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The Television Set
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
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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