Friday, July 30, 2010

Day 30 of Double-barrel Unemployment: A Temp-to-perm Landstander

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Temp Lady, in sing-song mode: "Good morning, Joe! This is Maggie from [temp agency] and I have some great opportunities for yooooou!"

Joe: "Ugh, um, yes? Oh hi! Great. Let's hear what you got!"

TL: "First, there's a part-time receptionist assignment at a very busy doctor's office..."

Joe: "Okay..."

TL: "It pays $6 an hour and is located in Philadelphia. Parking there costs $4.50 an hour."

Joe: "I live at least 3 hours away from there, and it sounds like my net pay - before taxes - would be $1.50 an hour, so I hope you'll understand if I pass on this one."

TL: "No problem at all. I have a few others. Let's see... Oh yes - I thought of you the minute I saw this one. It's like a carbon-copy of your own résumé. Full-time sales rep for an international chemical company. Must have medical and/or pharmacology degree and at least 10 years of progressive biochemical weapons sales experience. Firearms certification and/or military or counter-intelligence background a plus. Every other Friday off! Business casual dress!"

Joe: "I think you might have someone else's résumé in mind. I don't have any of those qualifications."

TL: "No worries, Joe. I thought it might be a good fit because of your video store experience, but that's okay. How about this? Busy office needs someone for overly-chatty manager to babble at all day long, so that the rest of the staff can do their jobs. $30 an hour, Joe! Paid parking. Rockville location. Oh, wait. Must have MBA. You don't have an MBA, do you?"

Joe: "No. Sorry."

TL: "Well hang on; I've got a couple more. Temp-to-perm Landstander. $11 an hour. Gaithersburg. Small company with casual atmosphere. What do you think?"

Joe: "Did you say Landstander?"

TL: "Yes, that's right. Landstander. With a chance for the right person to stay on permanently!"

Joe: "Is there a job description? I'm not familiar with the title."

TL: "Let me just check, here. Ah yes. 'The Landstander will primarily be responsible for standing on land.'"

Joe: "That's it? I would stand on land?"

TL: "Also some light filing, it says here. Sounds like a great fit for you, doesn't it?"

Joe: "Landstander."

TL: "Landstander."

Joe: "What kind of company is it?"

TL: "It's a day-care center."


TL: "Oh dear. You're not a pedophile, are you? You're not a registered sex offender or something?"

Joe: "NO! Okay, send my résumé to that one, but just for fun, what else do you have?"

TL: "One more. I'm sharing this one with you first to see if you're interested, before I call anyone else. Because I like you."

Joe: "Wow. I appreciate that."

TL: "Okay. I know when we had our meeting, you had said that while you're searching for a permanent employment solution, you were open to assignments with flexible hours, and positions that got you outside - like courier jobs."

Joe: "I don't remember any of that, but it might not be a bad idea. You have a courier assignment?"

TL: "Yes! The title is Special Materials Transport Technician and Client Support Liaison."

Joe: "Try fitting that on a business card!"

TL: "I know! This position requires the utmost in discretion and respect for client confidentiality. Pays $48 an hour, plus mileage. The Technician/Liaison will ensure timely, secure delivery of product to customers of all types, from individuals at home to Congressmen and Senators on the Hill."

Joe: "Cool. What kind of company is it? Lawyers?"

TL: "No. They provide a very critical service, but the principals tend to keep an extremely low profile."

Joe: "Well, okay. I could definitely give it a try. I can be very discreet and professional."

TL: "Wonderful! Now, let me ask you this? Do you have any allergies to latex?"

Joe: "Um. Not that I know of. Why?"

TL: "And do you have a current passport?"

Joe: "Yes... Why?"

TL: "Now, I have to ask this, as it does pertain to the candidate's ability to perform the assignment. Have you ever had a colonoscopy?"


TL: "I know. I'm sorry. I have to ask."

Joe: "I am NOT going to be a coke mule for some scary-ass drug dealers! Are you kidding me?"

TL: "No, no! You've got it all wrong. You would not be smuggling cocaine in your rectum, Joe! What on earth gave you that idea?"

Joe: "The whole description and your questions did! You mean this isn't an assignment as a coke mule - sneaking condoms or whatever filled with coke into the country and delivering it to customers?"

