April 25, 2024

On the Job

Years ago, I worked in Business Affairs for a television production company that no longer exists. One day, we were working on the contract for a particular actor to appear in one of our shows. The contract had been typed up and printed. The actor was in town, staying at a hotel. (Was it the Beverly Hilton, Chateau Marmont, the St. James? I don't remember.) His agent had talked to my boss's boss, and they had agreed on one last change to the contract. We needed to make the change, print the revised contract, and have it messengered to the hotel. That should have been easy, but for some reason, it wasn't.

I made the change to the contract and printed it, but what printed was the old, unchanged version. I tried again, with, of course, the same result. It was odd. Maybe I'm doing something wrong, I thought, and asked one of my co-workers to take over. He had the same problem. We could see on screen the updated contract, but it just wouldn't print. We tried different possible solutions, but none of them worked.

In the meantime, my boss, Ted, was fuming. He stood behind us, complaining as we struggled with the computer, his neck and face turning pink. He kept reminding us that the contract absolutely had to be at the hotel by 4:00. The messenger was standing by. "Why can't you get this right?" he demanded. I told him that I didn't know what the problem was and that I couldn't think straight because having him stand behind me yelling about it was making me hysterical. He stomped out of the room.

We continued struggling, but still succeeded in printing only the old version of the contract. Finally, Ted solved the problem another way. He picked up a pen and a copy of the contract and made the correction by hand. The contract was delivered, but the next day the terms were changed again.

I hadn't thought about that day in years, until something recently jogged the memory. I'm more experienced now, and I can think of things we didn't try that might have solved our computer problem. But without a time machine, my hypothetical solutions to a truly unimportant problem remain hypothetical. And if I had a time machine, I wouldn't waste it on that.

I was fired from that job a few months after the contract incident. ("Your position is being eliminated," Ted told me.) Ted died 10 years ago, at the age of 70. I think it is unlikely that he ever remembered me or the struggle with that contract, or that it had any real effect on his overall job satisfaction or happiness in life. I also think it unlikely that, as he neared death, he wished that he had spent more time getting paperwork done on time and meeting the petty demands of people in show business.


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