4:47 and he was about to give himself a Christmas gift of checking his personal email on company time, more accurately, non-profit time, when his boss entered and asked if she could sit down.
She rarely came in; they usually communicated only by email. Maybe it was to personally give the usual gift card to Ben & Jerry’s, Seeds of Change, or some such? But her face was too serious. Her usual workplace-chirpy demeanor was replaced by flatness: At age 67, he and one other employee, a younger one (perhaps insulation against an age-discrimination lawsuit?) are to be “laid off.”
He couldn’t bring himself to say anything. She waited, then murmured, “I’m so sorry. After all these years here, and especially as an older worker, I know this must be hard. You’ll get severance plus two weeks more pay, whether you leave today or in two weeks, your choice.” She crept out.
He trudged toward BART vacant. Then his mind crept alive: “I was hoping to work another few years, like my dad.” He looked up at the swaddling skyscrapers, buildings he had rarely noticed or had viewed as monolith symbols of Financial America. Now, those buildings felt like symbols that he had part of something big. He appeased his liberal values with the belief that FemLoan.org was one of the few good guys.
On BART, he noticed that he was the oldest passenger. “I’m old, face it, I’m old. What right to I have to keep working when millions of young people can’t find beyond being a barista work? Good socialist, it’s time to walk my redistributionist talk.”
Trying to savor his last walk from BART to home, he looked a bit longer at the leaves. “Californians fly back east for autumn leaves, yet just a month later, we too have yellows and reds. Look at that liquidambar—great name, that Japanese maple, that ginkgo, the world’s oldest tree and as yellow as if hybridizers spent decades creating it.”
Thoughts about his worklife intruded. “I was maybe eight when dad said, ‘Work. That’s what matters.’ Odd I remember that. Then my first job: I came in right at 9 and was shocked that people were reading their newspapers—9:15, 9:30, they still hadn’t started?! My first job out of college was managing volunteers. I thought being a boss meant I was supposed to boss people around. No wonder I got fired—College was about liberal arts, not job training. Then there was the time I told my boss I liked New Yorkers because they’re straight shooters. My boss unfortunately was from the polite Midwest and I soon got laid off. Did that contribute? Then I volunteered at FemLoan. It took months but I finally got hired ‘even though you’re a guy.’ Somehow, that statement didn’t bother me; I had so drunk the Kool-Aid. That was, let’s see, 23 years ago. Little by little I've lost some of the passion, maybe a lot. Maybe getting dumped is for the best.”
As usual, he passed the doughnut shop but this time, he turned around, went in, and asked for a cinnamon roll. The clerk said, “You sure? They were made at 4 AM. They’re a little stale.” He took it.
When he got home, he made himself his usual green tea in a Japanese pot. He sprinkled a little water on the cinnamon roll, put it in the microwave, and it came out as moist as if fresh. He settled into his easy chair and, slowed by the desire to wring maximum pleasure from the calories, chewed the cinnamon roll slowly, cutting the sweetness with the tea. “Now what? Retire? Volunteer for another nonprofit? Maybe it’s just that I’ve spent two decades phoning borrowers who tell me they can’t pay back their microloan—Anyone would be burned out after that. Or do I do the standard retiree thing: sleep late, golf, movies, TV, grandkids, read? I have this pile of books on my bed where a woman should be. I don’t really care about that but I can’t make myself read the books either. Should I write my memoir? Feels narcissistic. Get into shape? I’m not motivated enough” and he took a bigger bite of the cinnamon roll. I’ll think about this some other time.
He got his laptop. “What should I listen to? There’s this guy Marty Nemko who, every year, on his radio show, which is about jobs, at Christmas plays Silent Night. I wonder if he ever recorded it? To find out, click HERE.