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laid off

Listen to Black Flag - "Retired At 21"
In My Head

(It's been a while since I've updated this site. It would have been fair to call it - like most of my website - a derelict, but I had an excuse: a job that kept me very, very busy. I don't have that excuse any longer. Let's call this a work-in-progress, and see what happens. First, though, let's talk about how I got here.)

(02.19.09 Update: Hello Instapundit readers - thanks for following Glenn's link here. Please check back regularly, and I promise to get an RSS feed going on this thing soon.)

I KNEW SOMETHING WAS WRONG when my boss led me past her office, past the lunchroom and the accounting department, to the publisher's office where I noticed the company HR person and the union shop steward already waiting.

It took me a moment to realize what was happening, but once it started, I couldn't wait for it to be over. What made it so awful was the tedious scripting of the whole thing, and the boilerplate language: "unfortunately we've had to eliminate some positions ... I'm sorry to have to tell you ... just tell Ruth what you'd like her to get from your desk..."

I guess that's what made my first reaction anger, and not much else. It wasn't that I was mad at losing the job - the commute to the office had been a miserable ritual for weeks, even months, by now - so much as I was offended at being stuck in such a trite, predictable little play, and I was looking for some way to ad lib and break up the mediocrity of it all.

If I managed anything, I think I actually made the people grinding the gears of the whole tired scenario a little bit afraid, but that only made them all the more intent on sticking to their script. Why, I practically shouted, couldn't I just go back and clean out my desk on my own? It would be so much more efficient, and we could get this all over with now.

No, they said - it would be a "bad idea" for me to go back to the newsroom now. I suppose they were worried that I'd make a scene, or trigger the server-shredding virus I had cued up on my laptop. Mostly, though, I think they just didn't want to parade the carcass of the de-employed past my now-former colleagues; better that I just suddenly disappeared, and hopefully no one will notice.


We ended up waiting in the lobby for the longest time - me and John and Steph, the union reps. They'd apparently known since last week - the company has an obligation to tell the union - and had tried to talk them out of it, but they were in earnest. I can only imagine how bad things have to be if they're axing all of the reporters - all three of us, one still on maternity leave. It occurs to me that I'd been talking to Steph about stories and deadlines the whole time, and that she'd had to pretend she didn't know anything. I start wondering who else knew, and my mind starts a little paranoid spider dance of speculation.

I notice a hired security guard, his barrel chest stuffed into his shiny bomber jacket with big silver shield patches at each shoulder, sitting in the corner. We never have security in the office, and it suddenly strikes me that he's here for me. I'm imagining him prying himself out of the waiting room chair and sprinting after me heavily, pinning me in a flying tackle by the lunchroom as I try to make it back to the newsroom to holler "You're all doomed - get out while you can!" He mostly just sits in his chair, his eyes intent on his magazine.

As we wait for Ruth to bring me my things - my laptop bag (now empty as the company owns the laptop), my daytimer and reporter's notebook, my phone and the framed picture of my daughters - I see Glen, the managing editor, with his jacket and briefcase, being escorted through the door to the stairs leading down to the parking garage. I turn to Steph and John, my eyes wide. Yeah, they whisper - Glen too.

I'd seen Glen walk off with Dianne, the paper's editor, a few minutes before she came to get me. He had, I vaguely noticed, a weirdly resigned stoop as he walked behind her; had, in fact, been unusually subdued lately. The little paranoid spider dance takes in this bit of retrospective detail - did Glen know? About his own job, or just me and the other reporters?

The week before, I'd written "Rick is the invisible man" as my Facebook status update one day. I'd been skulking around the office for days by that point, there in body but barely in spirit, though now I'm wondering whether the sensation wasn't a reaction to something on the outside, not the inside; that the office was already excising me, like unhealthy tissue being rejected. Now I'm really getting paranoid.

white blood cells attacking infection
white blood cells attack an infection

I'd never really gotten along that well with Glen, but suddenly I'm feeling deeply sorry for him. He'd been there longer than me, and had played office politics much better, outlasting two editors and landing himself an office next to the editor's. He was also being paid one of the highest salaries in the newsroom, which probably made him conspicuous when it came time to start cutting, and as management, he probably didn't have the union fighting for him when the decision was made. He also has a kid and a mortgage; this is probably going to hurt him more than me.

Ruth finally shows up with my bag. I look through it, then pull out my cell and leave a message on my wife's voicemail at work. I suddenly remember that Ruth forgot the toolbox under my desk, and my wireless mouse and headphones. Steph looks like she just wants to get this all over with, so I let her walk me to the lobby and say I'll arrange for it all later.


The company has given me a cab chit to get home, but the cab they said would be waiting has left, so I call for a new one. I don't want to put Steph through any more of this, so I tell her I'm OK, to go back upstairs. She tells me that they'll send me my Record of Employment in the next week, so I can apply for Unemployment Insurance. We shake hands, I give her a hug, and she heads back to the elevators, leaving me in the lobby. I call my wife on her Blackberry, tell her I'll be home soon, and we arrange to meet in a coffee shop to talk about how to tell the girls.

The cab arrives, and I walk outside. It's a bright winter day, the light and the cold both sharp and urgent. My unemployed life begins now.

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© 2009 rick mcginnis all rights reserved

i'm a dad in my forties with two daughters. i've worked as a photographer, journalist and, recently, tv columnist. currently a member of the growing workforce awaiting new employment opportunities. church-going catholic.

punk rock was my crucible, lodestar and avalon.

i look nothing like william powell.

rick -at- rickmcginnis.com

no comments - i can't be bothered with the extra work, to be frank - but if you have something to say, I might print it in the margin over here.

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01.02.07: ipod
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