Bonnie Wilkins Overcott, 8/3/2015

Current Occupation:  Blogger and Writer  My blog is workinginthe21stcentury.com and compiles resources and news items, and I write book reviews and editorials about work, careers, pay and benefits, and other 21st century employment issues.
Former Occupation:  Assistant Vice President, Diversified Business Credit, Inc.  I was the office manager.  My responsibilities included IT manager, HR director, facilities manager, purchasing manager, training and supervision and did anything else that needed to be done for this small, but very profitable subsidiary of a bank holding company.
Contact Information:  I grew up on a farm and worked since I could walk.  I earned a BA in Labor Studies and Communications at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.  My first job was at the Sunlight Bakery in Milaca, MN during high school.  I worked at an advertising agency as a time buyer, worked in disaster services at the American Red Cross,and  spent 25 years in commercial lending.  During the great recession I worked temporary jobs until one employer hired me permanently.  Besides writing and researching, I enjoy gardening, quilting, photography, reading, traveling and spending time with family, our two cats and friends.

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Passed Over

    Butcher’s paper covered the window from the hallway into the conference room Monday morning.  I noticed it as I passed by on the way to my cubicle on the 34th floor of the corporate headquarters of my employer, Sel-Mor Insurance, Inc.  The white opaque paper blocked the view into the conference room.  There was no one to ask, “What’s with the papered-over window,” because I started work earlier than my co-workers.”  Making a mental snapshot, I headed towards my desk, pre-occupied with the mountain of email waiting for responses.  

Reflecting back, perhaps I should have been more concerned.  Papering the conference room window was a little odd, but the mind does such a good job of exculpating warning signals.  Interviews, performance reviews, strategy sessions and other internal corporate events seemed like possible explanations.  None of them required butcher’s paper before, but creativity abounded among the hundreds of young, energetic and enthusiastic employees at Sel-Mor.  

Once I found Jean White’s cubicle with the exotic beach calendar, I turned down the row of taupe cubicles that included mine.  The calendar was my landmark for finding my cube.  The blandness of the sea of cubicles encouraged Sel-Mor’s employees to show off their creativity while decorating the monotonous, taupe fabric walls of the cubes.  Plants, collectibles, photos of their children, vacations and pets were artfully arranged.  There was a Star Wars-themed cube.  Awards received and certificates of accomplishment were displayed.  A few decorated for every holiday including stringing lights up to make their space festive.  One of my co-workers kept his fish at work, and I stopped each morning to pet the fish’s head as he came to the surface of the water to greet me.  My cubicle was festooned with a couple of plants, because I read they purified the air of the International Space Station, photos of my dog in cute poses, and a small wall calendar with pleasant photographs.  This year it was butterflies.

My supervisor at Sel-Mor, Mike Young, was a studious-looking, younger man with an accountant’s demeanor.  He hired me to work on a new insurance product.  After two years, I supervised four people and concentrated on communications, training and trouble-shooting, my bailiwick.  Mike was good at analyzing the skills of his staff.  He delegated new responsibilities to his employees as they grew into their positions.  His staff was loyal to him and that loyalty extended to Sel-Mor.

At 7:15 a.m., like every other week-day morning, I hung up my coat, took my salad from my tote and stashed it in the refrigerator in the lunch room down the hall.  I pulled my cell phone from the pocket in the front of my purse, set it under one of my monitors, put the purse into a cabinet and settled into my chair.  All phone calls at Sel-Mor are recorded to insure great customer service and provide documentation for legal purposes.  Also, any conversation could be heard by everyone around me, even if they tried not paying attention.  My husband and I texted each other during the day, if need be.

I logged onto my computer and checked my emails.  Many of them required some research, a quick response or other follow up.  I flagged those needing immediate attention and began my day.  Gradually the rest of the staff filtered into their cubes.  Sel-Mor, a progressive company, offered most of their employees flexible hours plus a day a week when we could work at home.  I liked starting early and leaving early.  

Around 8:30 a.m., Sherise Meyer appeared at the side of my cubicle.  She filled in for Mike, our supervisor, when he was out or unavailable.  Sherise is a tiny young woman, professional when need be, but also a bit of a mother hen.  She was the benevolent one in the department often moderating the edicts that come through our department’s vice president and Mike.  She was the one who texted us at home the morning of a snow storm telling us not to risk our lives on the icy roads, but work from home, unless we had a meeting that couldn’t be rescheduled.  Sherise has piercing, dark-brown eyes, which miss nothing and twinkle when she is plotting.  Today, though, her eyes are filled with tears and her eyelids are red.  

