I heard somewhere that writers often embed themselves in groups they don't belong to or partake in situations that are outside their normal experience. Then, these writers detail their experiences as an outsider that has somehow gained access. So when the company I worked for was awarded a job on Long Island and since my talents as a Lighting Designer would not be needed, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to become such a writer. I would be an embedded designer in a group of electricians for the duration of this project.
There is going to be a long load in process, but first was the shop prep. Below is an account of my first day.
6:06 AM: I begin my day carefully planning what clothes to wear. Designers like to look nice, but I was an Electrician now and knew I had to play it down. Unfortunately, I don't have any shirts depicting a popular band from the 80s or one with a fun, catchy phrase involving the F-word. None of my shirts have holes in them, either. I settle on a shirt I wear to the gym, which I think is sufficiently distressed enough to look the part. Since it's July and we'll be working in the shop, I decide to wear shorts. Again, unfortunately, none of my shorts go past my knees and only have two pockets, but I have no other choice.
6:50 AM: I take a cab to meet Ryan thinking how awesome this is going to be. I beam with pride. I'm not a white glove Designer. I am more than that. I am not afraid to get my hands dirty. I can do the logistics and the artistic stuff. So there!
7:47 AM: We arrive at the 4Wall Shop in Moonachie, New Jersey. One of the Electricians looks me over and stares at my with a puzzled expression on her face. She says, “I didn't know you owned any work clothes.” Everyone laughs.
7:53 AM: A second electrician looks at me and, again, stares with a puzzled expression on her face. She says, “Are you going to play tennis?”
I say, “No! I'm here to work as an Electrician,” and gesture to my garb and tools. To me, I'm clearly an Electrician.
“You look like you're going to play tennis.”
“No, no,” I protest, “There are work clothes. Not tennis clothes.”
She points at my bandana and shorts, “You look like Andre Agassi.” I deflate like a sad, post-birthday party balloon. The call hasn't technically started and I've been made fun of twice.
8:02 AM Ryan Kirk, the PM for our portion of the project, officially starts the call. He explains what's is happening and the goals for today. He asks if any volunteers would like to label multi-cable. I quickly offer, not wanting to seem as if I'm afraid of working.
8:04 AM Fork lift delivers first palette of multi-cable. It is stacked about 4' high. I think this will be a piece of cake.
8:05 AM Fork lift delivers second palette of multi-cable, still stacked about 4' high. Okay, no worries, I can still do this.
8:07 AM Fork lift delivers third palette of multi-cable. I'm getting nervous.
8:08 AM Fork lift delivers fourth palette of multi-cable. My heart begins to sink.
8:10 AM More multi-cable is delivered, this time in 4'x4' road cases. Terror sets in.
8:11 AM Ryan hands me and some fellow Electricians paperwork detailing all the multi runs and their lengths, some hundreds of feet long. I quickly pull out my brand new paint pen and shake it vigorously. I like the clicking noise it makes. Suddenly I become aware that I'm annoying everyone and immediately stop. I note to keep all future pen shaking to a minimum.
8:15 AM Our team begins to pack the multi. A is 250 feet. That's 2 100' and 1 50'. Labeled. Packed. B is 150' long. That's 1 100' and 1 50'. Labeled. Packed. C is 300 feet. That's 3 100'. Labeled. Packed. Suddenly, there's a problem. I stop and go see what's going on.
8:17 AM Apparently a few Electricians have begun to gather and attempt to figure out the best way to pack the multi-cable. I almost wonder aloud why we didn't think of this before packing commenced, but keep my mouth shut hoping to not breach protocol.
8:18 AM For some reason, the logical and simple way of packing the multi-cable is off the table. The alternate solutions are becoming more and more complicated. I've seen this phenomenon happen before with New York Electricians, but I have never gotten to be a part of it. I am excited. I know timing is everything in these discussions, so I wait.
8:20 AM The packing solutions go from bizarre to outlandish, and suddenly I sense this is my moment. Before someone takes the suggestion-fest into complete absurdity, I jump in and suggest something so utterly ridiculous it would probably more than triple the time required to pack the multi-cable. I even mention Pauli's Exclusion Principle anecdotally. I beam with pride, proud of myself and what I have created.
The conversation immediately stops and all eyes look at me in thinly veiled disgust. “That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard,” says one Electrician.
“Well, it's no stupider than your suggestion,” I shoot back. This is apparently the wrong thing to say.
8:23 AM Eventually, we settle on packing the multi-cable in an only slightly ridiculous manner. I am awarded no points for my suggestion, though everyone else seems pleased with how the conversation went otherwise.
8:24 AM We unpack all the recently packed multi-cable and start over.
10:13 AM My team and I have labeled, sorted, and packed thousands of feet of multi-cable. We're about half way done. It feels time for lunch. Soon after a bell goes off. Well how about that I think! Lunchtime! Alright!
10:14 AM I am told this is not lunch, but first coffee.
10:17 AM I notice everyone gathering around a truck which has pulled inside the shop. It appears to have coffee and food. I walk up to the man and say, “I would like a black coffee and banana.” He stares at me blankly. “Please,” I add.
“Get it damn yourself,” he replies in a thick Jersey accent. Apparently pulling inside the shop is as far as food truck dude is willing to go in terms of convenience. After that, you're on your own. The man is wearing a coin dispenser on his belt and sandals that aren't quite sneakers, but aren't quite sandals either. Despite this attire, he is surprisingly masculine.
