Page 101 of Overload

As well as Nim's planning duties, and because of his reinstatement as company spokesman, he was in demand to explain the current scene and outlook.

He found the two responsibilities a strain and told Teresa Van Buren,

"Okay, I'll handle the important occasions for you, but you'll have to use your own people for the small stuff." She said she would. Next day the PR director appeared in Nim's office. “There's a midday TV program called Lunch Break."

“You may not believe this, Tess," he said, "but I never watch it."

"Yeah, yeah; very funny. Well, don't be too quick to dismiss daytime television. There are a million housewives out there who do watch, and tomorrow the program wants the electricity crisis explained."

"By me, I suppose."

"Naturally," Van Buren said. "Who does it better?"

Nim grinned. "Okay, but do something for me. All TV stations specialize in time wasting. They ask you to be there early, then keep you waiting forever to go on. You know how busy I am so, for once, try to arrange a fast-in, fast-out."

"I'll come with you myself," Van Buren said. "And I'll work it out. I promise."

As it turned out, the promise was not fulfilled.

Lunch Break was a one-hour show which went on the air at noon. The PR director and Nim arrived at the TV studios at 11:50- In the foyer a young woman program assistant met them; like so many who worked in television, she dressed and looked as if she graduated from high school the week before. She carried the standard badge of office-a clipboard-and wore her glasses in her hair.

"Oh, yes, Mr. Goldman. You'll be on last, at ten to one."

"Hey, hold it!" Van Buren protested. "I was assured Mr. Goldman would be at the top of the show. He's one of our senior executives and his time is valuable, especially now."

"I know." the program assistant smiled sweetly. "But the producer changed his mind. Mr. Goldman's subject is rather heavy. It might depress our audience."

“They should be depressed," Nim said.

"If they are, and then switch off, our program will be over anyway," the young woman said firmly. "Perhaps you'd like to come on the set while you're waiting. Then you can watch the rest of the show."

Van Buren looked at Nim, putting up her hands in a gesture of helplessness.

Resigned, knowing how much urgent work he could have accomplished in the wasted hour, he told her, "Okay."

The program assistant, who had played the same scene many times, said, "Come with me, please."

The studio set, colorful and brightly lighted, was intended to look like a living room. Its centerpiece was a bright orange sofa occupied by two regular interviewers-Jerry and jean-young, vivacious, turned-on, Beautiful People. Three TV cameras prowled in front in a semicircle. Guests would join the interviewers under the bright lights, one by one.

The show's first ten minutes was devoted to a dancing bear from a visiting circus, the second to a seventy-year-old grandmother who had traveled from Chicago on roller skates. "I wore out five pairs," she boasted, "and would have been here sooner, except the police wouldn't let me use interstate highways."

Immediately preceding Nim was Lunch Break's own "House Doctor."

"He's on every day and has a tremendous following," the program assistant confided in a whisper. "People tune in especially, which is why, when you follow him, they'll be listening to you."

The doctor, in his fifties, graying and distinguished, was a solid performer who knew every trick in television's manual, including how to smile disarmingly, when to act the fatherly physician, and at what point to use a simplistic diagram of a stomach. "My subject today," be informed his unseen audience, "is constipation."

Nim watched and listened, fascinated.

“ . . Many people worry needlessly. What not to do is take laxatives. Millions of dollars' worth are sold each year-a waste; many are damaging to your health . . . Most constipation is 'imagined.' A daily bowel movement can be a needless fetish . . . Let your natural cycle have its way. For some, five to seven days without is normal. Be patient, wait . . . A real problem: Some folks don't heed the call of nature immediately. They're busy, they postpone. That's bad. The bowel gets discouraged, tired of trying . . . Eat high roughage food, drink lots of water to stay moist . .."

Van Buren leaned across. "Oh God, Nim! I'm sorry."

He assured her softly, "Don't be. Wouldn't have missed it. I only hope I'm not an anticlimax."

The doctor was faded out, a commercial in. The program assistant took Nini's arm. "You're on, Mr. Goldman." She escorted him to the center of the set, where he was seated. While the commercial continued, Nim and the interviewers shook hands. Jerry, frowning,- cautioned him “Were running late, and don’t have much time, so keep your answers short." He accepted a sheet of notes from a stagehand, then, as if a switch had been snapped, his smile went on and he turned toward a camera.

"Our last guest today knows a great deal about electricity and oil. He is....."

After the introduction, Jean asked Nim brightly, "Are we really going to have electricity cuts, or is it just another scare, something which in the end won't happen?"

"It's no scare, and it will happen." (You want short answers, Nim thought; so, okay.)

Jerry was consulting the sheet be had been given. "About that alleged oil shortage . . ."

Nim cut in quickly. "It is not alleged."

The interviewer's smile widened. "We'll let you get away with that one." He went back to his notes. "Anyway, haven't we had a glut of oil recently in California-oil coming in from Alaska, from the pipeline?"

“There have been some temporary local surpluses," Nim agreed. "But now, with the rest of the country desperately in need of oil, any extra will disappear fast."

"It seems selfish," Jean said, "but can't we keep that Alaska oil in California?"

"No." Nim shook his head. “The federal government controls it, and already has an allocation program. Every state, every city in the country, is pressuring Washington, demanding a share. There won't be much for anyone when the available domestic oil is spread around."

"I understand," Jerry said, referring to his notes once more, "that Golden State Power has a thirty-day supply of oil. That doesn't sound too bad."

“The figure is true in one sense," Nim acknowledged, "but misleading in another. For one thing, it's impossible to use oil down to the bottom of every tank. For another, the oil isn't always where it's needed most; one generating plant may be without oil, another have enough in storage for several days, and the facilities to move big quantities of oil around are limited. For both reasons, twenty-five days is more realistic."

"Well," Jerry said, "let's hope everything is back to normal before those days run out."

Nim told him, “There's not the slightest chance of that. Even if agreement is reached with the OPEC oil nations, it will take . . ."

"Excuse me," Jean said, "but we're short of time and I have another question, Mr. Goldman. Couldn't your company have foreseen what has happened about oil and made other plans?"

The effrontery, the injustice, the incredible naivety of the question astounded Nim. Then anger rose. Subduing it, he answered, "Golden State Power & Light has been attempting to do precisely that for at least ten years. But everything our company proposed-nuclear plants, geothermal, pumped storage, coal burning-bas been opposed, delayed or thwarted by. . ."

"I'm truly sorry," Jerry interrupted, "but we just ran out of time. Thank you, Mr. Goldman, for being with us." He addressed a zooming lens. "Among the interesting guests on Lunch Break tomorrow will be an Indian swami and . . ."

On their way out of the TV station building, Teresa Van Buren said dispiritedly to Nim, "Even now, no one believes us, do they?"

“They'll believe soon enough," Nim said. "When they all keep flipping switches and nothing happens."

* * *

While preparations for widespread blackouts went ahead, and a sense of crisis peryaded GSP & L, incongruities persisted.

One was the Energy Commission hearings on Tunipah which continued, unchanged, at their original maddening pace.

"A stranger from Mars, using commonsense," Oscar O'Brien observed during lunch with Nim and Eric Humphrey, "would assume, in view of our present power emergency, that licensing procedures for projects like Tunipah, Fincastle, and Devil's Gate would move faster. Well, Mr. Commonsense Mars would be dead wrong."