|May 1, 2001
"So when are they going to fire you?" my mother asks.
She's just finished reading Monday's *FootNotes* entry -- about my friend Alice being booted off the Totem Pole -- and now we're checking up with each other by phone. Her tone is sarcastic ... but her question is anything but.
"I'm starting to wonder about that myself," I reply.
The Office Manager called an impromptu staff meeting in the middle of the morning on Tuesday. As we stood around the conference table, he gravely announced that Alice had been "separated." I guess he meant that she had been "separated" from the Totem Pole Company ... but it was a peculiar turn of phrase, and it immediately made me think of the end of "Braveheart," when Mel Gibson is drawn and quartered and his limbs are "separated" from the rest of his body.
It gave me the creeps, frankly.
"This was a mutual decision," he continued, "reached by Alice and her colleagues in the Advertising Department."
I saw several of my co-workers exchanging skeptical glances at this. A 'mutual' decision? Yeah. Right. About as 'mutual' as a lynching, maybe.
Then the Office Manager paused for a moment -- building dramatic tension, no doubt -- and plunged forward. "It's important to remember," he said with the smooth, hydrogenized tone of a funeral director, "that within a company like The Totem Pole Company, everyone contributes. Every contribution counts. And when we score a win, it is won by everyone in the company, not by just one person." And he stood there smiling calmly at all of us.
I locked eyes with him directly. Are you fudking kidding me? You're turning this one around on Alice?? It's bad enough that they fired her before she had a chance to quit ... but now they're going to make this her fault?
The Office Manager met my gaze unflinchingly. He never even blinked.
It was one of the most appallingly calculated, dishonest, chickenshidt things I've ever witnessed, at work or anywhere else.
The rest of the day was a nightmare. Everywhere you went, little whispering knots of people huddled in doorways and cubicles and stairwells, glancing fearfully over their shoulders when they heard someone approaching. I saw more closed doors and paranoid expressions in one day than in all two and a half years at the TPC put together.
"My situation is a little different from Alice's," I say to my mom.
And it is. I'm quiet. I'm efficient. I play by the rules most of the time ... even when the rules suck big noisy smelly wind. Plus I am neither as annoying -- nor as brave -- as Alice was. "But I'm sure that if I stay here long enough," I added, "they'll eventually manufacture a reason to fire me." With very few exceptions, nobody ever really gets out of this place with their dignity (or their professional references) intact.
I just hope it doesn't happen before the wedding. I can't really afford to be "separated" from a paycheck right now.