She asked me to immediately read the newest email from the CEO and meet with the rest of our staff at her desk in ten minutes.  She quickly moved on while I pulled up my email and opened the newest one from Dave Carter, our CEO.  My heart was pounding.  I felt a sense of dread and my hands were slightly shaking.  I feared the announcement of someone’s death or terminal illness or something else equally as horrific.  

“To our valued staff:  Due to declining revenues, heightened competition, and the poor economic conditions nationwide, management deemed the only recourse available is to reduce the headquarters workforce by 10%.”  Of course, “this was an extremely difficult choice to make because all employees are highly valued and your contributions appreciated.  This needs to be done to make the company competitive, reduce costs and avoid further cuts in the future.  The reduction will take place immediately.  Please stay at your desk and continue working unless you are called into one of the conference rooms.”  

I made my way to Sherise’s desk where the others in my department were gathering.  Once everyone in the office that day was there, Sherise announced that Mike had been let go effective today.  He was notified at home before work this morning.  I was stunned.  Mike was a loyal employee and a great supervisor.  I could get an idea at 7 p.m. on a Thursday night, email him and by 7:15 p.m. receive a response.  He was dedicated to Sel-Mor.

Sherise explained that those of us chosen for termination would be taken by an HR representative into the conference room.  Sherise asked us to keep up with our work while the rest of the terminations were being processed.  She assured us that neither Mike nor she got advance notice of the down-sizing.

I understand now how a cow feels when it’s hit in the head to stun her before she is slaughtered and carved up into pieces.  Something bad just occurred, but the ramifications are unknown.  So I kept plodding in the direction I’m being herded trying to be cooperative.  In the recesses of my mind, something triggered the sense I should run.  But it seemed futile to attempt to escape and to where?

Nothing could be done to inoculate against the doom seeping through our offices.  Heads were kept down appearing intent on work, but every eye tracked the intruders in the hallway to see who they were hunting.  My heartbeat sped up and blood pressure rose countless times until I had a severe headache.  There was no panic room to flee to for safety.  We all felt a collective sense of relief when our row of cubicles was passed by, then horror when we saw who the victim was.

Suddenly a grim-faced, navy-suited woman, who normally handled benefits, turned into the aisle leading to my workstation.  I believe my heart stopped and I quit breathing.  After Sherise’s announcement, I returned to my desk and slipped the paperweight my Mother gave me when I got my first full-time, permanent job after graduation into my purse.  I removed a pair of shoes from a file drawer, stuffed them into my tote along with my iPod, phone and a couple of other personal items.  I set them on the back of my workspace and laid my coat over them intending to take it all with me when I was called.  Now it was my turn.  Before the apparition in dark blue reached my desk, she stopped and sort of nodded at Mark Carlson.  Mark’s face was ashen when he rose up and followed her to the conference room.

Mark was a ten-year veteran at Sel-Mor, and the rest of us relied on his knowledge of the history and background of the products we handled.  In fact, many people at Sel-Mor called to glean information from him.  Later I wondered whether his willingness to help others and share his knowledge reduced his productivity.  It was a sickening experience to see him approached and watch the look of panic and doom appear on his face.  Mark was stoic on the way out, but I heard a couple of stifled sobs from my co-workers.

While Mark was in the conference room a security guard appeared at his desk with Sherise.  The shock I experienced when I noticed the guard was wearing a holster and gun was equivalent to being told I had a life-threatening disease.  Regular security guards in the building were not armed with guns. I was forced to accept the deadly reality of the day.  They gathered together his coat, attaché case and phone.  Drawers and files were searched for any valuables or car or house keys.  An inventory sheet was completed by the guard and signed by Sherise.

One by one, the targeted employees were led to the designated conference rooms on each of the ten floors that Sel-Mor occupied.  A management spokesperson told them their employment was terminated as of now.  The human resources representative explained the ramifications and asked them to sign papers ending all benefits except health insurance which must be paid in full from now on, if they wanted to continue through COBRA.  A final check would be deposited into their checking accounts containing an extra week’s pay for each year of employment.  In exchange for the severance they had to sign a statement foregoing unemployment insurance for the number of weeks the severance covered.