TL: "Absolutely not!"

Joe: "Okay, then. Sorry."

TL: "It would be heroin."

Joe: (click)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Day Two of Double-barrel Unemployment - Get Up, Bambi!

Tuesday December 2, 2008

Thanks to my day of unconsciousness on Monday, my internal clock was all screwed up and I spent a lot of that night awake and repeatedly thinking "now what?" So, when I forced my sore eyes open Tuesday morning, I was profoundly tired. But I had done this before. I knew all too well that sleep is the enemy of the unemployed. You sleep until 9:00. Then 10:00. Okay, 10:30. Before you know it, you're barely functional before Noon, and still padding about in your PJs and Rocky The Flying Squirrel slippers until just before your wife gets home from work. I adore sleep, and I almost rationalized my way into another hour of it, but the voices kicked in.

It starts with my own voice. "Get up. Get up, you loser. Get up!"

(snooze snooze snooze)

The next voice is the wretched camp counselor from Camp
Campingston Falls Summer Camp For The Performing Arts, from the "Camp" (one more "camp" won't kill us, will it?) episode of "Home Movies." It sneers "Get it together, Rabbit Troop," and then there's a kid's voice taunting "Rabbit Troop sucks!" What? Yes. Yes, I do watch a lot of cartoons. Have you seen television lately?


Time to bring out the Big Guns. Bambi's father. Yep. I try to cover my head with my pillow, but it's no use, as the big guy is
in my head. "Get up, Bambi. Bambi, get up. GET UP. GET UP, Bambi. GET UP!!!" I don't know about you, but I don't care too much for being called Bambi. Plus, that buck sounded scary as hell.

So I got up. Normally, on Day Two -- How sad is it that I get laid off frequently enough that there's a
routine for Day Two? A lot sad, would be my estimate. Anyway, normally this is the day for calling and emailing everyone to find out what the hell happened, for updating my accounts and search agents on Monster, CareerBuilder etc. and for scouring the boards for jobs and firing off a bunch of résumés. I usually also call my friends at the temp agency.

This Day Two was different, as this entire journey through joblessness has been (and is to this day). Having had a very early heads-up from Boss Lady, I had spent many months saving all the cash I could, and between that and the better-than-expected severance package she and our nice Controller got me, I wasn't going to be in financial trouble for at least a couple of months. That took a lot of the usual panic away. Also, having seen this one coming for so many months, including 75 days of official notice, there was no reeling to put a stop to. This trip down unemployment lane was also my first with professional recruiters, but those initial meetings had already taken place in October and November.

Bottom line: There was less to do than usual. I checked in with my fellow expendables and recruiters, sent out a
résumé or two, stepped on the scale for the first time in too long (yikes!), packed away my workplace stuff after trashing half of it (how many company mugs does a non-coffee-drinker need, anyway?) and I organized some closets. It was very therapeutic.

I was planning on more or less taking December off, and this was the perfect start. It was sunny and 40 degrees, but winter was coming. I could feel it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day One of Double-barrel Unemployment

I don't really count the fun and busy Thanksgiving weekend, because it was fun and busy. Also, because my separation agreement from the Vortex of Doom said my last day on the payroll was November 30, I consider Day One to be Monday, December 1, 2008.

Here's what I did on Day One:

I slept.

A lot.

Join us next time, when I do slightly more than sleep a lot...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Night Zero of Double-barrel Unemployment

I left the Vortex of Doom, spinning inexorably toward oblivion in my rear-view mirror, and proceeded directly to a rendezvous with [Maris] at Dogfish Head Ale House in Gaithersburg. Yes, I am shamelessly plugging DFH. Their small-batch craft-brewed beers are amazing, especially if you're a fan of hoppy IPAs, and for a pub, the food is fantastic. There. Go. Here endeth the shameless Dogfish Head Ale House pitch.

We followed that awesomeness at home, with about ten shots each of Patron Silver, while we packed for our Thanksgiving trip to my sister's home in Ohio. Another plug here: I was never a tequila guy - I'm a rum man, at heart - but thanks to a gift from my Boss Lady at the Vortex, I now have a taste for the Patron. Brilliant stuff. Okay, enough endorsements. The evening had turned the din of workplace memories into muted echoes in my spent little brain, and I dropped heavily to sleep. Then, with Cabaret Voltaire's "Sensoria" playing on The Most Random iPod In The World, and for the first time in what seemed like a year or more, I dreamed.

