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The Television Set


Harry Buschman

Written many years ago ....

In 1948, the manager of our company, Mr. Burnside bought a television set. It was a daring move, calculated to impress his customers. Burnside ran an engineering company, that wallowed in the plush profits of the post-war building boom. It was not an innovative company, not on the cutting edge of anything – particularly engineering. It didn't have to be. We all wore sleeve garters, punched a time clock and worked a half day on Saturdays.

You wouldn't think a television set would be appropriate to the company's life-style. Television in those days was untried and what with the frivolous nature of Clarabell and The Mickey Mouse Club, Burnside had a dickens of a job getting the Board of Directors to approve it.

Burnside decided to install the television set in our conference room. It was the only room in the building with a rug, even Burnside's office didn't have a rug. From the day it arrived, the conference room and the television set were off limits to all employees, and a typewritten sign appeared on the frosted glass door prohibiting its use. Very few of us out in the drafting room had ever been in the conference room in the first place.

The television set, like the rug was meant to impress potential clients.

In this alien, club-like atmosphere the television set was installed by a squad of RCA electronic engineers, It looked like a closed casket with a tiny window in the side to view the remains. Two men in white uniforms and a man in a blue serge suit spent the better part of a day adjusting the horizontal this and the vertical that. A giant antenna was installed on the roof of the old building and pointed in the general direction of the Empire State Building. A sturdy latch and lock was installed for the set so the lowly engineers couldn't turn it on, and only his secretary, Pauline, knew where the key was. In 1948, no engineer I was acquainted with knew how to operate a television set, so I think the precaution was unnecessary.

In spite of the Cold War news of the day and in the face of the Berlin Blockade and the war in Korea, no one ever dared ask old man Burnside or Pauline to check on the international scene.

An exception was made during the World Series. Old Man Burnside was a blindly enthusiastic Yankee fan and he naturally assumed everyone else was. Back then, World series games were played in the afternoon under a blue summer sky, and he was determined to watch every game from the first pitch to the last. He could not possibly sit in the conference room alone all afternoon while his engineers labored outside in the drafting room, so he devised a plan to make it seem more democratic. Six men at a time would be allowed to sit with him and watch a half an inning each. By his slide rule calculation it meant everyone in the drafting room would get to see three putouts, and since he had to be there to supervise the operation, he would get to watch it all. Pitifully few perks came our way those days and it seemed to us that manna had rained down upon us from Heaven.

Unfortunately it didn't work out that way.

If you know baseball at all, you're probably aware that not all half innings are equal in time. Some are ten minutes long and some last forever. It meant that some of us were away from our work-stations (the word had not yet been invented) much longer than others. To compensate for this discrepancy, the rules were changed. Every group of six would have fifteen minutes. No more. No less.

That didn't work either! If your fifteen minutes expired with two men out, the score tied, the bases loaded, a relief pitcher on the mound, and a pinch hitter coming up to bat, you might never know the outcome. A new group marched in, ignorant of what was going on, leaving everyone but old man Burnside in the dark.

Two games went by and most of us got fed up with the whole thing. Many of us didn't like the Yankees, and some of us had never seen a game of baseball. Burnside couldn't understand it, "What the hell... you try to please everybody, and all you get are complaints." His largess had boomeranged. Most of us declined to watch the game, and he was left to watch the world series alone. To make matters worse he got grouchy when he repeatedly lost the daily baseball pool. We could see his fuzzy figure through the frosted glass door sitting alone in the conference room.

After the third game, and in spite of his rank and position, he felt the guilt that all small boys feel when they're goofing off. I think the Yankees lost in seven games that year, and he quit after the third. Pauline put the lock back on the television set and he went back to his office to catch up on three days of neglected duties. I like to think it was a lesson to him; I know it was to us... we felt a power we didn't know we had. We were closer together than ever before and our joy was made complete when Pauline won the jumbo baseball pool.

©Harry Buschman 1995

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