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Lunch with the doomed

The company where I work has been in bankruptcy proceedings for months, and layoffs are not unusual. All of us come to work every Friday knowing it could be our last, and today was the last day for five people on my floor, including Louie and Hector.

I'll miss Louie. He was the only person in the building I’d let my defenses down around. I used to talk to him, not much but a little, which is more than I talk to anyone else. He's a good guy, nearly a friend, and I’m glad I had a chance to tell him that, but damn it all.

I know why they laid off Hector — he’s a colossal dumbass — but I don’t know why they fired Louie. He’d been there longer than me, and knew more, and worked harder, but now he's gone. My guess? They fired him because he'd been there longer — he’d had more raises, so he maybe made 45¢ an hour more than me. Or maybe they x'd him out because he's gay.

In the past, when heads rolled at our shitty office, the dead were told to empty their desks, and escorted out by security guards. That’s the American way. For today’s layoffs, though, the company did something different. Something surreal. I was wondering, do they supply crack in the executive suite?

The announcement was on paper, placed on everyone’s desks, listing who was fired and bizarrely thanking them, and inviting everyone to lunch. It said, at 11:15, everyone please gather on the sidewalk. We all stood awkwardly outside for a few minutes, and then the doomed and the survivors followed the executioners, and we all walked a few blocks together to an upper-class hotel, and rode the elevator up.

At the top of the hotel, with a view of San Francisco somewhat obscured by the windows and walls of taller buildings, we were fed a high-class buffet. I’d never even heard of a ‘high-class buffet’, but this was not a place with lukewarm leftovers and Coke in plastic cups, like every buffet I’ve eaten before. This place had shrimp and steak and lobster and assorted fancy things named in French. It had waiters behind the buffet, so you didn’t scoop your own vichyssoise; you pointed and a waiter scooped it for you.

It might have been the fanciest restaurant I’ve ever eaten at, and they gave us an hour and a half to eat, so I stuffed my gullet with all the gourmet food. I had seconds of everything that was good, and most of it was good. I hope Louie took home a ton of it in his pockets.

Other than the food, though, it was not fun. Workers and bosses and faces I hardly knew came by to say farewell forever to the people uninvited back, and it was uncomfortable for everyone, but mostly for Louie and Hector and the three other goners.

After we’d eaten our feast and said our goodbyes, everyone shook hands, and then we all walked back to the office. Now there were security guards, watching as the laid-off five packed their belongings into boxes thoughtfully provided by the company.

All this was cruelty dressed up to look kind, and it was also expensive — no prices were posted, but I asked one of the waiters, and he said the lunch buffet costs $29 per person. With everyone from my floor at work eating, 40 or so people, that’s $1,160 plus tip (if the corporation tipped, which I doubt). It's indicative of why the company is in Chapter 11, if you ask me.

I've been working in this office for a couple of years, and the tally is now 22 laid off, in four rounds of 'downsizing' — and that's only among my co-workers and workers from adjacent groups, people I knew by name or face. I couldn't begin to estimate how many have been let loose from the labyrinth of other offices on other floors of the same building, and in other branches of the same big, evil, and stupid corporation.

20 of those 22 were just grunts like Louie and Hector and me. Two were low-level managers, same rank as my boss. No executives have been terminated, to my knowledge, though every one of them makes at least ten times what Louie or Hector made. Upper management has decided it's not upper-management's fault that the company is literally bankrupt, so their jobs remain secure. Funny how that works, every single god-damned time.

In the office, Louie always sat on one side of me, and Hector on the other, so when I read their names on the layoff list, my first thought was that they were shutting down my whole section, and I’d be gone, too. But nope, I still work there. I've been told that my duties will now be ‘expanded’ — in addition to doing what I already do, I’ll also be doing what some of the laid-off people did. It's work I know nothing about, but it sounds even duller, more mindless, if that's possible.

Downsizing always means the same work gets done, slower and worse, by fewer employees. If I had any balls I'd quit, but I don't have any balls.

This entry is a mess, sorry, but it's hard to write tonight.

From Pathetic Life #2
Friday, July 29, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

 

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