When they closed-up the second shop recently, I have to admit I was a bit surprised.
I know that the company was tanking for a while now. Not that I ever paid that close attention. After our not so friendly "parting of ways", I tried to not notice anything about my former employer. They used me like a cheap date picked-up at a sleazy bar. I was lied to, used and dumped like a tramp. What do you do? Take what’s left of your dignity, learn, and move on.
Of all the lessons I’ve learned, I think the pain and suffering of misplaced loyalty is the
one experience I would never repeat. You would think I would have known better. My
grandfather worked in a meat-packing plant in Argentina. He was a hard worker, and loyal. His problem was that he was getting older. The simple fact was, there were younger men that would do the same work, for less money. Besides, my granddad was nearing pension age, and the company would actually have to pay if he reached that milestone. He was let go six months prior to drawing his pension. I’m sure that decision saved his (now former) employer quite a bit of money.
In my case, my employer worked me like a dog as a salaried assistant manager. Fifty to
sixty hours a week, split days off, working holidays. You know, the usual stuff. The thing is, you can’t challenge me. Set the bar, I’ll raise it on my own. Then, I’ll complain that you have too low of expectations. They loved that shit. Me? I never knew any better. That was just the way I was raised. Call it a character defect.
When the first round of layoffs came, I wasn’t worried. Since I do the work of two and a
half men, I knew I’d be safe. And I was. I got to stick around and view the human wreckage left in the wake of bean counters that need the stock P/E ratio to go up. (It’s too low, damn it! We have an obligation to our stockholders.) You can only squeeze so much margin out of a pack of pens, or a ream of paper. Cutting expenses is the next logical choice. Labour costs are the largest expense in most companies. They came up with this profane catch phrase: "Change the people, or change the people." For those of you that don’t speak evil, it means make the workers produce more than humanly possible, or fire them. Beautiful in it’s simplicity, no?
As one of the survivors, I got to manage this Tenth Circle of Hell. Cheap Chinese made
crap filled our shelves, and unhappy customers screamed at my under-trained associates until they had a chance to unload on me. My manager would take off on quarterly trips to Las Vegas or Miami, and return with a bunch of new "initiatives" that would make us more "profitable". I never heard so much euphemistic tripe. If they simply told us to bend over and grab our ankles, it would have saved all involved a load of time.
Most of my associates were college kids, retired folks and single moms. With few
exceptions, they wanted to work fifteen to twenty hours a week, and be given some occasional consideration for days off. They were worked up to 32 hours regularly (over 32, and we’d have to pay benefits! What would the shareholders say?). If they ever had the bad taste to complain,they’d be browbeat regarding the need to be a "team player". The next week, they’d have fifteen hours. The following week, and every one thereafter, it was back to 32. Your kids can wait.
In retrospect, that was the worst part. I can take more than almost anyone can dish out.Yet, when you make me a party to your inhuman, mechanistic treatment of other people, I break down. My doctor prescribed Effexor, which I took for a while. The company provided three(count them three!) counseling sessions. I can’t put into words the feelings that I had at that time. If I had to paint a picture, I would have looked like a small, furry animal in a cage. Salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs, barring my teeth, then whimpering helplessly.
I can hear you screaming: "Why didn’t you leave!?"
As long as I can remember, I have been loyal. To a fault, obviously. In Marine Corps
Infantry School, I remember our instructor addressed our class at the end of the session. He told the thirty of us that we were all qualified in small arms and tactics. But, if he personally could pick two men he’d have to go fight with… he pointed to Private Macias and myself. I looked intoMacias’ eyes. We both had that same look. We knew that this wasn’t some game. Don’t fuck with us. We get it.
That is something that you can’t teach. Loyalty is something that is felt. It can’t be
explained logically. Sociologists will tell you about peer bonding and group dynamics. There areways that geography and philosophical systems join us and make people sacrifice in ways that sometimes defy reason. I’ve heard people say that they’d never fight in a foreign war, but if anyone invaded their country, they’d take-up arms. Like so many other things, killing is dependent on where you stand, literally.
So it goes with killing oneself. I had a loyalty to provide for my family. As abused as I
was by my employer, I still felt duty-bound to them. Every day, I would go to work, truly praying for some random quick and painless death. When that death did not come, I provided excellent customer service, with a smile. Day after day.
The Lord works in mysterious ways. The corporate bean counters found me as a blip on
their radar. After numerous pay raises over the years, it turned out that I was making too much money. After making up some nonsense, I was fired. On the ugly underside of Loyalty is Betrayal. I now know that it was not the size of the blade, nor it’s force that killed Julius Caesar.It was the coolness of the knife. It’s dispassionate cold sting does it’s job, and cares not of your loyalty. That wide-eyed look after being stabbed isn’t from physical pain. It’s a shock that shakes the very foundation of who you are. And what you believe.
If you were born with, or developed any intestinal fortitude, you learn to suck it up and
move on (Except in Caesar’s case, he simply became culturally immortal. Fair trade.) The wound hurts, but you rub some dirt on it. Scars add character.
I’d say this has a happy ending, but I’m with Freud when he asserts that the best we can hope for is to be well adjusted and content with our neurosis. I suppose I’m just Jung at heart.I’m now home every night, with fixed days off, paid holidays etc, I make a bit more money than I did at the Hell On Earth Depot. For me, most importantly, when I do work for a customer now,often times they shake my dirty, callused hand and thank me. My new employer expects a lot,and he gets it from me. I only make token noises when he raises the bar to challenge us. He knows I like it. We all do. It’s good working with a bunch of guys like Macias.
Now, there is this awkward baggage I’m holding. How do I feel about Orifice Despot
closing their second store in my county? I should take some pleasure at their failure, and enjoythe smug satisfaction knowing that their business model flat out sucks? I feel for the workers that now have to find jobs in this economy. They did not deserve this. I hope each of them (with a few notable exceptions) land on their feet in a manner similar to me.
As for the corporate beast itself, well… I’m smirking right now. I sold my company
stock in’06 for $35 a share. It’s current share price is at about $3.50. I’d like to ask those corporate bean counters if they think that all their maneuvers were worth it. You can’t afford good managers like me, at least not anymore. Sucks to be you, punks.
I should be more bitter, but I find myself oddly detached. I’ve heard it once said that to
truly hate, one must at first fully loved. I pass by those empty stores where I worked painfully, deprived myself and my family, for the good of the company.
I feel nothing.
Well, not exactly. I feel hope. I hope that a doughnut shop moves in. I like maple bars.