10:20 AM Someone in line starts speaking, randomly as far as I can tell, about the the word “Moonachie.” Apparently, in Greek, it means something very dirty. We're all supposed to laugh, I think, but it's hard to laugh about the bizarre and absurd when standing behind a modified pick-up truck, filled with coffee, french toast, cereal, and empanadas that has just driven into the shop.
10:22 AM It occurs to me I am about to drink coffee from the back of a modified pick-up truck filled with coffee, french toast, cereal, and empanadas. It is initially unclear how empanadas belong in the “breakfast” category. I later conclude modified pick-up trucks filled with coffee, french toast, cereal, and empanadas operate under different rules than other, non-mobile breakfast establishments.
10:25 AM While on break, I ponder time. It appears that time has slowed down. Remembering a theoretical physics class I took in college, I know that time slows down when an object approaches the speed of light. While I see lots of lights, everything seems stationary. I am thus confused why time is passing so slowly in this particular geographical area. Perhaps we are near a black hole? I pull out my iPhone and check with Google maps. The Lincoln Tunnel immediately appears.
10:32 AM Ryan yells, “We're back.” I continue labeling multi-cable.
Since I now know that time is passing slowly, I am now prepared. Sensing about an hour has passed, I look ay my watch. It reads 10:45 AM. I put my watch in my bag for the remainder of the call.
10:59 AM Lone girl coiling DMX cable and I make eye contact, we smile, and return to work. It is nice to interact with a female who doesn't comment on my clothing. I am forever grateful for her kindness, whoever she is. We never actually speak.
11:06 AM I notice all the Electricians with one ear bud in their ear listening to their MP3 players. It turns out polite conversation only gets you through first coffee. After you've gauged how little or how much the other Electricians are working compared to you and for whom, conversation becomes exhausting and increasingly irrelevant in sussing out more work.
11:15 AM An odd half silence has filled the prep area. Half because in my left ear I'm rocking out to Lady Gaga. In my right ear, nobody is saying anything.
12:00 PM Ryan calls lunch. I excuse myself and head to Blimpie, which is down the road from the shop. I stand in the absolutely slowest line and get the slowest, “sandwich artist,” or is that Subway? Luckily I've already learned time is passing really slowly out here. Upon my return to the shop, I sit down in the cool break room to eat my sandwich. Three bites later Ryan walks in and says, “We're back.” I begin to hate Ryan.
12:47 PM Ryan hands me a new assignment. I am to put three pinspots on 2˜ sections of uni-strut. Another Electrician calls the Uni-strut a different name, which is offensive to huge swaths of the female population.
1:23 PM My cuticles are bleeding. I begin using the same name for the Uni-strut the other Electrician initially called it. It's still offensive, but feels so good to say aloud. It's clear I'm not a white glove designer, but should have been wearing some form of glove to begin with. â€¨
1:50 PM I firmly believe Uni-Strut may be the Devil's hanging position. Is this glimpse of Electrician Hell? I jot down idea for future Live Design blog, with note to Marian: Is Hell printable when referring to a shop prep?
1:59 PM My cuticles seem to be clotting well.
2:45 PM We finish with the Uni-strut project. My fingers are sore. I don't know how that's possible.
2:46 PM Call doctor to schedule tetanus shot.
2:48 PM Ryan hands me a new task. I am to affix birdies to bases.
3: 02 PM Spray paint fumes (from the newly painted bases and units) combine with the spray adhesive fumes (from the unit boxes) to loosen my grasp of reality. I begin to ponder deep questions. For example, why is it called a “cable cube” when the case is clearly not an actual cube? Or, how did the two tiered unit boxes come to be named “widow-makers?” Why do we circle channel numbers? Why doesn't ESTA take a position against the stupidity of 150' of multi-cable? It can't be safely lifted with one person and you KNOW it. You know, you can't spell “fiesta” without “esta.” Wonder if the empanadas guy is coming back?
3:10 PM Ryan calls second coffee. Alas, there is no modified food truck to be found.
3:15 PM “We're back,” yells Ryan. I slowly get up, seriously pondering graduate school.
3:16 PM Ryan asks me to build 3 wheelbarrows.
3:18 PM The wheelbarrow assembly directions were designed by a moron. I glance around for someone to tell this insightful bit of news to. Nobody is around me.
3:22 PM Crew begins testing the 12K Arri's a few feet away. Initially I am pleased with the lovely, pure, crisp, angelic light emanating from the fixture. Suddenly, life isn't so bad.
3:30 PM The temperature steadily climbs near the 12K, and I begin to sweat profusely. The lovely, pure, crisp, angelic light begins to really piss me off.
4:00 PM The call ends. We head to the car and drive back into Manhattan.
4:03 PM We hit traffic.
4:15 PM Still in traffic.
4:17 PM We inch past a sign flashing, “Speed Limit 35 MPH,” as if this was an urgent bit of news. It occurs to me in New Jersey, speed limit signs are really more of a goal to be attained, rather than a limit not to be exceed.
5:13 PM I arrive home.
5:34 PM Wife arrives home, finds me digging through the living room closest. The entire contents of the closest haphazardly lie on the floor of our 400 square foot apartment. “Um, honey?” she gently asks, “Whatcha lookin' for?” I can tell by her tone she thinks I've become unhinged.
“My white gloves,” I respond.