Back in the mid-90s, I was working with a partner in Los Angeles. We got the call to work a detail for a wealthy V.I.P. who needed two bodyguards for a night out at one of the swankiest nightclubs in the city. My partner and I were responsible for driving this gentleman and his entourage of 15 people to the venue, and the job was fairly routine, as these jobs go; escorting his guests to the restroom, getting the server when the cocktails were running low, keeping his area of the V.I.P. room secure.
Everything changed when a friend of mine showed up. She and I had met at the gym, and both knew some of the same people in the acting world. It just so happened her photo spread had just appeared, and she was Playboy’s Playmate of the Month. She came by to say hello, and immediately after she walks away, my client asks “who was that?” He was rather forceful guy, clearly accustomed to getting what he wanted. “I want to meet her,” he insisted. So, I thought to be polite, I’d make an introduction. I brought her around to his table, and of course she was her usual nice, friendly self and she’d become something of a celebrity so she was obliging a fan.
After a few minutes of chatting, and a glass of champagne, she excused herself and returned to her friends. My client walked up to me and said “I want her.” He seemed to mistake her charm and politeness for interest in him. I explained that she was there with her boyfriend, a New York actor of some note, but that didn’t dissuade this guy. “How much do I have to pay you to kick his ass?” I was taken aback. I’d never had a client make such a ridiculous request.
Well, my idiot partner says “One thousand dollars.” I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to kick his ass! I explain to the client that no, that’s not going to happen. He ignores me, turns to my partner, and offers him $2000. Well, he then explains that he was “just kidding,” and the client is furious. I explain to him that we don’t beat people up, it’s against the law, and that we’re not willing to go to jail so he can get this girl (that’s just how arrogant he was–it never occurred to him that she wasn’t interested in him!)
About an hour later, the entourage decides to leave the club, and my client spies this girl at the curbside valet. He turns to me and says “Come on, I’ll give you $5,000 to kick his ass.” At this point, I’ve about had it with this goofball. I answer him loud enough for everyone in his group to hear “Listen, I am NOT going to kick his ass for you. Drop it.” Looking back, I guess that wasn’t the best way to handle it.
So now, the client is furious with me. He’s embarrassed, he’s been drinking, and he angrily slides into the back seat of his tricked out Mercedes SUV and slams the door hard. I slip in to drive. His assistant, the guy who hired us for this job, is sitting next to me and I can see in the rearview mirror that the client is pissed. Then the verbal abuse starts.
This guy is yelling his fool head off at me, like a three-year-old child who had his candy taken away. It is all I can do not to yell back, or dump his sorry behind off at the side of the road. I stay calm. I remain professional. He continues to scream at me in this vehicle. He yells at me all the way back to his condo, where the rest of the entourage is waiting to party some more at his place.
When we get out of the car, and he sees all his guests waiting for him in the carport, he decides to play the last jerk card in his deck. He yells at his assistant, “Get him out of here, pay him.” He’s trying to be a big-shot, and make it look like I did something wrong. His assistant hands me the $400 fee for the night.
“Do you see this money?” I said as calmly and patiently as I could. “I’m not for sale.” His mouth dropped open and his guests were utterly silent as I tucked the bills under the windshield wiper of his fancy Mercedes and walked away.
The next day, and for several days after, this guy’s assistant calls me and leaves messages. I don’t even bother to listen to them. I don’t return his calls. About a week later, I’m out at a club working for a long-time client, and I run into the assistant. He runs up to me “I’ve been trying to talk to you,” he says, and reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out a worn-out envelope–clearly, he’d been carrying it around all week.
“My boss feels really bad about the way he behaved, and wants to apologize. This is for you.” I tell him that it’s not necessary, but he insists. “Take it,” he says “you earned it.” I finally relent. When I open the envelope, I about fall over in shock. Inside is $1,000 cash.
The lesson in this story is that you can count on running into people who will tempt you with money to do the wrong things. If you let a client treat you like you’re some hired thug, then you will become a thug. In this case, it turned out that maintaining my integrity (literally) yielded a higher reward!