I was at the Vortex of Doom at my old desk - the one I occupied when I first started in 2005 - just outside Boss Lady's office. All the office doors were closed and the lights were off. It was airless and warm, clearly it was not a weekday. I was typing an email to my buddy Godfrey Ozzenbarq III (not his real name) - to this day the best boss I've ever had (sorry, Boss Lady). Since the time I had worked for him in the early 90s, he has been a good mentor, life coach, railfanning and photography tutor, co-conspirator, Play-doh sculpture critic, and friend. The email seemed to reference another dream I'd had, during the multi-system illness that began to attempt to destroy me in August of 2006, and whose identity would remain unknown until April of 2007, and whose effects are still lingering to this day.

"I awoke flat on my back in a 'downtown' Bozeman Jiffy-Lube, dressed in ill-fitting green corduroy overalls and a Crack The Sky World Tour '82 t-shirt. They gave me back my Sprint FON card, a receipt (from Yekta Deli?) and a signed 8x10 color glossy of Russ Ballard, then sent me out the front door. The Backstreet Boys' bus was just pulling out, and its sparkly rainbow sticker and no fewer than SEVEN matching rainbow flags were all I needed to see. 'Good for you, boys,' I thought to myself, mainly because I'm not sure how to think to someone else. 'I KNEW IT!!' chorused the Jiffy-Lube gang from their perches upon the empty lube racks. Money changed hands among them, and they giggled rather like so many little girls playing tag. I passed out.

I awoke this time sitting at my keyboard, typing who-knows-what with a ferocity usually reserved for emails to sales 'people' who have just submitted orders with no billing OR shipping addresses. I looked at the screen.

Godfrey! (not your real name) I have news! The Outdoor Living Network will be airing a 36-hour telethon for me, hosted by none other than Gasphlem St. Marty the Fleen and his stalwart sidekick Hissonner Dunsten Crackbarry. They're calling it 'Help Us Find A Cure For Whatever The Fuck Joe Has, So That He May Quit His Interminable Girly Whining Before We Are Forced To Bludgeon Him With Petrified 20-year Old Pizza Hut Priazzas.' Call now!

If you're lucky, your call might just be answered by Tina Yothers or Rae Dawn Chong, or maybe even Ike Eisenman or Lamont Wilson! For a pledge of a mere $25, they'll send you a cap embroidered with "Save Joe From Horrific Re-invented Dumbass Marketing-gone-way-wrong 'Pizza' Death!" A $50 pledge earns you a pair of hot pink fuzzy leg-warmers and a sparkly "Joe Sucks" confederate flag belt buckle. For you extra-generous contributors, $100 is good for a lunch date with Joe (assuming he survives and can still eat solid food in public without causing undue disturbance) at Five Guys Burgers & Fries.**

So get to the phone. Pledge early, pledge often. Joe needs your help! And please don't let the somewhat checkered pasts of hosts Crackbarry and Fleen turn you away. We couldn't get anyone else on such short notice, and these guys work really, really cheap.

Telethon Boy
** Lunch date to be chaperoned by Chelsea Handler, Brian May or Charo, at the discretion of the sponsors.

I shut my laptop, put my head on my desk and drifted off. I awoke again in Bozeman, gathered my stuff and waited by a dusty brown pickup with Alberta tags, parked in front of Bow River Burgers on West Main. Its driver emerged with a sack of burgers and climbed into the truck. 'Hey mister - can I give you fifty bucks to drive me to Moose Jaw?' He smiled and said 'I'll let you split the cost of the gas, but I'm not going all the way to Moose Jaw, eh. I can take you as far as Medicine Hat, though.'

I thought for a minute. 'Medicine Hat sounds just fine, sir.'"

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Day Zero of Double-barrel Unemployment

Tuesday, November 25, 2008
(Yes, if you're doing the math, that's really Day Minus-5, but let's not quibble.)

