Creative Nonfiction Contemporary Happy

The 'Best'

Stewart Schneider entered Schneider Productions' outer office and everyone burst into applause.

Nonplussed, he thought they were joking. He raised his arms like Rocky and danced in a circle.

He didn't get it. He hadn't heard.

Jill, his secretary, rushed up.

"You got nominated!"

"I did? For what?"

"Best Producer, silly." She hugged him. "Our show, 'Shadow Banning, Private Eye.'"

Stewart called out to the staff. "Thank you! Thank you! You all know, I couldn't do it without you."

Cheers joined the applause.

Jill followed him into his office.

"You have about a hundred messages."

He cackled as he rubbed his hands together. "How can I create more distractions for Stewart?" He raised his hands toward the ceiling. "Best! Best! Best!" He whispered to Jill, "Sort them into 'well wishers' and 'job seekers' for me. Or is that a distinction without a difference?"

She laughed. "I'll see what I can do." She returned to her desk.


Home for dinner, Stewart's wife, Elise, greeted him with a big hug and a bourbon.

"Congratulations, love. I'm so proud of you."

"Yeah... it could be good for us. For everyone."

"Of course! Why wouldn't it?"

"Can't wrap my head around it. You know, 'Who, me?'"

"You're finally getting recognition."

"I guess. Such a long shot... Even if I don't win, it'll..."

"...Put you on the map. You know you deserve it."

He looked doubtful.

The phone rang. Elise answered. "Hold a moment. I'll see if he's in..."

She mouthed 'reporter' to Stewart. He nodded and sipped his drink before taking the phone.

"Stewart, here... Yes... Just heard. No, I have nothing to say. A comment would be premature, don't you think...? Wouldn't want to jinx it, right? Okay. Thanks." He hung up and looked at Elise. "How did I do?"

"Great! You said nothing. Can't misquote that..." She led him to the dinner table. "I'll need to find something to wear..."


The next day's edition of Variety featured Stewart's picture on the front page. The banner headline read, 'Nominee ensures win with voodoo.' The article assured readers 'the smell of burning sage is not from raging brush fires. Rather, Schneider's studio is warding off 'evil spirits.''

The office phone rang non-stop.

Social media had a field day ridiculing his 'superstition.' Passing Stewart in the corridor, people laughed and crossed their index fingers, as if to a vampire. Stewart thought, ‘does everyone know the same jokes?’ 

He said, "Truth has a very short shelf life, when it comes to the news."

That night, ingénue Melanie Gage, star of 'Shadow Banning...' appeared on Jimmy Kimmel's show. They bantered for several minutes. Then Melanie stated the 'jinx' statement was not a spoiler alert. She "hoped people would give the movie a chance."

An LA Times feature on exorcisms, cited Stewart's 'statement.'


Stewart's Monday morning production meetings were free-wheeling improv sessions. If they stuck to business, most would last half the time. Participants agreed the banter and camaraderie were the main attraction.

Stewart’s long-time partner, Elijah James ran the post-production department.

He announced, "Box office receipts confirm ‘Shadow Banning's’ attendance nearly doubled this week. Ladies and germs, we have a hit..."

Everyone clapped at the news.

Production Assistant and Supreme Gopher, Jerome, said, "The gods deserve an award for that..."

Stewart frowned. "What gods? I don't think so..."

Others jumped in.

"What award would they be eligible for? Best God?"

"There's only one. How can there be a 'best'?"

"Before all others?"

"The others are also-rans."

"Oh, I knew Him when..."

"Yeah... from before the beginning."

"Overnight sensation..."

Stewart shuffled some papers.

Elijah interjected, "Who heard about the other inventor of the light bulb?"

Someone took the bait. "Who's that?"

"You know, what's his name...?"

Stewart took the cue. "Oh yeah, him. Thomas Alva Lipschitz."

Everyone laughed.

Elijah said, "Yeah, He got screwed."

Jerome doubled back. "How 'bout, Best devil?"

"There's no best devil. They're the worst..."

Jerome put on his announcer's voice, "Up tonight, for 'most evil...'"

"Typical Award's night..."

"...But he spurs others to greater heights."


Stewart and Elijah lunched at their regular spot. The waiter brought drinks and offered congratulations. He took their order.

Steward dipped bread in olive oil. "Eli, I don't get it. This nomination has me stressed. Can't concentrate. Can't sleep..."

"Don't let it throw you, Stew. I know a guy. He's won so many Emmys, he made a glass topped table using a dozen for the base. His company's team votes 'en bloc.' They win all the time." He raised his martini. "It's a statue, Stew. Looks nice on the piano..."

"But what's a Best Producer? No one even knows what I do. Best producer? Did our show make more money? Stay on budget? Make the audience, or the investors cry? Conjured the best gumbo of talent and got out of the way? Know the best people? Kiss the best cheeks?"

He slapped his buttock. Elijah cracked up.

"How many of these well-wishers would slip me a shiv if they thought they’d get applause? Or an award for it? ‘And tonight's winner for best back stabber...’"

"Stiff competition there..."

"The broadest smiles bare the sharpest teeth."

Their food arrived and they began to eat.

"So, I'm at Bel Aire, Thursday, approaching the fifteenth. Under par... And Charlie, from Warner's?" Elijah nodded as he chewed. "He comes over from the eighteenth, just to shake my hand. For what? To screw with my game?"