At the end of the conversation, their key card was confiscated.  It was no longer active in the security computer system anyway.  The uniformed guard appeared and handed the now former employee the items collected from their work-station.  The stunned person was escorted to the elevator and down to the main floor, never again to enter the offices and wander through the hallways so familiar to them.  Other personal items like photos, calendars, books and plants were to be shipped to their home.

After a couple of hours, Sherise appeared in our aisle again and told us it was over.  She said all those of us remaining were safe.  We wouldn’t lose our jobs.  There was another email from HR for us to read.  I went to my inbox and opened it.  HR stressed the need to keep up productivity and not allow the sudden absence of co-workers, which seemed to me as though they were abducted by aliens, disrupt the work needing to be done.  I still worked for a wonderful organization and needed to make effective and wise use of my time for the benefit of the corporation and its customers.  Management would appreciate receiving feedback, through HR, suggesting ways to streamline processes, save money or identifying redundant positions or people who might not be as productive as they need to be in these trying times.

No audible wailing could be heard throughout the building.  No sudden cracks appeared in the walls as the solid concrete beneath our feet shifted.  Lightening didn’t strike.  There was a virtual sense of mourning as people walked the halls in a daze, some in tears, some with red, puffy eyes and some with jaws set in a grimace.  

    A bird can’t soar forever.  Perhaps Sel-Mor went overboard in its hiring and spending during the boom times.  Certainly the sudden downturn of the economy that caused such a devastating effect on them couldn’t be predicted, or they wouldn’t have completely remodeled and refurnished the executive offices.  The week long annual planning meeting for management and the board of directors would be scaled back rather than scheduled at the Chateau Eza 5.0 of 5in Eze, France, with special events planned daily for spouses and evening transportation to Monte Carlo.  They would scratch handing out those ice scrapers, embossed legal pad holders and metallic blue USB thumb drives, with the company logo on them, like candy and not encourage us to use them for stocking stuffers for our family and friends.  

Reality settled in during the week.  Like an efficient surgical procedure, midlevel managers and employees with tenure were excised.  The counselors hired by Sel-Mor to talk to employees needing mental health care stopped coming into the offices.  I don’t think anyone stopped in to talk to them.  When they’re really needed is after the shock is over and those remaining start feeling survivor’s guilt and depression.  No list of terminated employees was provided, so we kept discovering missing co-workers weeks afterward.  I realized I’m safe, but not Jayson, whose wife gave birth to their second baby last month.  Not Maryanne, the single mom down the hall, who, after scrimping and saving for years, put a down payment on her first house.  Nor Sandy who drained her savings account to send her aging parents on a cruise before their health began to fail.  No sense of relief or heightened value developed when the carnage ended.  

 Then anger took hold.  I fell into the trap of investing myself into a job and the company employing me forgetting the cardinal rule:  We were “human resources.”  We were another expense on the balance sheet.  Any degree of trust in the smiling faces of top management dissolved.  

Rumors started to fly.  The ugliest one was that employees with performance problems were the first on the excision list.  The down-sizing was a good excuse to rid the company of undesirable employees.  Demographics partly determined who was retained so as not to run afoul of federal and state laws.  Age, race, national origin, and sex were weighed, not talent or skills or tenure.

A couple of days later, Human Resources sent an email announcing meetings for all staff members to discuss the events of the week, ask management any lingering questions, and hear how Sel-Mor planned to position itself for the future.  Any employees out of the office would receive a link so they could view the meeting’s video when they returned to the office or they were given a number to call in, listen to the meeting and ask questions in real time.

None of Sel-Mor’s top management attended the meeting.  The Vice President of HR and the Vice President of our department represented management.  Both of them, Nancy Brown the veteran HR VP, and Chuck Burton, the recently appointed VP, looked grim and tired.  They reiterated the gist of the emails sent the day of the downsizing.  A PowerPoint presentation showed us the savings realized through the reorganization and what management planned to do to position us for a more competitive market in the future.  I listened, and absent any other data, made the assumption the staff reduction was the only option given the current economic conditions.  After all, it was happening all across the country.  

