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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber

What Happens When Phyllis Wakes Up to Find Six Strangers Sleeping on the Living Room Floor?

They sure weren't there the night before when she went to sleep...

1980 was sort of a watershed year for me. I had just left my job at Palm Springs Life Magazine and felt like I needed a break after five years in the desert. Phyllis’ brother arranged an interview with a business partner of his who was in on the ground floor of the music video industry. I decided to give it a try. The people I met were 100% wholesome guys and gals, easygoing folks who liked having a good time.

The business itself was brutal. Back-to-back 19 hour days were not unusual, and the demands were exceptionally high working with ‘A’ list Pop / Rock & Roll bands (Queen, Prince, Aerosmith, etc.). I was at the bottom of the food chain, and as such, got my hands dirty a lot, literally.

I hung around because of the new friends I made and the adventures we had. The work itself was as tedious and dreary as you could get. Videos and movies may look exciting when you see them edited and scored, but the scene-by-scene production is snail pace slow. Standing on a 20 foot high scaffold manning a klieg light for six hours without a break was part of the unending monotony that we all had to cope with every day. I suspect that is why we partied so hard after the work was completed.

My friend John, an Australian bloke who was the definition of laid-back, was the sort of guy who could handle a hurricane / tornado / volcanic eruption with aplomb before breakfast and his first cup of coffee. He had a cast of characters living at his home in the San Fernando Valley that were a cross between Andy Warhol and NASA. All professionals, all absolute experts at what they did, all certifiably insane.

John would throw frequent parties at his home, generally inviting three times as many women as men. Some of them were Rock & Roll groupies. At my first party I met one who flung herself into an easy chair exclaiming “I just got off the road after nine months on tour with Alice Cooper and I’m beat!” We became good friends – she was a lively and engaging young lady who took a keen interest in my photography.

I didn’t mingle much at the parties, I was too busy capturing snapshots of the interactions of the ‘boy meets girl’ thing. When John needed a break, he would come down to Rancho Mirage to visit, usually with an entourage, occasionally bringing along people I never met before. While this may sound awkward to most individuals, it always fell under the auspice of “Since I trust John unequivocally, I trust anyone who tags along with him.”

It took a full year of working and partying in Los Angles with these people before we had built a trust level to this point. MTV was blossoming and a friend of John’s was the exclusive distributor for Sony video cameras in the U.S. at the time. This guy became an overnight millionaire -- since he had the entire market cornered

Wild and wooly was the best way to describe these events. Hollywood was the epicenter of everything happening in the entertainment business; and being there when MTV was born was a special treat. Me, John, and Craig made an impromptu trip to Los Vegas one weekend to pick up a Grass Valley Switcher. This was the first digital video effects machine available in the U.S., and the editing studio in Burbank where the second half of our 16 hour days were spent, used one for the early production of music videos.

One day I’m on a set and I see two guys hunched over a computer – employees of George Lucas (who I did have the opportunity to work with). I sneak up and watch them from behind. They are working on a portable computer with two floppy disc drives. They are stubbing out code to try and find a bug in the software. Before we had complex debugging environments that would permit us to ‘step’ through the code line by line to find elusive problems,

programmers would put a ‘stop’ command into the code, and it would do just that. They would then dump data to the screen so they could get a handle on the nature of the issue. It was a sloppy way of writing software, but it was the only kid on the block at the time.

With that ancient of a computer, it took nearly a half hour to recompile the code before they could test it again and see if they found a remedy for the problem at hand. Today that entire cycle takes well under two minutes. I asked them what language they were programming in (this was a good five years before I started to code) and they told me ‘C’. I asked them why it was called ‘C’. With a straight face they told me that ‘B’ was already taken!

So, John calls me up (before smartphones) and asks if he could come down for the weekend with a ‘couple’ of friends. “Sure”, I respond. Phyllis goes nighty-night early and the crew pulls in around 9pm. John introduces me to everyone I don’t know, like this is a normal and everyday occurrence (not far from the truth). John and Amira take the spare bedroom and everyone else grabs a couch or the floor – most brought sleeping bags with them. The next morning I’m outside trimming the palm tree when Phyllis wakes up and walks into the living room. Sleeping bodies are scattered everywhere. Without a second thought, she starts a pot of coffee going. My new friends perk up at the smell of fresh brewed coffee and one by one they introduce themselves to Phyllis and plop down on the couch and let the caffeine do its magic.

This became a regular occurrence in our household, Phyllis just seemed to take it all in stride. It was an amazing journey for her – going to sleep one night not knowing what stranger (for no more than 60 seconds) she would meet the next day – in our own home. Never during all of these weekend adventures did a single one of these new friends turn out to be someone that was not a standup, genuine, fun-to-be-around human being. They would go to the extreme of washing and drying the sheets or pillowcases they used, the house was always left cleaner than before they arrived. It’s what civil people do.

These were simpler days, and we both miss them dearly.

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