"Did he?"


"How'd you play after that?"

"Lousy. You kidding? Because he annoyed me. Not the nomination."

"Same difference."

"It's stupid. It's a nomination. So what? Everyone does their best."

"Oh no they don't. Some fill a chair... and aren't even good at that."

"Then they're misguided. Why kill time? Too much to do."

"It's a glamourous paycheck. I knew a woman who’d parade around carrying empty film boxes, to look important."

"What a waste."

"Consider this, Stew. The nomination is worth something, win, or not."

"Maybe better."

"Right. Some think winning marks them, or makes them untouchable." Stewart grunted. "You know, priced out of the action."

"But a nomination!"

"They hold the hot dice. Everyone wants in on that action. Either way, this could be our ticket..."


Since the nomination, Stewart noticed a difference in how people treated him.

Those who mattered focused on business, of course.

But some want something. To them, you're not a person, but an opportunity.

He thought, 'Just do your job. Wearing bunting won't make me notice you, except you clash with the décor.'

It seemed the nomination colored every encounter.

His poker buddies gave Stewart the honor of ‘Best Chip Stacker.’ But Charlie said he still couldn't play poker worth a damn.

Charlie won ‘Best Shuffler,’ but that wasn't about his card handling ability.

The waitress at his coffee shop decorated his donut with a post-it on a toothpick, 'Best Sprinkles!'

His mechanic stuck a note on his steering wheel - 'best oil change - he's got the juice!'

Jerome produced a mock-up award for the studio accountant - 'Most Creative Accounting.' He announced the IRS offered him a rent free condo in San Quentin.

Elijah said, "I never knew anyone who set out to win an award, who actually won. Yes, always strive to do one's best. But aim for an award? Never. Do the damn job."

Stewart added, "Yeah, the guy walking around thinking 'I'm a star! I'm a star!' He does a header into the pit."

"Break a leg..."

They took turns riffing on awards they'd like to see.

'Best Drug Dealer' got a big laugh. He always delivers...

'Best Barber' - Love those sideburns. Don't ever change.

'Best Mailman' - brings the biggest checks.

'Best Gopher' - hot coffee to your desk. Jerome pumped his fist.

'Best Custodian' - swept the awards stage.

'Most Humble' - a standing ovation for his acceptance speech.

'Best Excuse' for missing a deadline.

'Best Craft Service' - Better bagels? Better butter? Fresher coffee?

'Best Sound Editing' - Hello? Is it in sync? Like being a little pregnant. Either it is, or it's, uhm... not.

Elijah nominated 'Best Tailor,' who stole the award from the editor who then brought a suit against him.


Awards night arrived. Elise straightened Stewart's tie. Then she touched his face.

He pulled away. "What are you doing?"

"You have a nose hair."



"No one is going to see a nose hair. They'll be looking at the award... if I get one..." He smiled at her. "...And you..."

"Thanks, Stew. It'll drive me nuts, though."

"On my list. Not your problem."

They arrived to the theater after navigating through traffic. The air felt charged with electricity. So many smiling faces. They found their seats.

Stewart saw Elise eyeing his nose.

"Relax Elle. You're here to support me tonight. Don't make it about you."

"I am here for you. That's why I'm stressed."

"Your job is to act calm."

"But how?"

"To anchor my nerves." She didn't get it. "Pretend you're up for an acting award... 'Best Performance' at an awards show."


"Act like you don't care... almost."

She said, "Of course, you'll be humble if you win... When you win..."

"Right, can't gloat."

"No, no... bad form."

"But if you don't win. How do you celebrate the winner... with just the right ratio of disappointment...?" She listened. "Clap, nod, set the jaw... Look beautiful..."

She clued in. "And a tad blasé."

He nodded. "Knowing, but not jaded."

"Breezy, but not flip."

They riffed on it. She smiled.

"Worldly, but not aloof."

Elise pointed at him. "Languid, but not hung-over."


They fell into a laughing embrace.

He held her at arm's length. "I love you so much."

The Emcee killed. Awards were presented, thanks offered. Jokes told. People laughed and celebrated. Nominees won. Others did not.

Stewart's moment arrived. He clasped hands with Elise.

The envelope opened. Hearing his name, Stewart sprung to his feet. A cheer arose.

Elise hugged him.

He bounded onto the stage. Adrenalin flowed. The presenter gave him the statuette and withdrew. Applause faded.

Stewart caught his breath at the podium. He nodded at friendly faces.

"Hey, everyone, this is amazing. My humble thanks to everyone who helped boost me up those steps tonight. You know who you are. Too many to name.

The long and short of it is, I'm good at what I do. But no one can tell me exactly what that is..."

A big laugh burst from the audience. Stewart nodded and chuckled.

"A huge part, not all, but a large component, is making lists... I see my fellow nominees nodding in agreement.

I make lists. And lists of lists. You get the idea... What needs doing? Who will do it? At what cost? To the last detail...

Wash, rinse, repeat.

That may sound simplistic, and there's so much more. How many hats...? But what I'm saying is, the people who complete those tasks, which I detail, make our stories come to life. That army of designers and craftsmen got me here tonight. My thanks go to all of them."

Stewart got the biggest ovation ever.

May 25, 2022 17:05

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.