They asked for questions.  Marlene raised her hand.  Marlene was the organizer in the office.  She was a short and somewhat stocky woman with a face that crinkled with kindness when she talked.  Marlene organized the Walk-a-Thons, the collections to help with medical bills for staff members who had premature babies or needed surgery not fully covered by insurance, and collected items needed by local animal shelters.  Marlene completed her MBA while working at Sel-Mor and was aware that there are alternatives to lay-offs.  Marlene asked if work-sharing or across-the-board salary cuts were considered.  She still appeared emotionally affected by the week’s events.  

Work-sharing is accomplished by cutting everyone down to, for example, a four day work week, every other week, thus reducing everyone’s pay but maintaining benefits.  The goal is to keep talented, trained employees, retain trust and sense of worth, and avoid the trauma of a lay-off.  It’s like an investment in the future.  It’s a statement that things will improve and when they do, we want our team intact.  It's a “we’re all in this together” action.  Nancy and Chuck’s heads nodded, “no,” alternatives were not considered then called on someone else.  Marlene teared up and reached for a tissue from her bag.  My reaction was, “why not?” but I didn’t vocalize it.  

Up until then it never occurred to me there were viable options to the brutal slaughter that just occurred.  Sel-Mor never turned to their staff to help with the tough decisions or options to lay-offs.  I felt we were treated like furniture and not valued employees with the wide range of problem-solving skills and creative thinking we were constantly told Sel-Mor valued in us.  It was a helpless sensation.  We were like pawns on a chessboard being moved around by the will of a superior force, which had a strategy we weren’t allowed to know, rather than an integral part of a team.  The rest of the question and answer session became a blur as I found myself back on the roller coaster of emotions I’d been going through all week.  

Nancy and Chuck didn’t give us any new insights.  If they knew more, they weren’t authorized to share details.  The meeting ended.  Later I would think back and wonder if they weren’t there to identify trouble-makers.  Marlene was one.  The next week her cube was stripped bare and anytime a passer-by noticed and looked at one of her former co-workers quizzically; they drew their pointer finger across their neck.  A couple of days later, the HR Vice President, Nancy Brown, was terminated.  After some time an enthusiastic, bubbly woman half her age was hired.  She was given the title “Assistant Vice President of Human Resources” even though she reported to the Treasurer and seemed to do the same things Nancy did.

Management reminded us over and over to keep our production up, retain positivity for the sake of Sel-Mor’s customers and not foster negativity in our departments among our co-workers.  We were a valued part of the team and the company was dependent upon us to survive the economic downturn.  That was the official message.  The news of the Board of Directors awarding our CEO a 50% increase in salary as a reward for cutting costs was announced at the end of the fiscal year.

 

Brandon Benevento, 7/27/2015

Current Occupation: Teacher, Student, Property Manager
Former Occupation: Carpenter.
Contact Information: Brandon Benevento teaches and studies English at UConn, cares for an aging strip mall, and lives in Branford, CT, in a house he has been remodeling for over a decade, with his wife Amy.

 

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1943 1 C Fake

 

In 1943 the US Treasury released an oddity, or, rather, six hundred eighty-four million oddities, to the American public: the steel penny.  With copper rationed for other small round objects, destined for circulation into other populations, Lincoln and his wheat-back reverse got new digs for the year. Bluish-gray if not rusty, steel pennies are fairly rare today and worth about a dollar.    

But somewhere out there exist a handful of 1943 copper pennies struck accidentally when some leftover ‘42 slugs slipped into the ‘43 mix. The holy grail of wheat-backs, a copper ’43 sold in 2010 for 1.7 million.  At 6:15 yesterday morning, in my basement, I found one. Picking through the pennies my grandfather left me, there it was. A copper cent with the numbers—confirmed through the loupe held up to the hanging hundred-watt light bulb—“1943” risen from the field to the right of Lincoln’s breast.

I admit to some surprise at finding myself reading coin dates, in early the morning, in my basement. Having a coin collection at all, let alone a safe-full of pennies in paper rolls and plastic tubes and canvas bags (and coffee cans and Chianti bottles and cigar boxes and loose drawers from safes past…) is unexpected.  Sifting through them for hours at a time, even more.  I can’t stay away. Since rediscovering my grandfather’s pennies—triggered by my father cleaning out his own basement—I’m often downstairs, standing at an old table dragged out from a webby recess, looking at these little disks of metal. And not just his pennies, but all coins now compel a look, all seem to offer potential, and pull me in.  In a complete reversal of perspective on mundane experience, I now love it when something comes to a $1.03 and I get a mitt-full of change.

