Wednesday, November 2, 2011

PROMPTuesday on Wednesday

I've returned to the wonderful and creative writing exercise presented by San Diego Momma -.PROMPTuesday These have spurred my creativity, and have been a lot of fun at the same time.

Each Tuesday, she posts a writing prompt. Participants play by the following rules:
  • You must write your entry in 10 minutes. This encourages top-of-mind, primal thinking before the ego and judgmental brain kicks in. Just set a timer, make your kid count to 600 slowly, whatever. It’s an honor system. And I trust you.
  • Keep to 150 words or less (I always run over a bit!)  
  • Post on your blog or in her comments so everyone can read it.  
  • Have fun!
This week, Deb didn't get her PROMPT up till Wednesday. Today’s PROMPT is:

The phone call. Write about a call you received that changed your life.

My first call came when Jeff was the Call Steward. "You know how to get to the Opera House? Be there tomorrow at 8:00 am. You're gonna be on the prop crew."

I had moved to Seattle from New York at the invitation of a boyfriend. He was a member of Local #15 IATSE, and he drove me down to the union hall to sign up for the dispatch list. Non-union workers were called "extras" and our names were on the bottom of the list. Everyone worked according to seniority.

The Call was how everybody went to work. We even used the word Call to mean work - "Are you on the Opera call?" you'd ask your buddy. "No, but I'm on the call for the Paramount." People who failed to show up for work were said to be "bailing on the call."

You might get a lucky call -  "Sandy got cut off the call and Jeff got to my name."   Sometimes Jeff would pull a guy off one call and send him to another workplace.

It wasn't all by phone, of course. Jeff would bring his book to a  work call, and walk from crew to crew. "Can you make a spotlight call at the Paramount tomorrow night?" he'd ask someone he knew would be out of work when the Opera cut back the crew.

We lived for the phone. Everybody answered when it rang. Everybody had an answering "machine" - there was no voice mail back then.

There were no cell phones - you had to stay where your land line was located. When you really needed work, you'd stay home and wait for the call, instead of going out, even to the store.

Extras never called the Call Steward unless he left a message telling them to. After I became a full journeyman union member and got to be friends with a few Call Stewards, I learned that they often took abusive phone calls from members who felt they'd been given short shrift on a call.  "How come you gave the Metallica rigging Call to Fergie?" "Why'd you send that useless asshole to my theatre?"

Call Stewards had it rough. If someone didn't show up to work, the Carpenter would phone - no matter what time of day or night - for a replacement. The Call Steward had to go by seniority to dispatch work, except for a replacement. Then it was his choice. People vied for his friendship, to become a reliable "emergency" call-filler. I was one for a while, but then I started dating the Call Steward - turns out that didn't get me more work, since we'd be in bed when the emergency calls came in.

Call Stewards generally lasted about six months. Although the job took a lot of hours, it paid only an honorarium. Stewards still had to work calls to make a living. A Steward could appoint himself to any call he wanted, regardless of seniority - but it was politically difficult for those who overreached. And even on the job, Stewards had to be near the phone - no high-paying spot calls or rigging calls where you were unreachable.

The career of a Call Steward followed an arc - first everyone loved them and bought them drinks, and pronounced them to be fairer than the jerk who they replaced. Then they'd piss someone off or get accused of favoritism. Sometimes it wasn't true, but some Call Stewards loved the power to favor friends and screw others over. Drunken phone calls came at night from guys who wanted to "bail" on the morning's call. Carpenters and crew chiefs claimed a call was screwed up. Guys complained to the Business Agent, and pretty soon there'd be a new Call Steward.

For almost twenty years, hearing the phone ring always sent a thrill of anticipation up my spine. That sound means work!

It's been almost fifteen years since I took my last call from Local #15. I don't know how the work is dispatched anymore - probably by email. I'm only just now beginning to allow the phone to ring unanswered and go to voice mail.


San Diego Momma said...

I loved, loved, loved this.
I will say it again: You need to write a memoir.

Anonymous said...

It's a life today's kids will never understand: the need to stay near that corded phone just in case it rings...

Great Story!

Gary's third pottery blog said...

yes, write a memoir indeed!