If there’s one thing English majors know about, other than the sad state of comma abuse, it’s getting fired. This is why I don’t manage other people. It’s not only because I can barely manage myself, and this very day stopped at an ATM and then panicked because it had not dispensed my cash despite the demonstrable fact that $20.00 was, in fact, in my hand.

The Cincinnati Reds are now at the painful stretch of Spring Training in which we cease to simply appreciate the fact that it exists and start to become restless about the reality that management can’t take all the children with them on the bus from camp to the party house. Some of the children will have to return to their crap apartments in Louisville instead. Those children are understandably unsettled, and the rest of us are too, because we’re the ones about to pay $12 a beer in the process of attending the party and we’d very much like a fun party to attend.

But although I experience many agonies when it happens to other people, getting fired has happened to me so often that I have come to rank it on scales of technique, timing, amount of tears shed, and room allowed for personal growth. None have yet matched the Firing From the Evil Boring Day Job.

The Evil Boring Day Job was a tech writing gig for an engineering firm that lasted an entire eighteen months, which in personal time of Length Before Firing is quite the fat 401k.  During a time of great management upheaval, I sat at the Evil Boring Day Job fulfilling my usual duties of seething and procrastinating when the interim boss shoved his head inside.

He sat at my side chair.

He did not close the door.

“Unfortunately,” he said.

I smiled. 

It took less than thirty seconds. I was handed an envelope with a severance check and COBRA information.

“You’re reacting to this very well,” he said, disappointed that I had not experienced a meltdown at the news that forty hours a week of formatting spreadsheets had just vanished from my life.

“Yeah, you know,” I said examining my check, “it’s easy when you’re contemplating hurling yourself directly into oncoming traffic when you walk in from the parking garage every single morning.”

Although out loud I phrased this as, “I”ve been expecting it.” Then I added, “When does this go into effect?”

“Oh,” he said. “Today.”

Ah.

It was 3:30 in the afternoon; the office shut down at 5. He left, for the day was waning and by heaven there was intermity to spread across the land.

I sat for a moment, reflecting on my chief concern for the immediate future, which was that I no longer had to tape the 4 PM showing of Friends on TBS, and got up to report to my now-former co-worker the fact that the entire marketing department now consisted of her.

I leaned into her doorjamb. “Hey…”

She looked up from her computer screen, tears on her cheeks.

I closed the door. “He told you. He told you first.”

There were tissues and many utterances of four letter words. Then I went about tenderly packing up a year and a half of my life, which pretty much consisted of yanking out drawers and dumping them into boxes. Come on, Stayfree stash! Let’s go, delivery menus, peanut butter crackers, Tinkerbelle notepaper. You too, extra pair of pantyhose. We’re going home.

I returned from my car to the office one last time, tore my nameplate out of the holder in a wild fit of cliché, and sat down to my computer. The documents I had been not-working on were still open, the cursor awaiting input. I ran the Doomsday Scenario on the hard drive, wiping myself away—the desktop images of my then-baby nephew, Notre Dame screensavers, all the Monster.com bookmarks. I was filling out my last timesheet when Interim Boss stuck his head in and looked around the empty office.

“Well!” he said cheerfully. “You certainly made short work of that!”

I smiled again, and entered numbers very loudly.

The boxes sat for a few days in my one-bedroom apartment, a shocked jumble of pencil holders and manila folders and a typing stand that I totally, totally forgot belonged to the company. Two days later I opened the dryer door to finish some laundry and found a forgotten load of wash— office-wear tops and skirts I’d worn to work in a previous life. I shook them out, and put them away.

And I got on with things.

I temped, flinging myself into the health insurance I couldn’t otherwise get before getting fired. I wrote. I took a job, at long last, as a writing teacher, from which I did not get fired. Most importantly, it forced me to stop being safe while complaining about it. I wound up where I was supposed to be.

Then again, the odds weren’t so stacked against me. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a non-Interm Boss and tell these young men, these flung-into-the-life young men, that their dreams are either other or deferred for now. Just for now. Maybe if I’d not bounced job to job so much, I’d be trapped in that position now, in some way.

But they do a job, the manager and the young men. We drink a beer and yell things. That’s how it works; that’s how it should work, and professional sports is by its very nature not meant to be an arena of soothed feelings. The name on the back of the jersey is a person— a very well paid person, to be sure.

But I still don’t want to be the person to tell him it’s time to leave the party.

10 Responses

  1. coolkevs

    I can definitely relate, although my firing came around noon and they shut down access to all the computers.
    But like you said, I’m where I need to be now.

    Reply
    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Ohhhhhh you couldn’t run the Doomsday Scenario! Terrifying! But I’m glad you landed butter-side up 🙂

      Reply
  2. Scott C

    My fine came when I was 20 years old, because since I was going to come on full time I asked to go from the $15 a week to $50 a week. Yeah, it was a long time ago. I’m old. However things worked out and I started on the path I’m on today causing towards retirement. God’s plans always work out even if there is some hurt along the way.
    Loved the article. These are young people, and it hurts them regardless.

    Reply
    • Mary Beth Ellis

      thank you… I believe many focus on the high-contract MLB members, and they are but a handful. The majority never see that kind of cash. It’s like us writers… there are a very, very few Danielle Steeles and S Kings. The rest of us scrap mightily.

      Reply
  3. Scott L

    Mary Beth, I so look forward to your posts as you always remind us what is truly important in life without sounding condescending or preaching at us. Unfortunately, I have been on both sides of this issue and handling this with a personal touch is sometimes very difficult, but necessary. Thank you again for a great article.

    Reply
    • Mary Beth Ellis

      That is so kind of you to say! 🙂 I have great respect for people like you who handle this situation with humanity. I am much better cowering behind a keyboard.

      Reply
      • Scott L

        By the way, I am impressed that you take the time to respond to each comment. You may not be D. Steele (yet!), but the personal touch in your writing and comments are why you will be successful.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        I am always thrilled and stunned when people reply. The other posts here are great places to debate baseball and the numbers it unspools, but you gotta leave some skin of the soul in the little grey box when you share something here.

  4. Eric

    It’s funny what you accumulate in a desk – even in just 18 months.

    Me? I’ve been watching direct deposits appear from the same employer for 18 years. I’ve worked from a home office, though, for the last twelve of those. Before that, I was part of the cube farm at the home office.

    The center drawer of my file cabinet here contains a lot of what I moved with me from cube to cube for that first six years. I don’t need 80% of it…because: 1.) I’m home; and 2.) I’m not in the middle of a bunch of coworkers to engage in office tomfoolery (why do I still have this confetti gun?)

    One day, some future-starting-position-player will open a drawer in his Queen City abode and wonder why he still has That Thing He Only Needed When He Had a Crap Apartment in Louisville – but it won’t matter, because he’ll be where he’s supposed to be now.

    Reply
    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Well said. Although perhaps the firing news might go better with a confetti gun.

      I’m dabbling in minimalism and would have a lot less to clean out these days, in part because we’re so much more digital now, and in other part because I am losing the need to vomit my personality all over the walls and desk. It also helps that I don’t need to visually shout to office visitors that I am from Cincinnati.

      Reply

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