The impulse to look at coin reminds me of gambling.  The flare of excitement at the possibility that the coin might be valuable is like picking up a hand of cards. The potential that it’s the exceptional example, the rare combination, is alluring. And almost mechanical. I pick up the coin. Excitement flares up with it. I look closely, and since it’s almost always not special, the excitement turns to disappointment, then flares again with the draw of the next coin.  Then the next, the next, the next.  I can detail my compulsions, but not explain their origins.

I think of my grandfather, Poppy Joe to me, amassing these same copper disks, looking at them in the same way. Behind the counter of his store—“California Fruit and Vegetables”—he touched each one. I think of Poppy Joe, five-foot-two, a true miserabe, at least when I knew him, turning Golden State produce into an income and turning that income into a hobby.  “I remember he had a bucket,” my father tells me one day as we drive through New Haven, passing what used to be his house,  “At work, he’d toss in all the wheat-backs that came in, then bring it home and sit on the couch like—” He pantomimes holding a coin up to his eye, scrunched in crazed myopia. “Course, he couldn’t see anything.  Lamps all around his head, big magnifying glasses. Took over the whole living room.  Tortured my mother.” I stop listening as my father transitions into the familiar territory of the less-than-adequate youth his own father delivered.

In the one picture I have of him at work, Poppy Joe stands in a room of heaped produce. In grainy black and white, the piles blend into the swaths of broadside ads pasted to the wall. I don’t see a bucket, but a scale hangs from the ceiling. It’s the one I found in his garage before we torn it down.  My wife uses it as a planter.  

Looking at the picture, I think about these fruits and vegetables, long ago digested and gone, sitting in this frozen photographic moment. I picture itinerant laborers picking them in a sunny orange grove while my grandfather slings wheat-back pennies into a bucket at the other end of the supply chain.  I wonder about the life of this heaped produce, taken into the bodies of people, made into their descendants; I wonder about the pits and seeds, scraped into the trash. Did any ever grow? How many lives and places did these peaches and grapes and cucumbers touch?

More empiric than dialectic, my grandfather judged produce on its observable material condition. Among the few pleasant things I remember him saying were exclamations of vegetal merit, such as “Melon big as your head!” and “Kiwi like an emerald!”  With a tiny paring knife he would cut fruit in his palm, offering a piece at a time, watching his progeny eat.

In the last years that I knew him, these moments occurred when I was called to fix something in his hulking four-family house—an edifice of so many dilapidated layers. Entering that house in my early-twenties, as a young carpenter and an adult-ish grandson, meant facing a physically repulsive amount of work. Plaster sagged and stairways rotted. Plumbing leaked and tiles cracked.  The whole place felt like a pile of things to be fixed, and under it all lurked the question, why bother?

I’d come, ready to help and be cynical. Poppy Joe would tramp up the stairs to where I’d be drywalling the second floor ceiling or dismantling a dripping faucet and make me stop working to eat.  If it wasn’t an apple or a kiwi, it was a bowl of sausage and peppers, a hunk of chicela bread, a scungilli salad. He’d watch me, complaining about tenants, neighbors, family members, ethnic groups, mortgages, commodity prices or local politics while I ate what I could, wanting to just keep working, to get it done and go home.  Once he stopped me to eat a one-clawed lobster—the low cost of which factored heavily in his discussion of it—in the middle of a hot day, with no butter or forks, and one shared cracker.  For this, we retreated from the workspace to his dark living room, and sat on the musty sofa. With the mid-day TV at full volume to keep pace with his hearing-aids, I picked at my lobster while he ripped into his, biting it open, sucking out every last bit.   

Typically, I wanted to replace what he wanted to repair.  About the leaky faucet on the second floor, I’d say, “Come on, Poppy, they’re like 15 bucks at Home Depot.”  He never bought it, pun intended, but instead led me down to his apartment, occupying the back half of the first floor, and opened the kitchen cabinet where he kept six big coffee cans full of copper stem-valves from inside faucets past.  He probably had two hundred of them—each slightly different in length or thread-type, or in ten other variables.  With the one from upstairs in hand, I’d start comparing—picking up each to see if it matched.  Of course it rarely did, and even if I found a match, the parts would be too far gone to use—which is why he had them to begin with, why they piled up. Eventually I would just go buy a new faucet, adding the old one’s stem-valves to his collection.