Wow, did that not feel like getting laid off. All three of my previous involuntary departures - and even one of the voluntary resignations - had been relatively traumatic bolts from the blue, with little or no time to prepare - or even to absorb the news. Still, this also didn't feel like any of my planned, "two-weeks' notice" job departures, which were always happy escapes from bad jobs or at least happy moves to something better.

This was a slow death.

It was certainly as unwelcome as any other termination, but by the time Day Zero arrived, all that was left was exhaustion and sadness - and maybe a measure of relief. Three months earlier, in the rumor-fed angst of the days just before the announcement that those asshats from texas were acquiring us and there would be few survivors, this was the white board in my cubicle:

Originally, this was my artificial "window" to my sandy beach, towel, umbrella, sunset etc. - drawn by my favorite coworker. The "South Park Underpants Gnomes" business model on the left was added later, adapted for my job at Vortex of Doom Communications, in red. In the chaos leading up to The Announcement, my awesome boss lady added the OMG and STFU. As things got worse, we made the sea all messy and stormy, drew some people being ejected from the Ship of Fools, and set it (and them) on fire. The dolphin, originally drawn merely frolicking, is now fleeing, squeaking "So long, and thanks for all the fish" as he departs.

That seemed so very long ago, by Day Zero. The artist was gone and already re-employed. My awesome boss lady - easily the second-best boss I've ever known - was gone. Most of my department was gone. The transition work and partial-year audit for which I had been kept around those last couple of months were over (at least, as far as my involvement was concerned).

Except for a couple of days when the auditors needed things with which I could help, I basically coasted through my last week and a half. I searched the internet job boards, sent out résumés, called recruiters and socialized. By November 25, we had done all the reminiscing we could do. All the stories had been told and re-told. We no longer felt like getting T-shirts that said "If you want happy, get a dog." The office was getting quieter each day.

I've tried in previous posts to illustrate why it was hard to lose this job, why this job was special. I know I have failed to do it justice. I'll try one more time: It was a chemistry thing. I was part of a group of people who meshed personally and professionally in ways I had never witnessed. It wasn't just with my boss and immediate coworkers, either. The company was just full of good, sharp people. Of course, it had its faults, and it's a shame that we couldn't get out of our own way.

It's a bittersweet pill to swallow - knowing, knowing that this was the best I'm going to do, and that it was over. Everyone has that stretch in their working lives where everything just clicks like it never has and never will again, and for me, these had been those years. I know - never say never. So I won't say never, but I knew by Day Zero what a challenge it would be to ever come close to replacing this gig.

The office was calm, that afternoon. It was peaceful. The sadness comes from feeling like the peace marked the end of a war, and that it was a war we could have won, but did not.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Other People's Day Zeroes of Double-barrel Unemployment

One of the benefits of being laid off with advance notice, as I was in 2008, is that there's time for support groups to form. My coworkers and I had transition periods ranging from two weeks to several months. A few weeks before my personal Day Zero - around Day Minus-20 or so - several of us engaged in the modern therapeutic ritual of The Sharing of Layoff Stories. I know there are now approximately eleventy bazillion of these anecdotes floating about in cyberspace, but these are more real to me because they actually happened to my friends (or, at least, to friends of friends).

I've always found that having something bad happen to me, and then immediately hearing stories of worse things happening to others is equal parts comforting and just damned annoying, but what are you going to do? It's a natural response. "You got laid off? I know this guy who got laid off on the day his house burned down." "You got hit by a car and broke every bone in your body? I once got run over and decapitated."

It's my own fault. I started it by sharing with my coworkers a story my wife had just emailed to me, about her less-than-brilliant company doing its first layoff. They started with the receptionist and their Human Resources/Payroll/Benefits person - a person who had no backup. So, they had no plan for greeting visitors or answering the phones, and they put someone with zero experience - or interest - in HR/Payroll/Benefits in charge of trying to do those three jobs. The company also never said anything about this layoff of ten percent of their staff to surviving employees. No email, no meeting, no memo - nothing. The news was spread by the panic-stricken rumor mill.

