An RCA Christmas

I was thinking about the holidays this year and my thoughts wandered back to one of my very first jobs with a major corporation. In fact, come to think of it, that was the only job I had with a major corporation. It was the RCA Color TV service company in Hollywood California. This was probably the best and easiest job anyone could ever have, probably as easy as being president or the head of General Motors. One of those cushy jobs you never forget and will never ever find again. Now my cohorts in this story were Charlie Muir and Paul Scott. Charlie was not only a Fraternity brother but also a schoolmate going back to Daniel Webster Junior High. We both took Electricity 101 together with Mr. Payton and it was there that we learned (in just 3 painful weeks) how to strip the insulation off of a piece of wire real, real good. Paul and I went all the way back to Betsy Ross grade school in Culver City where we learned how to daydream and look at girls real, real good. It was Charlie who first got a job at RCA and then recommended Paul and me for a position as “Color” TV repair technicians. Now back then color was king. This was before computers and if you could fix a “Color” TV, you were the man. Of course when computers came around many TV techs learned how to fix them too just to amuse them selves.

There were so many aspects to this job at RCA that were great. Like, we had to drive a long distance to get there, which gave us the opportunity to ride our motorcycles to work each day. When you ride a bike to work, the further away it is, the better. Except or course, when it rained or was just too darn cold (as it often got as we approached the Holidays). Then we would take my 1953 Buick Special instead. Its funny, now come to think of it, the 53 Buick was a hand-me-down from my father which he drove to work too, down that very same street years earlier. He took Venice Blvd. to downtown and I would veer off to Hollywood. Yes, “Hollywood,” tinsel town, tuff town, my town.

Now I remember the shop executives at RCA wanting us to pick up our service calls from the dispatcher and to get on the road as fast as possible each day. I remember rushing into work along with all the other techs and stopping by Rosie’s desk. Along with her regular duties (which I never could quite figured out what they were), ran the coffee and donuts concession each day. Rosie would diligently collect our dimes and nickels, which would be used to pay for the annual Christmas party at some swank hotel. Well, to 19-year-old boys, that sounded like a deal. To have coffee and donuts and then get to go to an office party with all the cute secretaries? We would have been glad to pay a lot more for those darn donuts.

As I said, we all rushed in, got our calls, and then rushed out just as fast. Most of the techs just rushed right down the street to the coffee shop where they proceeded to have a real breakfast. That is, a real long, long breakfast (like 4 hours long). You see, a good tech would get 8 service calls a day and you could usually knock them off in about 3 hours, unless they gave you a picture tube job to do, then it could take 3 ½ hours. They really did not want you to come back for more calls, as there would not be enough for the next day. I tried to once. Sandy, the dispatcher, just said, “Why don’t you go and have yourself a nice cup of coffee.” That was the longest 3-hour cup of coffee I ever had.

This was a union shop, but unlike the well-paid unions, like the United Autoworkers Union, for instance, we got paid crap. But, hidden in our paltry benefits, we did get a light workload. In fact they could have fired half the techs and then there would have been just enough work for everyone left.

Well, I was not one for sitting around chewing the fat for hours each day, so I decided to use my time more wisely and, well, build a boat. As everyone else headed off for the coffee shop I rushed out to do all my service calls and then head back to Culver City, by noon, to work on my cruiser. Paul Scott’s mom agreed to let me use her garage and driveway to build it, not realizing how large it was going to be. She was thinking “row boat” and I was thinking “Cabin Cruiser.” My intention was to build this ship and live on it in the newly built Marina Del Ray boat harbor. I also intended on having lots of bikini clad babes on board as often as possible to. I did not actually know how to get bikini-clad babes aboard yet, but I did know how to build an ocean going vessel. And I was sure that if I did that, the bikini-clad babes would soon follow.

Now in order to pull this off I was going to have to get my calls done really fast. I had the Beverly Hills-Hollywood route and often some of those calls were way up on top of the hills overlooking Hollywood. So, I got to be a pretty good driver and only got one ticket the whole time I worked there. But, one day the manager, “Sid Callen” called all us techs in for a shop meeting and proceeded to describe what he had seen a few days earlier. He said, “I walked out of the building a few days ago and I noticed one of our service trucks coming around the corner…on two wheels? It then proceeded to almost run me down, then turned the other corner, ... “on two wheels,” and then entered the back lot coming to a screeching stop. As he described this event I realized that among these 30 or so techs present he was actually talking about me! I had delivered a TV set, forgotten the remote, and in my hurry to get done (and most important back to the boat for some more “boat building) created the as-for mentioned incident.

