Lineman

Chaos in Print

On the short list of craziest things I’d ever done in my life, this certainly ranked in the top 5. But then, insanity is a relative thing when you’ve led my life. The past few months have been spent in a room, in the basement, staring at the ceiling and wondering why no one is calling me. Lord knows I’ve sent out enough resumes and demo tapes. I’ve had my fair share of interviews, only to be told that the company decided to go in another direction. I’ve given up on doing those follow-up phone calls where you ask the interviewer why you didn’t get the job and ask for tips on improvement, if only because I was getting no real information, just inspirational bullshit: “Oh, it wasn’t you, it’s us. Your stuff is real good, just keep with it and someone will hire you eventually!” My breaking point was coming soon. And when I break, I usually do it in a large public format, thus causing maximum embarrassment.

So, when word got out the Edmonton’s newest radio station, Sonic 102.9, was having open auditions for a new newscaster, I knew I’d found my large, public format.

Granted, the job postings that I read online had been advertising it for a while, and Sonic did have an address set up where professionals could send their resumes and demos, but something about marching down to Southgate Mall and throwing my hat into the ring with a hundred other hopefuls just seemed more…fun. On a bright autumn Saturday morning, I hopped into the car and drove on down to Southgate Mall.

Southgate Mall is a mall that I never really frequented. I showed up and wasn’t quite sure if I’d found the right place or not. The Sonic events cruiser parked out front told me that I’d found the place. I ventured into the mall and started looking for where I had to get in line. I checked my watch. It was 9:30. Auditions started at 10. After wandering around for a few minutes, I found the place. Wow. The line was already wrapped around the stage. I began looking for the end of the line, and suddenly, I was encompassed with a horrifying thought.

I didn’t have a pen.

I mean, there’d probably be paperwork to fill out, right? I had to have a pen. Damn it, I NEEDED a pen! A pen was the most important thing for me in the world to have right now!

The truth was, I was starting to feel nervous. And, when you get overwhelmingly nervous, you start looking for anything to delay you for just a few seconds. The pen was my perfect excuse.

I found a drugstore in the mall and paid my 98 cents for a couple of Bics. I had my pen. But, I was now deprived of an excuse to keep me away.

I headed back to the stage. I found my way to the end of the line, and stood there. This was it. No turning back. I stood. And stood. And stood some more.

Amazingly, quite a few of my former classmates are already working at Sonic. I stood in line while battling the fear that I’d run into someone I knew. And, sure enough, it happened. A man from the class before me noticed me in line, and approached me…

HIM: Mark! Good to see you again!

ME: Good to see you to.

HIM: OK, I gotta ask. (Leans in close, whispering) You’re not here spying for the competition, are you?

ME: Oh, no, no. I’m still unemployed. I heard about this in the paper and figured it’s just as good as everything else I’ve been applying for.

HIM: Yeah, I know that feeling. I was in the same boat about six months ago.

ME: How’d you get on here?

HIM: Well, when the first getting going back in February, I just applied and hoped for the best.

ME: So, you’ve been here from the beginning?

HIM: That’s right. Well, I’ve got to get back to work now. Good seeing you again, and good luck!

ME: Thanks.

As he walked away, he extended one last parting shot. “You know we’re not looking for a real newscaster, right?” I smiled. I’d thought about that, but for all intents and purposes, I was treating this as real.

Time passed. Hours went by. The Sony Store was showing the same chapter from Toy Story 2 on an endless loop on the TV in their window. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my good luck charm. Yes, I have a good luck charm. It was given to me by one of my students in Japan. It was a cellphone mascot, a small string containing figures from Spirited Away. There was the misunderstood demon No-Face, the spoiled baby Boh, turned into a hamster, and Yubaba’s evil bird, turned into a fly. Demon, hamster, fly. Each one was separated by an orange bead. My student told me that the orange beads were charms for prosperity. I rubbed this string between my fingers as though they were rosary beads.

I put it back into my pocket as yet another person I knew approached me. This one was in the exact same class as me. We sat in the same classroom for a year and half. I was always intrigued by her. She was always the joker, always sarcastic, but once you spent a few minutes talking to her, you realized it was a cover. She was deeper than she let on. And why she had to hide that, I’ll never know. But still, there she was, and she came over and greeted me with hug. Then, as she pulled away, she loudly and sarcastically told the crowd that we were in no way associated with each other and that this is how she greets all the contestants she just meets. Always the joker.

ME: So, how’d you get hired on with this station?