A coworker in my department immediately offered us her story from a couple of jobs ago. She and about 80 of her coworkers were ushered into a conference room scarcely large enough to hold them all. They were given the 30-second "times are tough and you lot no longer work here" notification speech. The company was privately owned, and as far as the employees had known, it was doing well, so this was a shock to all of the rank and file. There were long-tenured coworkers, and she said there was crying, shouting and threats of violence. For the next thirty uncomfortable minutes, there was a very contentious "Q&A" session, in which their HR Director deflected every question except those about COBRA coverage.

Just as word was making its way through the crowd of victims that the front doors had been locked from the outside, an announcement was made that everyone was free to please leave immediately through the fire doors in the back, which opened directly into the parking lot. As the stunned and furious downsized rabble filed out, each was handed a box containing his or her hastily-packed personal belongings and a final paycheck, as well as a formal letter warning them that anyone returning to the premises would be arrested for trespassing. Sweet.

Another friend had a roommate who had been sent with a large number of his coworkers to an off-site meeting at a nearby college lecture hall. There, they were notified of their unemployed status and told not to return to the office, where their access cards would no longer work. Their belongings would be mailed to their homes. Charming.

Someone else had been laid off in a manner so pathetic as to almost be funny. He arrived at work to find his access card would not open either the parking garage door or the building's side entrance. Several of his coworkers were having the same problem, and a bunch of them made their way through the main lobby to the reception area. There, the receptionist leaped from her chair and blocked the hallway a couple of the employees were attempting to enter. My coworker was heading down the opposite corridor when the receptionist half-screamed "NO! WAIT! You all have to stay here and wait for the HR Manager." A couple of them waited there. Several made their way to their desks, where they were unable to log onto the network. At one point, the HR Manager was seen running after one of the wayward employees. It took all morning to get them all rounded up and fired.

In another story, a small company laid off one employee - their Jamaican-American receptionist, a single mother. The next day, a VP visited the office and uttered the following gem: "Sometimes a company is like a Holstein cow, and you have to cut away the black spots." The VP didn't mean it "that way," but given that the receptionist had been the only black employee, it did not go over well.

One of our sales guys chimed in with a tale of a CEO getting what he deserved. He thought this story would make us feel better about losing our jobs, while our own failure of a President took a huge bonus check and danced off to his next $300,000-a-year job. So, this CEO of a small brokerage firm was the kind of liar who was so detached from reality that he could scare away prospective investors. Once, when asked for an easily-verifiable forecast of the company's sales for the present month, he gave a number that was roughly ten times the real number. He did this in front of a number of employees from several departments, all of whom were fully aware of how ludicrous his answer had been.

Not long before being fired, this CEO was forced to set up one of those "sexual harassment in the workplace" seminars -- due to complaints by several women in the office - about HIM. He arrived just as the consultant/instructor was being introduced, tip-toed creepily up behind her and proceeded to massage her shoulders. Yeah, he was fired. He didn't take it well. In fact, he had to be escorted from his office by the police, as he refused to accept his termination and leave on his own. You know - that one did kind of make me feel a little bit better, however briefly.

These stories are just a handful of illustrations of what I have come to accept as a universal truth: Nothing is ever, EVER so bad that it can not be worse.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Day Minus-17 of Double-barrel Unemployment

My amazing boss at Vortex of Doom Communications left the company on her own terms, after holding herself hostage for a huge "stick around" ransom, thanks to having a new job offer in hand when the board finally bothered to talk to her about the post-acquisition transition. Her last day was Friday, November 14, 2008. She was beyond ecstatic about it. I was considerably less than thrilled. I was disconsolate, actually. My sadness was mitigated, though, by the fact that I myself would be gone in two weeks (less, with Thanksgiving week), and by the fact that 99 percent of my own work was done. I also still had high hopes that somehow, she'd be able to help me find a job - not necessarily with her new employer, but with a someone in her vast professional network, or through one of her head-hunters.

So, I couldn't help but feel conflicted when I stepped into her office for the last time and proceeded to conduct a mock exit interview.

Me: Thank you for taking the time to meet with me, Boss Lady. I will try to keep this brief.

Boss Lady: No problem. If it takes too long, I'll just leave. I'm going to keep packing up my shit while we do this.

Me: You don't have much to pack up, though, do you?