It was almost as bad as the “special” meeting called because Charley Muir's truck had, lets say, become a trash dump! He often would have a late afternoon snack of KFC or Pioneer chicken and would never bother to throw anything out. The truck just continued to fill up with chicken bones, skin, boxes and wrappers. Well, it was as high as the seat and reached all the way to the back of the van. I mean he really loved his chicken. I must admit it was a lot to handle in the hot summer months. But as we approached the chilly Holiday weather, which had a tendency to keep the decomposition process and gasses down to a minimum, it was really nothing too much to mention. So, Charley could not understand what all the fuss was about. He saw nothing wrong with chicken bones and wrappers falling out of the door every time he got in or out. He of course also worked the swank, litter free, chicken bone deprived, homes of Beverly Hills.

Now, Paul was no angel either. He rushed out to the local coffee shop one morning leaving his tools back at the shop. He had to go back to the shop to retrieve them in order to make his first service call of the day at around 3:30!

We could never understand why the managers just didn’t come up and talk to us personally. They always had to have a whole “shop meeting” to tell us. It never did make sense but that’s what corporations do. Thinking back, it was probably the Chicken Delight dinners they would buy us to eat after each meeting that made them call so many meetings. Union rules maybe? I don’t know. I never found out.

So that’s how my days went. Fixing TVs really fast, building the boat, and then hurrying back to the shop to check in. I am not sure how many extra miles I put on that service truck or how much gas was wasted driving back to Culver City but it must have been substantial. Things got even better working there just after Thanksgiving when a new secretary was hired and I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her. After that no matter what direction I went there was something beautiful to see, “my boat” or back to work to see the “secretary.”

She was the kind of girl that the other techs would kid about. They would make comments about her, they’d say, “She’s, look, but don’t touch.” I thought, though, that she was just a little shy like me and I like that a lot. She was a little on the short side and I like that too. She had the greenest eyes I had ever seen and the cutest pouty-est lips. Lips that said, “These could be yours, just figure me out.” Each day as I turned in my receipts to the cashier I would smile at her from across the office, she would smile back, and I would try to figure her out. The only thing I figured out though was her name, it was Marlene.

But, I was painfully shy and she was painfully beautiful. I had visions of her being my date for the shop Christmas party that was coming up soon. Then one day as I returned from the field she was standing by the back door and I actually mustered the courage to ask her out, although my question sounded more like a plea or casual remark or flippant comment and well, she said no. If she had said yes I would have probably passed out. I was actually kind of relieved.

As we got near the holidays I took my mind off that incident by noticing how nice the homes I was going into, now decorated, looked. I even got to work on Dean Martins TV set. He was not home that day but his son was, (the one that died in the air force a few years ago). He was playing a drum set that was set up in the foray of the house. The foray was so large I thought I could put my whole boat inside of it. In fact I thought that, “This would be a great place to build my boat.” I could put my table saw over there where the drum set is, move the kid up to his room. Dino could come down once and a while and sing Valero while I worked, ”But how do I get it out the front door?” I still do this when I go into anyone’s house I figure out how I would arrange things, lets see, the Bar over here and the bikini clad babes over there.

Well, we finally arrived at the long awaited “Christmas Party” and everyone looked fine all dressed up in suits and ties. The only thing reminding me that these guys were actually TV techs were all the bald heads and well, the great jokes. I don’t know why that is but there is an alarming number of TV techs that are bald. In fact one night, at the annual obligatory union meeting, the glare off all those baldheads sitting in that auditorium was blinding (the jokes weren’t all that bad either).

Now, even though I was only nineteen, and since we were in a private room, I thought I might be able to have a real drink. Un-fortunately, after being asked for my Id at the bar, I had to ask for a coke instead. When I turned to go to my seat Marlene was standing behind me taking it all in. I watched from my seat as I saw her buy a “real” drink and then it suddenly sunk in, she was 3 years older than me. It was not to be then nor later, I had been seeking an older woman and didn’t know it. Charley thought it showed some balls though and was quite impressed that I had even attempted to ask her out.

Soon after the holidays our union, The United Electronics and Feather Workers of America, went on strike or more accurately (to illustrate how bad our union was) we went on strike against our union and RCA. So, I never saw Marlene again after that as most of us techs realized we could make a lot more money, let me rephrase that, “a hell of a lot more money,” not being in the union and many of us never went back.

Then one day, years later, after marrying and having moved to the San Fernando Valley, I ran into Marlene. There she was working in the office of a jewelry store sitting behind a typewriter as I always remembered her. And there I was holding my newborn daughter, but somehow I could not look at her, I knew it was her and I knew she saw me but I did not look her way again. I thought a lot about that afterwards. I thought this could have been her child I was holding. And years later when I had divorced the woman who bore that child, I thought, maybe if it had been her instead that would not have happened. Maybe it would have been different. We were only three years apart. What’s three years in all of eternity? Just maybe I would be going home to her for the holidays this year, that nymph of a secretary with her green eyes and pouty smile. Who knows, maybe things would have been spelled and punctuated a little better around here two.
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