Sunday, January 18, 2009

Looming Layoffs

copyright APLazar, 2009

I can’t help it.

My eyes sweep around the conference room, taking in engineers, technicians, and secretaries who sit at their tables and sip coffee, pretending to pay attention to the speaker. The topic on “Image Quality Trends in the Printing Industry” is interesting–to me, at least–but my mind won’t stay focused.

About fifty people are scattered in rows, facing forward toward the projection screen. Folks I’ve known and worked with for almost three decades.

I can’t stop the tide of questions that buzz my brain like a swarm of angry mud hornets.

Which of us will be gone in two weeks? To whom will I have to say goodbye? Maybe all of them, if I’m affected. Will they stare at me with expressions of sympathy when I burst out of the boss’s office with a big thick “involuntary termination” package?

How will I react if I’m cut?

Will I hold it in and smile and try to make my boss feel better? I know it has to be hell for him. He’s the epitome of a good family man and a great leader. This whole thing is killing him; you can see the pain in his eyes each time he speaks to us.

Or will I choke up and flee? God, I hope not. I pray I’m more of a man than that.

No matter what happens, it won’t be easy. We’ve suffered nineteen layoffs in the past twenty-seven years. I’ve sat at my desk, waiting for the axe to drop, waiting to find out which friends won’t be coming back, or if it will be me this time. Good friends. Real friends. Guys whose hands I’ve squeezed at their children’s funerals. Men whose wives had died of cancer. Babies have been born whose lives I’ve followed. Kids. Grandkids. Friends who’d had heart attacks and with whom I’d become exercise buddies to keep them safe. I even played matchmaker for the first and only time in my life to connect two wonderful folks who’d lost their spouses. And it worked. And they’re happy and together now. And then there are the pals who shared my love of writing. No more writing lunches with them, where we share our latest work or talk about writing skills or themes or characters.

Gone. Vanished. Poof.

I know they aren’t really gone. We can still see each other outside of work. We email. We try to stay in touch. But it’s hard. And often they need to move out of state for work.

I meet the eyes of someone across the room with the same thoughts dark in their eyes.

Will it be me this time?

I sip the last of my Tazo mint tea, hoping for one more swallow to ease the tightness in my throat. There’s only a drop left.

Will I survive? Will we lose our home, the place we’d settled and raised our kids and grandsons for over 23 years? And what about our expensive prescriptions? How will we afford them? Maybe we’ll end up moving in with my daughter. Squeezing all of our lives into one teensy tiny room.

I think about that for a while. It might not be so bad.

Spurts of nervous adrenaline course through me. I cast my eyes around the group again, counting by threes. Rumors of thirty percent cuts have been spreading, and the boss said he thought the rumors were pretty close. One two three. Cut. One two three. Cut. One two three. Me.

Discarded. Tossed to the wind, as if I hadn’t killed myself for this job. This job I’ve really loved for twenty-seven long years. This job that’s paid the bills, kept us warm, put a roof over our heads, and put my kids through college. When the grandkids needed extra winter boots and leggings, I could always squeeze just a little more out to provide for them. When my wife fell and broke numerous bones, I’ve been able to help her get healed. We could afford the health care, barely. The cost was shared by my employer, but it was cheap compared to most plans.

Another thought lurches through me.

Health care. Oh, God. What if I don’t find another job right away? There’s no way we could afford it if I don’t.

The newscasts are full of sad stories about people who can’t find work. “There are no jobs,” is repeated again and again in the hallways. The thoughts race through my mind, and I try to take a deep breath.

A voice inside me makes me take notice.

Stop it. Just stop it! You’re doing what you tell everyone NOT to do. Focus on what you have and stop panicking about something you don’t even know is going to happen, for God’s sake!

I force myself to relax and start taking my own advice.

I have a wife and family I adore, who love me back.

I’m able to stand and walk. I can breathe. I can think, love, cook, write, stand in the sun in my garden.

I’m not undergoing cancer treatments.

And I've been told that God doesn’t throw more at us than we can handle.

After the meeting, I counsel a friend who's slumped even deeper than me. I repeat all that the voice inside told me. Always the positive guy. Always the helper. Always looking at the glass half full. That’s me.


I speak softly to my friend. “When the Lord closes a door, he opens a window. There are untold possibilities out there, opportunities you’ve never imagined. Just waiting for you. It could be wonderful!”

Now I just have to start believing it. There is life after Kodak, so I’m told. Maybe I’m about to find out.



Kathryn Magendie said...

I just came from a blog where he was in the mall and all the stores that are closing or having lower lower lower than lower price cuts....

I hope you'll be okay.

I hope the stores don't close.

I hope my little mountain town can hold onto its little local businesses.

s.w. vaughn said...

This is a really powerful piece, Aaron. A lot for people to think about - and some hope for those who are facing or have already experienced layoffs. Wonderfully done.

Here's hoping we see a light at the end of this dismal tunnel soon. :-)

Marta Stephens said...

I'm here, you know that.

Kim Smith said...

I, too, am faced with this dilemma, my friend. I have been there through a downturn in the 90's and it was so scary. This time it is worse, so much worse. I think I am safe for a time to go but I still have to watch this dismal event occur over and over with people I have worked with -- my "work family" for years. It's making me sad and mad and truly this blog and others are the only way to vent.

I am hugging you from afar knowing that this will touch us all before it ends.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Thanks, everyone, for your kind words. ;o) I'm praying for a huge turnaround in the economy, a rebound so powerful it will make us all prosperous and unemployment will be shrink like mad. ;o)

Beryl Singleton Bissell said...

And gratitude, as you've so beautifully recaptured it, will see you through --- always. I love this quote which I found on the website: "the courageous trust that life itself – kind or harsh, happy or sad – is good, if only we receive it as gift.” And you my friend are this kind of courageous.

EYR said...

This is so wonderfully done. You've captured what so many people are going through. Sometimes the media fingerpoints at folks and leads readers/viewers to believe that people are in financial difficulty because of bad choices they have made. Most often that isn't the case. Most often people have made good choices and have lived modestly and then they loose their job and the dominoes begin to fall. Through all of this, it is important to put a human face on the economic woes we are facing. It is more than numbers and Wall Street ticker tapes. It is about people and dreams and their lives. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and fears.

We just had a chat with our three kids about finances and budgets. I may have the oldest read this blog entry. Some of her questions could be answered by reading your thoughts.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Beryl, thanks so much for stopping by and for your kind words. You are my hero, you know. ;o)I hope the Florida sunshine is warming you and your husband and that you're thriving down there, working hard on your sequel to The Scent of God.

Liz, how wonderful that you are sharing the pearls of wisdom with your children, it's never too early. I wish I'd been coached a little more on the subject by my parents, but in those days there wasn't quite the worry. Mortgages were cheap and affordable, and there were so few expenses because people lived very simply. I hope this current situation will bring us all back to that kind of mindset. We don't need three TVs or more in a house, one should suffice. We can get by without extra cars and vacations. There is a way... including growing your own food and preserving it. I grow a lot, but this year I'm going to preserve much more. Just in case. ;o) Take care.