Boss Lady: Nope. Most of my office stuff is still in the trunk of my car from the move in July. I wasn't about to waste my time moving it in here, just to have to get it all out again in a couple months.

Me: Of course. So, let's start off with the big one. What is your primary reason for leaving Vortex of Doom Communications?

Boss Lady: Really? Are we really doing this? I thought this was just a - you know - a bit.

Me: It is a bit, but it's our last one, so play along. What is your main reason for leaving?

Boss Lady: Well, we could go with "I got a job offer I couldn't refuse," but really, I'd have to say that it's because this place was already a swirling whirlpool of shit and dysfunction, long before our new owners came along. It was making me feel like I needed to drink every night, and a couple of times it frustrated me so much I almost cried.

Me: And you don't cry.

Boss Lady: And I do not cry. So just put down "fuck this place" for number one.

Me: I see. What do you value about the company?

Boss Lady: Nothing. No, wait. I value the package they only gave me because I had an offer in hand when they got around to finding out they couldn't do the transition and audit without me. I value that.

Me: And? [Batting eyelashes]

Boss Lady: [Holding chocolate voodoo doll, still in its box] You wanna hang on to this?

Me: [Looking wounded] I gave that to you! It was a gift! Wasn't there anything else here of value to you?

Boss Lady: I'm sorry. Okay, okay. I value you. Geez - you're so high-maintenance. You know I hate this kind of stuff.

Me: I know. But I gotta get my last shots in while I can. I know you're not crossing The Bridge, like, ever again. And unless it's to work for you, I ain't going to the other side. Okay. This one will be more fun. What do you dislike about the company?

Boss Lady: They took away our free sodas.


Boss Lady: [Blinking]

Me: That's all?

Boss Lady: Yes. Otherwise, it was a fabulous company.

Me: Okay. How was your relationship with your manager?

Boss Lady: My what?

Me: Your manager? Supervisor? You know - boss.

Boss Lady: I adore Jim [CFO who bailed on us two years prior], but I would never work for the guy again. The rest were idiots.

Me: I see, I see. Did working here help you to advance your career goals?

Boss Lady: Well, I'm starting a new job that's pretty much a lateral move from this one. So, no. I'd say my five years of 90- to 100-hour work weeks, babysitting a bunch of sales boys and killing myself in a fruitless attempt to polish this turd have not exactly advanced my career.

Me: You're pretty cranky for someone who's leaving forever in an hour, and who was paid - what, about eleventy thousand dollars for the last 60 days.

Boss Lady: [Gesturing toward the white board, behind me] You are forgetting Rule #4.

Me: Sorry. Forgot. Okay, last question. What could the company do to improve this workplace?

Boss Lady: I don't know, Joe. Suck less? How about not fail. The company could try not failing. They'd have to go back in time, obviously. But then maybe we could have gone IPO, like our competitors, and not have had to sell out to this bigger bunch of assholes and all lose our jobs.

Me: Would a company car have helped?

Boss Lady: You know, I think it kind of would have.

Me: Corporate jet?

Boss Lady: YES! And those automatic hand-dryers in the rest rooms!

Me: A Starbucks in the lobby?

Boss Lady: Well, obviously. Maybe a masseuse on staff. Or Skittles in the vending machine.

Me: Well, at least we learned new catchphrases. If it weren't for our old receptionist, we would never have given any thought to which sodas were highly drunk daily!

Boss Lady: I'm going to be saying that for the rest of my life! And let's not forget the sales guys, with their "see, what happened was..."

Me: And the one I should have said earlier when you were bitching about everything...

Boss Lady: Hey - If you want happy, get a dog!

Me: Well, if you think outside the box at the end of the day, it is what it is.

Boss Lady: UGH.

Me: And will you have a coworker like Foghorn Leghorn at the new place? I doubt it. Ah say, ah say, ah say.

Boss Lady: [in her best Foghorn Leghorn voice, which was really bad but kind of adorable] Ah say - wHot in THEE hale is the matta with ya, boy?

Me: You're going to miss me.

Boss Lady: I don't miss people.

Me: I'm not people. You're going to miss me.

Boss Lady: Maybe a little.

(The preceding has been highly fictionalized, because while the idea of a mock exit interview was cute, the reality of it was just kind of sad.)