Home
Up
Wanting
To the editor of The Sun
Snoozing in my Chair
Remembering That First Kiss
Lost to the Clouds
"I'm Old," he said
My Visit with the Director of Lawrence Radiation Lab
Plodding Down the Path
Read To Me
Mammogram
Tax Time
Prosopagnosia
On Being Fully Alive
Rats
John
If I Should Die Before I Wake
Theme Song Nostalgia
Fight or Flight or
Minor Island
Landings II and III
The Sun on Me in the Morning
Missing Pieces
Living Simply
Voices
I Had a Brother, Once
The Wild One
Insurance
The Cost of Health Care
Popular Music
Sleeping Beauty
Full Moon
Are We Connected
Concert for George
Zoe Moon
An Opportunity to Feel
Over the River and Through the Woods
Saving Daylight
Garage Sale
Pushing On
My Little Town
Grasping
Memory
The West Wing
Everything is Impermanent
Muscles
Dawn
Gaslight
Emotional Habits
My Shadow
The Power of Eyes
Being a Vegetarian
She Blushed
The Mouse in the Basement
Passion
Mind and Matter
Do You Love God
Writer's Lament
Releasing Dreams
Relating to Cats and
Free as a bird
Silk Scarf
Alice at 21
Alice Evelyn King Skiff
Cookies & Milk
Animals in Mountains

My Visit with the Director of 
Lawrence Radiation Lab

The fall of 1970 was a busy time for me. I had finished work for my master’s at Iowa State, and had spent the summer at Stanford studying film production. Even before leaving Stanford for a tiny efficiency apartment in San Francisco, I began looking for work in filmmaking.

In Cincinnati three years earlier, I had connected with a big career counseling company, Frederick Chusid Co., in an attempt to find out what to do with my life. I had terminated my work with their counselors when I decided that I really needed to return to school, rather than simply change jobs. One of the tasks they gave me at Chisid was to contact important people in different fields in “advice calls”—interviews to probe the opportunities in different fields and to get some feedback on how I came across to people. These were not interviews for employment. In fact, one of the rules was that if they indicated an interest in hiring me, I was to refuse to discuss it then, but offer to make another appointment for an employment interview. So in San Francisco, I contacted the local office of Chusid (they had left my case open, while I went to grad school), and resumed my work with them. I drew up a list of film producers from a directory I discovered at the library, and began calling the CEO’s of each one.

Well, all sorts of companies have produced films for various purposes, and my directory did not distinguish between David Wolpe in Hollywood and Sisters of Mercy in Loveland, Ohio, both of whom at one time or another had “produced” a film. Or two. One of the companies listed in the Bay Area was Lawrence Radiation Laboratory on Berkeley campus, one of the most prestigious physics labs in the world. I phoned to get an appointment with the director, but couldn’t even get to his secretary. So, on one of my trips across the Bay Bridge, where I was scouting for areas suitable for me to investigate more closely (the Bay Area is a large collection of small towns and big cities, and there must be a hundred different local phone books), I drove my Volkswagen bus up to the main gate of Lawrence Radiation Lab and told the guard I wanted to see the director. I gave him my name and address, which happened to be my dorm room on Stanford University campus. He phoned “upstairs,” and in a moment came back and asked me for my name again. After another few minutes, he returned, and said that the director was presently in a meeting, but would I care to make an appointment for another date? I agreed (rather reluctantly, as I remember, since it was a two-hour drive) to return the next Tuesday.

I realized that I was perhaps out of my depth here, that this fellow was used to discussions with PhD’s and presidential assistants, not people like me looking for a beginning job in film production. But I kept the appointment.

I showed up the next Tuesday, was passed through security, and directed to the top floor of the administration building. The waiting room was as plush as any Hollywood set, with two secretaries working quietly at the far end of the room, on either side of the richly paneled double door to “his office.” He didn’t keep me waiting long. One secretary held the door for me, and I entered a huge, breathtaking room, all carpet and paneling and soft lights and green things growing. Behind a gigantic desk, the wall was all glass, overlooking San Francisco Bay. Donald Richmond was rounding his desk, striding toward me with his hand outstretched.

As we shook hands, I could see that he was a bit perplexed. He very politely told me that when I called for the appointment, he had mistaken me for someone else from Stanford University. A tenured physics professor, no doubt. The head of the physics department. The director of SLAC (Stanford Linear Accelerator Complex). Or somebody—anybody other than a middle-aged aspiring filmmaker. But he remained polite, even gracious, as he listened to my story and responded to my questions about filmmaking at Lawrence Radiation Lab. No, he didn’t know of film work currently being done, that the various departments made their own arrangements for film crews when they were needed. I kept insisting, as I had been cautioned by my counselor, that I was looking for information and “advice” in order to refine my search for a position. He was probably relieved that he didn’t have to refer me to their employment office.

I had asked for twenty minutes, and he did not cut my time short, but the interview ended just as comfortably as it began, with me expressing gratitude for his granting me an audience, and him wishing me luck in finding what I was looking for.

But my ears were hot as I walked through the big double doors, mumbling a response to the polished secretaries as I made my way to the elevator.

Advice calls are for gathering information—about opportunities, about oneself. I learned quite a lot in that call, not all of which was comfortable to me. But in a time when cynicism about big, heartless business was rampant, especially on the campuses where I had lived for two years, I discovered that even in that rarefied air of corporate heaven there live real people, who make mistakes and who take the consequences graciously, and who even have feelings for the rest of struggling, fumbling humanity.

 

Donald Skiff, December 13, 1994

Comment on this story? Send me an e-mail, please.
(And mention the title of the story, too)