Thursday, August 02, 2007

I'm surprised the piano didn't move itself

Photo from Modern Mechanix All this talk about the political candidates reminds me of a little story. Gather 'round, kids!

Back when I was a magazine editor, I worked for a smallish publication with an accordingly small staff. This meant we had to do everything ourselves, including stuff way out of our/my league. Once a year we put out a big story, one of those lists that are designed to garner lots of media attention and may or may not be based on fact. It was our version of the swimsuit issue (and in our case, it really was based on a tremendous amount of research and hard work--which I know because in later years I oversaw that project too).

To get the maximum bang out of this particular buck, we always had an event to promote our story when it was published. And somehow in 1996 I wound up in charge of this thing. Me, the young, green editor with less than zero event-planning experience. Me, the totally conflict-avoidant delicate young thing. Taking the lead on this breakfast honoring lots of multi-billion-dollar companies, attended by all our own corporate VIPs and advertisers. And the guest of honor: was the current vice president of the United States, Al Gore. Who also happened to be running for re-election at the time.

At one of the pre-party walk-throughs, someone from the campaign was there to check out all the arrangements. She was a fast-talking, take-no-guff, totally stereotypical New Yorker. She barked orders about security (yes ma'am, there would be bomb-sniffing dogs) and press access and what he'd say and how long he'd stay. She told us exactly how the room should be set up, and that included moving a grand piano across the room (because otherwise it would interfere with the TV cameras' shots).

The banquet manager gently demurred on moving the piano, explaining that doing so would require extra staff time and also a charge for retuning the instrument. Our magazine was so poor that we used 5-inch floppy disks and didn't have voice mail--I had an ancient answering machine with a cassette tape so old that callers would frequently inquire whether I was landing helicopters on my desk. So keeping costs down was absolutely essential.

For a few seconds I tried to broker a compromise with the scary campaign lady, sputtering out lame alternatives as quickly as I could come up with them. She, of course, was having none of it. Almost immediately, she wheeled to face me and yelled "He's the vice president of the free world! MOVE THE PIANO!"

So yeah. We moved it. I voted for Clinton/Gore that year anyway. But I'm still kind of afraid of that campaign staffer.


binkytown said...

Afraid of her yes, but I secretly wish I was more like her.

Oh Mayberry, how far you've come!

Lisa said...

Yeah. What binkytown said. I do secretly wish I was more like her too. :-)

Karianna said...

Oh. Boy.

Too bad. 'Cause I love Gore.

Yesterday Husband and I were celebrating the firing of a particular a-holish campaign staffer. I think it is in their blood.

I wish I could be assertive. But I just cower and please.

hello insomnia said...

This is why I would never make it in politics.

mothergoosemouse said...

I bet Al Gore couldn't have cared less about the damn piano. That staffer just *thought* he would. But that doesn't stop staffers (and executive officers - the military equivalent who often make similar outlandish requests supposedly on behalf of generals/admirals) from throwing their weight around.

nonlineargirl said...

I imagine most candidates have NO idea how the people representing them act toward others.

L.A. Daddy said...

Actually, it was kind of good that you hesitated. People like that are probably used to others jumping whenever they bark.

I'd look at is a small victory.

I'm never in charge of things like that because I would have told her to move it her damn self. Then she would have canceled the whole thing I would have been yelled at :)

Lawyer Mama said...

Yeah, I probably would have politely told her to F herself as well and then gotten fired.....

Sometimes a little power (campaign staffer) can be a dangerous thing.

Julie Pippert said...

Oh my goodness!

I might have politely said, "Okay then, it means that much to you, come on, give us a hand!"

And lost my job.


I am pretty good at dishing it out and suck at taking it LOL.

Maybe in 1996 when I was not even 30 yet...maybe then I might have been cowery, err, maybe not. Was very arrogant then.

But wait...I am NOT a power abusive with like that. I don't want to give that impression!

Just assertive, that's all. :)

Did you have to pay retuning?

Magpie said...

That's a great story! Move the piano! And I agree with Nonlinear Girl - the candidate probably has no idea what the staffers are doing.

Jeff said...

I would have had my sister beat her up, I think. But, I still would have moved the piano. ;)

Damselfly said...

I don't get along with people like that.... Sounds like a good project to take care of, even if you felt overwhelmed by it. Cool.

Jenifer said...

She must have taken lessons from Tipper...

whymommy said...

I don't blame you a bit! How frustrating.

I do agree with the others, though -- I'm sure Gore had no idea.