I don’t remember what I did with the cans of copper faucet parts after he died, but it’s a safe bet I scrapped them. I spent weeks cleaning the apartment he lived in for thirty years, following my grandmother’s death, before I was born. I stain-killed walls, scraped grease from kitchen surfaces, picked through clothes.  The State quarter series had started a few years before, and he had a cardboard display with flags and eagles and a slot for each installment on the bureau by his bed. Less than half were filled. I debated whether to bring it home or not, but ended up tossing it, quarters and all. I felt bad about the waste, but couldn’t bear pulling the money from the cardboard, let alone keeping the whole sad thing. Were I to repeat the experience, I wouldn’t hesitate; as I age I’m less inclined to keep things with sentimental value; they just pile up.  But I would keep the copper stem-valves.  Not for sentiment.  Nor for use. The newest faucets don’t even have replaceable valves. I just know that now I would carry those cans down my basement stairs, pile them in a corner, and leave them there.  Something about metal compels the keeping. It may be the material’s lastingness. Or it may be that it bears the marks of its life so clearly, an indelible fingerprint on a penny, a green drip mark on the stem of a faucet valve.  It may just be my grandfather’s blood in my veins.  Whatever it is, it's growing, like most of my compulsions.  Sometimes I pass one of those yards full of rotted metal amid uncut grass and think “nice” without irony.

I may have lost the stem valves, but I have Poppy Joe’s pennies, piled up in the basement. It’s 6:15 am and I’ve just found the rarest of rare coins: a 1943 copper one cent.  I check it again and again, trying to keep calm.  I run upstairs and open the computer, mistyping in haste to get “Value 1943 copper penny” into the search box.  Six figure numbers appear.  I force myself to slow down and read the words on the Cointrackers.com page I open: “watch out for fake 1943 copper pennies that are actually just copper plated 1943 steel pennies….Use a magnet to verify the coin’s content, if it sticks to the magnet it is a copper plated steel and fake.” I feel the extraordinary flare of excitement waver as I head to the kitchen where a magnetized beer opener waits on the surface of the fridge. I hold the penny out, push it toward the other metal.  Even as I hope it will slide away and drop, I know that it will hold, that it will stick to the magnet on the fridge as sure and quick as a gold ring drops through water to the bottom of a bathtub tub, that it will stay there.  Which it does.  Later, I write “1943 1 C Fake” on a tiny envelope, and add it to the collection I’m slowly organizing.

  

  

Bonnie Wilkins Overcott, 7/20/2015

Current Occupation:  Blogger and Writer  My blog is workinginthe21stcentury.com and compiles resources and news items, and I write book reviews and editorials about work, careers, pay and benefits, and other 21st century employment issues.
Former Occupation:  Assistant Vice President, Diversified Business Credit, Inc.  I was the office manager.  My responsibilities included IT manager, HR director, facilities manager, purchasing manager, training and supervision and did anything else that needed to be done for this small, but very profitable subsidiary of a bank holding company.
Contact Information:  I grew up on a farm and worked since I could walk.  I earned a BA in Labor Studies and Communications at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.  My first job was at the Sunlight Bakery in Milaca, MN during high school.  I worked at an advertising agency as a time buyer, worked in disaster services at the American Red Cross,and  spent 25 years in commercial lending.  During the great recession I worked temporary jobs until one employer hired me permanently.  Besides writing and researching, I enjoy gardening, quilting, photography, reading, traveling and spending time with family, our two cats and friends.

 

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Passed Over

    Butcher’s paper covered the window from the hallway into the conference room Monday morning.  I noticed it as I passed by on the way to my cubicle on the 34th floor of the corporate headquarters of my employer, Sel-Mor Insurance, Inc.  The white opaque paper blocked the view into the conference room.  There was no one to ask, “What’s with the papered-over window,” because I started work earlier than my co-workers.”  Making a mental snapshot, I headed towards my desk, pre-occupied with the mountain of email waiting for responses.  

