Water Pitchers From the Past
I have two water pitcher stories. One is of little significance, the other of even less at this remote date in the story's future. You can decide which is which. I was reminded of one by reading about the current strike of the IATSE union stagehands at all the major Broadway shows, no settlement of which appears in sight. I was reminded of the second water pitcher by the story of the first. If that is too complicated, here it is in schematic form.
I was in a union long ago. It was NABET, the union for the people who operate the equipment at major market broadcast stations. Part of my job was to sit opposite the "talent," the deejays, newscasters, etc., whose voices went out over the air. I was responsible for turning the microphone on and off on cue, playing music recordings and commercials, editing news tapes, and interacting with all the technical equipment necessary to broadcast a program. Also, once the equipment was installed at the station, I would fix, realign, move, clean and otherwise keep it operational. WABC was an important "flagship" and "clear channel" station that ran 24/7 and there were quite a number of NABET "brothers" employed—thirty two is a number that just popped into my mind. Likewise, the talent union, AFTRA, represented a large number of employees. Seven full-time deejays, a handful of part-timers, newscasters, etc. Of course there were other employees. Managers, secretaries, directors and schedulers of one sort or another. Together, union and non-union, we managed to keep this small but very successful division of a very large and very successful corporation on the air and raking in money for what we now call "the stakeholders."
But there was an issue, and it needed resolution. The AFTRA guys had their territory, but they would no sooner press the start button on a tape recorder than they would curse on the air, at least in those days. And when we NABET guys turned the microphone on, we turned our mouths off, not just to prevent cursing, but because only AFTRA was allowed to vocalize. Broadcasting is a thirsty business. If you talk for hours a day, you need to take sips of water frequently. So, on the AFTRA side of the broadcast console, there was a water pitcher for this purpose. You probably know how water pitchers work: They are placed underneath a spigot (whose functioning is beyond the scope of this blogitem), which spigot is then turned on in one of a number of ways. Water goes into the pitcher under the influence of gravity and pressure, and eventually the pitcher becomes full and the spigot is turned off. Lamentably, in those prehistoric days, we did not yet have walking water pitchers, and a human had to refill it. It was refilled from the water fountain situated right next to the bathroom, which, in a spasm of ecumenism was frequented by everyone! From general manager to lowly intern, from AFTRA to NABET, we all used the bathroom and passed the water fountain on the way. Needed was a way to keep the water pitcher enabled for its critical task. A policy was developed.
The policy was a simple one. When the pitcher was empty or nearly so, it was placed to the side of the console, and the next person who went to the bathroom would pick it up, refill it at the water fountain, and return the full pitcher to its accustomed place on the broadcast console.
Did I Get Away With That?
If you are a standard human not witting in union shop ways, you might well believe the previous paragraph, especially since I deliberately eschewed use of the <FICTION> HTML tag. If you've ever worked in a union shop and haven't had your critical faculties damaged by too much cold-weather picketing, you're at least suspicious, possibly to the extent of thinking "Surely that can't have happened." And you are correct. Of course it didn't happen that way. We NABET guys were technicians, responsible for the operation of broadcast equipment. We would no sooner refill a water pitcher than we would redecorate the general manager's office (except, I suppose, as a prank). And certainly the AFTRA guys wouldn't do it. They were talent and being paid large sums of money to broadcast. It was hardly their responsibility to fetch the water, it just had to be there. Fortunately the American Broadcasting Company was (did I mention?) a large and successful corporation. About a mile from the radio studios were the ABC television studios, and at that location was to be found the solution to the water pitcher problem. You see, there was a specific union that had jurisdiction over the water pitcher used by the AFTRA talent, and that was the IATSE union stagehands, the predecessors of those who are on strike at this very moment. At least twice a day, an IATSE member was dispatched from the television studios to the radio studios a mile away. When he arrived (Union driver? Taxicab? Company car? I never asked!), he would make his way to the air studio, refill the water pitcher as described above (whether it needed filling or not), place it on the console, and return to his urgent tasks uptown.
The Other Pitcher
I'm a cheap date: I never go for the beverage. For mostly better, I actually like water and have never developed an addiction to the high-margin and often less-than-salubrious beverages sold at stores and restaurants. The terminal item in the schematic above was brought to mind by the story just related, and the photograph is one that I took just minutes before writing this blog item. It is of a genuine, Chinese-restaurant water pitcher, New York City, ca. 1970. Against all odds it has been preserved to this very day through several moves and against gravitational misadventure. It is ceramic proof that I am at least consistent—I've always been a cheap date. At a previous place of striving, I and a bunch of the guys would go to the local Chinese place with the cheap lunch menu and obtain fuel for the remainder of the day. When asked about what I wanted to drink, I would always request that they leave the water pitcher on the table to save themselves being pestered for more.
When it was time to move on, the lunch crowd thoughtfully bought me my own pitcher. Thanks, guys!
NP: "Marquee Moon" - Television