case, the unfortunate willingness to hold in high esteem members of the motion picture industry and to think that there is anything glamourous or exciting in that industry, 4. The gag uses modesty and indirection as a technique for achieving its goals, in this case one is not impersonating a famous person, one is impersonating an anonymous and lowly assistant to the famous person, 5. It goes further by suggesting that the target is in fact the important person, whereas the off screen celebrity is actually just nobody of any special interest.

The occasion for this event was the imminent arrival of a friend from the West Coast to NYC. I knew that my friend, from ILM, would arrive on a certain day and somehow knew what hotel he was staying at. He must have told me which hotel it was, but I have no memory of that. I knew that it was possible at most hotels to leave a message in advance of arrival of the guest if they had a reservation, and furthermore, that there was a good chance that the front desk would read any such message to the arriving guest. I also knew that it was procedure for such people to arrive in groups from the airport, so that it was likely that my friend and target would arrive and check in with his co-workers all around him.

There was always the risk that the front desk would not read any message aloud, but hand it to my friend on paper. It could go either way, this is a flaw in the approach. In this case, the events turned out the way I desired but it could have been different. Had my friend received the note on paper, it would still have been entertaining, but not as much.

Given this intelligence of the imminent arrival of the target, I waited until the day before arrival and called the hotel, asking to leave a message for a guest who had not yet arrived but whose arrival was expected. The front desk was happy to do so after looking up the guests' name, Josh Pines of Industrial Light and Magic, on their arrivals list.

Then I told the front desk, in the nicest and most innocent voice I could manage, that this was Mr. Kubrick's office calling, and if Josh had any free time during his trip to NY could he give Stanley a call at home whose number was 212 888 8888. There are several tricks to this message worth pointing out. I. the person who is leaving the message am nobody, I am just representing Mr. Kubrick's office. I assume that everyone knows who Kubrick is, and would know that Stanley refers to the top guy, and that Josh might not have Stanley's home number, so I give it. In reality, of course this number is my home number, something I figured Josh would realize after a moment's thought. Also, note that it is an affectation of the motion picture industry that everyone at the top is referred to in an aw-shucks manner and by their first name. If this had been Jeffrey Katzenberg, I would call him Jeffrey, etc. The implication of course was that it was Josh who was the busy one, and it was Stanley who would rearrange his schedule to fit in Josh whenever he might be available.

So, the trap having been set, all I could do is wait and see what happened. As it turned out, in this case, everything went our way.

A group from ILM arrived at the hotel and while they waited for each member to check into the hotel, the front desk read out to Josh in a loud voice that “A Mr. Kubrick's office had called, and could Josh call Stanley at home at the following number”. This got a suitable response from Mr. Pines colleagues, although Josh immediately saw through the ruse, and said it was “just” Michael Wahrman. Nevertheless, when Josh went up to his room, his electronic key did not work. Puzzled he went down to the front desk and discovered that he had been upgraded to a better room by the hotel.

[Josh tells me that he never referred to "just" Michael Wahrman, but in fact informed Ellen Poon, a member of that party, after the fact and outside the lobby, who was behind the  gag.  He also reports that the people most impressed with the gag were behind the counter, which does not surprise me at all, and in fact is part of the reason I hoped that they would read the message out loud.  In other words, they would read it out loud and make a slightly bigger scene of it all because the workers at the hotel thought it was exciting, not because Josh's colleagues did.  Anyway, Josh does report that he got a better room and it was very nice.  That of course was an unexpected result].

If we were to try and repeat this gag exactly today, we would want to designate a different celebrity director, as Mr. Kubrick is no longer with us, which is a shame.

In fact, the person most amused by this stunt was and still is myself.  I was really delighted and still am.   Probably would not work a second time (at least not at the same hotel).

In this manner, we endeavor to entertain our friends and try to alleviate the endless boredom and misery of their everyday lives. If only some of them would reciprocate, that my life would also be enlivened. But I wait in vain for that happy day.

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