HER: Well, as you may remember, I was doing my practicum at the ethnic station. This station and the ethnic station are owned by the same company. When they started getting Sonic going, they just needed more staff, so I finished my practicum at Sonic. And, when my practicum finished, they still needed people, so they hired me on.

ME: That’s cool.

HER: Yeah. A week ago they finally promoted me to full-time staff. Which essentially means I work on Saturdays.

ME: So, what’s your title? What are you doing?

HER: I’m a promotions coordinator.

ME: Ah. So you’ve got to make sure this little thing today goes off without a hitch.

HER: Yeah, pretty much. When I showed up here at 9 to start getting things set up, I noticed that there were no chairs for the judges. I had to run down to Ikea and buy some. Chairs, not judges.

ME: You mainly do stuff like that, then?

HER: Yup. This newscaster thing has just been crazy. When I showed up, there were already 100 people lined up.

ME: Wow.

HER: So, is there anything I can do for you? Get you something to drink? Hold your place while you use the washroom?

ME: No. You forget, I’m a veteran of stuff like this. Lines for Star Wars, Lord of the Rings….

HER: Oh, that’s right, I forgot that you’re one of those people.

ME: What kind of people?

HER: Nerd.

We laughed about this, and then she had to get back to work. And I resumed waiting in line.

Finally, there I was, being handed the forms to fill out. I had made it to the front of the line. It only took a brief 3.5 hours. After all the proper releases were handed back, I was handed my sample script.

Oh. My. God.

It was horrible. This was a script that they’d never let fly back in school. The writing was just terrible. I grabbed my pen and started frantically rewriting. In a way, I was blessed. Only four news stories. One serious, and three kickers. For those who don’t know the lingo, the kicker is the silly news story. It usually ends the newscast. That’s why it’s called the kicker. If you’re running long, it’s the first thing you kick out. Because of their silly nature, though, I was always more relaxed in reading a kicker.

As I frantically started rewriting, a TV news reporter came up and shoved a camera in my face. He wanted to interview me for the news. I agreed.

REPORTER: So, what brought you out here today?

ME: Well, I graduated from NAIT with my diploma in radio back in the spring. I’ve been rejected by every radio station in town, so I thought it was time for the public at large to reject me.

I turned back to frantically re-writing. I brought it more in line with my style of newscast. I rewrote the kickers to be more my style of humour. I was tackling rewriting the fourth kicker when I got “the call.” It was my turn.

I stood at the bottom of the stage. One of their people gave me the rundown on what to expect. I nodded. He asked if I had any questions. I said I was really thirsty, and asked if I could have drink. He handed me a bottle of water, which I slammed back in one gulp. He was amazed.

Showtime.

I marched forward. The panel of judges stood before me. There was fourth guy running the equipment…and there was yet another person I knew. He was in the class right behind me.

HIM: Hey, good to see you again!

ME: Good to see you, too. So, you work here too, eh? How come you guys haven’t hired me yet?

HIM: I’m not the one that makes those decisions.

I stood at the podium. The panel of judges before me. To the right was my friend running the recording equipment. To my left was that TV news reporter, jamming a TV camera in my face to film the whole train wreck for the news.

“Nervous” is an understatement. All I could do was the job I’d been trained to do.

They checked their levels and asked me a few warm-up questions. Name, favourite movie, any radio experience, stuff like that. There were pleasantly surprised when I gave my favourite movie as being The Iron Giant. Their eyes lit up when they asked for my experience and I told them of my education and news having been one of my better courses at NAIT. (It actually was.)

My first news story: they liked my rewritten version.

The three kickers. They laughed out loud at my re-written punch lines. I got freaked out a little when I got to the fourth one. I didn’t have any time to rewrite it, so I just read it as scripted. They responded with stony silence. Taking one last desperate chance, I improvised a new ending. It got a laugh.

“There’s no question,” said the lead judge. He handed me my silver ticket. I’d made it.

But the best part was turning around. There, at the edge of the stage, were all my friends, classmates, and potential coworkers. They had been silently cheering me on the whole time. I was overwhelmed by the experience, and near tears. I climbed of the stage, elated. I hugged those who were receptive to hugs, got my picture taken for the website, and then disappeared into the mall.

By now, you all know how the story ends. I made it to the finals, did my “for-real” on-air newscast at Sonic, where they ultimately decided that my education and experience weren’t what they were looking for. I went to their online wildcard vote, where I came in a distant second-last. And now, I’m back in the basement, staring at the ceiling once again and still wondering why their not calling.

But, for one shining moment, for those two minutes in September when I turned around and saw all my friends there, I knew that perhaps, I do have what it takes, and that perhaps working in radio isn’t some silly dream.

It was almost worth it.

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