Saturday, March 7, 2015

This Gun For Hire - Part 3 - Ice, I Suppose

"Shut up! Shut up! Can't you see I'm busy working Cape Race?"
- John Phillips,  in response to final ice warning on the Titanic 

It's often hard to say when you first notice that a person or project is in danger. How and when did the each passenger and officer on the Titanic realize they were in trouble?

John Phillips had received five previous warnings of ice, but was busy relaying a backlog of passenger messages through Cape Race. No time for another of these incessant warnings.  Didn't they know she was unsinkable?

Captain Smith is known to have received the first two warnings of ice bergs and "field ice."  It is also known that many of the last messages did not get to him.

On the ship itself, it is said that lookout Frederick Fleet told the officer James Moody on deck, "Iceberg, right ahead."**

For me, at Gun for Hire, the moment of impact was crystal clear, although I'm sure that the first hit had come earlier.

It landed on my desk with a thud. It was the Con Ed bill.

A lifelong freelancer, it's not like I had never seen a shut-off notice from a company in the past. I had just never seen one for a company before, and never was it a stack this thick topped by a number this high.

Once again the line producer in me kicked in. If there is bad news, face it honestly, face it clearly, and face it now.

I did not hesitate. Dave was not around, and so I called over to the other building, where our head of accounting worked. I got his assistant on the phone, and when I told her I needed to talk to him, she said he was busy.

Not to be deterred, I put the tome under my arm and headed to our main building. When I got to his office, he was a little surprised to see me. What could be so important I didn't just send it over interoffice.

I took a deep breath, looked at him and said, "I have the Con Ed bill." Still, no reaction. Again, why not interoffice.

"It's a shut-off notice," I said, as I braced for his response. I had given directors and producers bad news, and knew being the messenger could be unpleasant. I was not afraid. Go ahead. Tell me what we do now. I'm ready.

"Oh," he said. "We get those every month.  Just leave it here." He seemed relieved it was not something really bad, and probably realized there was no point in explaining to the new guy not to worry.

He clearly did not realize that I was in full hero mode. I had averted disaster on set, and I could do it again. I asked him if I could call Con Ed and see if I could negotiate some more time.

"Sure," he said. In retrospect, I think he was just glad I was going to leave.

Aboard the Titanic, when notified of the approaching iceberg, First Officer William Murdoch, who was at the helm, attempted a complex "hard a-port" maneuver around the iceberg, which he informed Captain Smith of afterwards. Speculation exists that if he just done a much simpler turn while maintaining speed, he might have missed the iceberg.

When First Officer Murdoch gave that order, I'm sure he thought he was using his incredible skill to avoid disaster.

Um, yeah.

With my marching orders clearly laid out, I would put my negotiating skill to work. I got back to my desk, and got the right guy at Con Ed on the phone. At first, he said there was nothing he could do. I do not remember the exact number, but I know it was more than $12,000, and maybe as high as $15,000.

We spoke for a good twenty minutes or so, and after a lot of maneuvering, I got him to agree to a minimal payment (I think it was $2000 or so) up front, and then payments monthly along with keeping up our regular payment. Even better, I got us a week to ten days to make that first payment.

I hung up the phone relieved, and, yes, a little proud. I have an idea that Officer Murdoch may have had the same feeling when he came up with that "hard a-port" thing. We know how that worked out.

One of the amusing - if mean - horoscopes for Capricorns I once read was, "Capricorns aren't stubborn, they just know they're always right." There is a reason our sign is a goat.

It was that spirit that led me to walk all the way back to the head accountant's office to deliver the news. OK, maybe I wanted to see his face when he saw how a real line producer took things into his hands.

Yes, he was going to be impressed. I couldn't wait to hear what he said.

"Oh, good. We have more time. It's not like we're going to be able to pay that $2000 anyway. Just leave the bill there."

As you might imagine, that was not the response I was expecting. I walked back to my office with just a little less bounce to my step.

After Shooting Gallery went down, I would look back at that moment, and at that thick, heavy envelope with a bill inside.

When Fifth Officer Lowe was asked at the inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic by Senator Smith what he thought icebergs consisted of, he responded...

"Ice, I suppose, sir."

For me, it was a very thick bill.

*The quotes involving officers on the Titanic are almost all second-hand, and subject to the vagaries of memory, as are, for matter, the rest of this blog. 

**Details come from a few sources I researched about the Titanic. People who read this blog regularly know I have also researched black boxes and airplane crashes. I guess the line producer in me is fascinated by disasters.

UPDATE: I did link Dave Tuttle's name to his baking in the past. Since my original post on him,  and my subsequent post about what he did after Hurricane Sandy, he is now a partner in a restaurant - Ralph and Dave's Seafood Restaurant. I don't live in the area, but if I find myself anywhere nearby, I know I'll check it out.

The Village Voice did a great article with a lot of research, as did a documentary. All of my articles on this are based from my perspective which, while from the inside, did not include access to interviews or conversations with key ;players like Larry Meistrich, nor was I in on meetings where key financial decisions were made.

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