Originally published in Our Times: Canada’s Independent Labour Magazine 1998
The technician listened uncomfortably as the Executive Producer talked about Rolf taking early retirement. Lots of people were doing it these days. Cutbacks. Golden handshakes. But Rolf… the department would go down the tubes without him. Rolf would go down the tubes without the department. Something about needing the package. Debts to pay off. Forced into it, really. Sad case. Wouldn’t get his full pension now. The man had lived for his work.
The Department Head came in with the coffee. The technician took his black. The Department Head tried to give him his change, a whole nickel. The technician waved her off.
“So what happened the other day?” the Executive Producer asked.
The technician considered playing dumb but he hated people who did that. What day? Punish the Executive Producer for not being specific. Yes, the technician knew damn well what day. Something else the technician hated was making excuses, even if they were true. A point of pride. They hadn’t been able to talk about it that day, but he had known it was coming.
He sighed. “Equipment.”
“Equipment?” The Executive Producer knew that much already.
“Yeah. Bloody console.”
Uncomfortable situation this, really. Fact was, as the sound technician it was his responsibility. He’d selected the equipment, tested it, set it up, tested it again, then tested it yet again. It wasn’t his fault the audio console had decided to crap out just then. It was the console’s fault. Blame the console. Except that it wasn’t the console’s fault. It was his fault, ultimately, because he was the technician, and it was his job to make sure things worked.
The Executive Producer was waiting to hear some more.
The technician stared back at him. Sure, he felt responsible. Wished he could have done more. Wished he’d chosen another console. Wished he’d been somewhere else that day. But he had been around long enough to know that these things happened, it was just plain bad luck, you got past it, moved on, forgot about it. The Executive Producer knew that.
“Did you test it?”
Holy cow, there was a question. Had he tested it? Of course he had tested it! Two, three times. The technician frowned. How to respond to this remarkably stupid question? This insulting question.
He said, “Yes.” No need to add, “Of course”.
“And it worked.”
The technician wanted to say, “Well, no, it hadn’t. But I used it anyway.” But he was on shaky ground to begin with and sarcasm wouldn’t help, even if deserved.
So he said, “Yes, it worked. Every time. All three times I tested it, yes.” That ought to drive the point home. The Executive Producer laughed. Because he wasn’t exactly sure why the Executive Producer was laughing, the technician just sat there.
“Wow,” the Executive Producer said. He shook his head. “What a screw-up, eh?”
The technician shrugged. “Well.”
“They had to fill back at the station. Had to play fill music for the whole show.” The Executive Producer laughed again. “Cause we sure as hell weren’t there.”
The technician refused to laugh. It wasn’t all that funny, not to him, not yet. It was embarrassing, as embarrassing as hell. The whole live audience had been waiting, waiting for the show to begin. All the lines back to the station had been tested. He had done hundreds of these remotes before, they had become routine, but still there was always that moment of tension just before you went live. Would it work? Everything you had set up, would it get the signal back to the station and then out onto the air and make everybody happy? The producer? The host? Especially the host?
Then the moment was past and the host was talking, the theme was playing and you were live, you were on, the producer was smiling, the host was smiling, the audience was smiling, you were smiling, everybody was as happy as pigs in poo.
Not this time. The moment was upon them and nothing worked. Nothing. Everything was dead. The host’s mouth was moving and nothing was coming out. The Executive Producer was shouting, the host was freaking out. The audience was murmuring, wondering. In that instant, the technician checked a thousand things. The CD player didn’t work, neither did the tape machine, the microphones, the wireless, nothing. It all pointed to the damned console.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” the producer shouted.
“It’s the console,” the technician told him.
“What can we do?”
“Nothing. I didn’t bring another one.” And the station was too far away to go and get one. The technician never liked to beat around the bush, and he didn’t see the point in doing so now. He hadn’t brought a spare, and there was nothing they could do about it. All they could do was tell everyone involved that the show was over before it even began. Tear down and go home.
A bad day.
Now they were in the Executive Producer’s office, going over it all again. The Executive Producer had stopped laughing. The Department Head was still there, and had yet to say anything. Nice of her to have brought the coffee, though. The technician began to get annoyed. Where was this leading? It was time to stop beating around the bush.
He said, “Well, it was my fault, I apologized to everyone already. I should have brought a spare console. I don’t know why I didn’t.”
So, were they going to fire him? Or just make him feel bad? He waited. He’d said his piece, laid his head on the chopping block. The ball was in their court.
Then it struck him. Rolf. Early retirement. That’s why the Executive Producer had started this meeting by mentioning Rolf! They weren’t going to fire him, they were going to make him accept some stupid package! Get rid of him that way. It all made sense. He wanted to lean across the desk and choke the Executive Producer, choke the life right out of him. It wasn’t his fault, it could have happened to anyone!
The Executive Producer was being cruel. He had a goofy grin on his face. The Department Head was smiling too. How could they be so heartless? “Yes sir, quite a screw up. Biggest one this corporation has seen in a while.”
“So you’re going to force me out.”
The Executive Producer looked puzzled. “What?”
“You’re getting rid of me, right? No more embarrassing mistakes,” the technician said bitterly. “You’re going to force me to accept a package.”
“What then?” What else was there?
The Executive Producer leaned forward. “You have a gift for screwing things up. That means you have a bright future ahead of you in public broadcasting.”
The Department Head extended her hand. “Congratulations,” she said. “We’re making you a manager.”