Reflecting back, perhaps I should have been more concerned.  Papering the conference room window was a little odd, but the mind does such a good job of exculpating warning signals.  Interviews, performance reviews, strategy sessions and other internal corporate events seemed like possible explanations.  None of them required butcher’s paper before, but creativity abounded among the hundreds of young, energetic and enthusiastic employees at Sel-Mor.  

Once I found Jean White’s cubicle with the exotic beach calendar, I turned down the row of taupe cubicles that included mine.  The calendar was my landmark for finding my cube.  The blandness of the sea of cubicles encouraged Sel-Mor’s employees to show off their creativity while decorating the monotonous, taupe fabric walls of the cubes.  Plants, collectibles, photos of their children, vacations and pets were artfully arranged.  There was a Star Wars-themed cube.  Awards received and certificates of accomplishment were displayed.  A few decorated for every holiday including stringing lights up to make their space festive.  One of my co-workers kept his fish at work, and I stopped each morning to pet the fish’s head as he came to the surface of the water to greet me.  My cubicle was festooned with a couple of plants, because I read they purified the air of the International Space Station, photos of my dog in cute poses, and a small wall calendar with pleasant photographs.  This year it was butterflies.

My supervisor at Sel-Mor, Mike Young, was a studious-looking, younger man with an accountant’s demeanor.  He hired me to work on a new insurance product.  After two years, I supervised four people and concentrated on communications, training and trouble-shooting, my bailiwick.  Mike was good at analyzing the skills of his staff.  He delegated new responsibilities to his employees as they grew into their positions.  His staff was loyal to him and that loyalty extended to Sel-Mor.

At 7:15 a.m., like every other week-day morning, I hung up my coat, took my salad from my tote and stashed it in the refrigerator in the lunch room down the hall.  I pulled my cell phone from the pocket in the front of my purse, set it under one of my monitors, put the purse into a cabinet and settled into my chair.  All phone calls at Sel-Mor are recorded to insure great customer service and provide documentation for legal purposes.  Also, any conversation could be heard by everyone around me, even if they tried not paying attention.  My husband and I texted each other during the day, if need be.

I logged onto my computer and checked my emails.  Many of them required some research, a quick response or other follow up.  I flagged those needing immediate attention and began my day.  Gradually the rest of the staff filtered into their cubes.  Sel-Mor, a progressive company, offered most of their employees flexible hours plus a day a week when we could work at home.  I liked starting early and leaving early.  

Around 8:30 a.m., Sherise Meyer appeared at the side of my cubicle.  She filled in for Mike, our supervisor, when he was out or unavailable.  Sherise is a tiny young woman, professional when need be, but also a bit of a mother hen.  She was the benevolent one in the department often moderating the edicts that come through our department’s vice president and Mike.  She was the one who texted us at home the morning of a snow storm telling us not to risk our lives on the icy roads, but work from home, unless we had a meeting that couldn’t be rescheduled.  Sherise has piercing, dark-brown eyes, which miss nothing and twinkle when she is plotting.  Today, though, her eyes are filled with tears and her eyelids are red.  

She asked me to immediately read the newest email from the CEO and meet with the rest of our staff at her desk in ten minutes.  She quickly moved on while I pulled up my email and opened the newest one from Dave Carter, our CEO.  My heart was pounding.  I felt a sense of dread and my hands were slightly shaking.  I feared the announcement of someone’s death or terminal illness or something else equally as horrific.  

“To our valued staff:  Due to declining revenues, heightened competition, and the poor economic conditions nationwide, management deemed the only recourse available is to reduce the headquarters workforce by 10%.”  Of course, “this was an extremely difficult choice to make because all employees are highly valued and your contributions appreciated.  This needs to be done to make the company competitive, reduce costs and avoid further cuts in the future.  The reduction will take place immediately.  Please stay at your desk and continue working unless you are called into one of the conference rooms.”  

I made my way to Sherise’s desk where the others in my department were gathering.  Once everyone in the office that day was there, Sherise announced that Mike had been let go effective today.  He was notified at home before work this morning.  I was stunned.  Mike was a loyal employee and a great supervisor.  I could get an idea at 7 p.m. on a Thursday night, email him and by 7:15 p.m. receive a response.  He was dedicated to Sel-Mor.

Sherise explained that those of us chosen for termination would be taken by an HR representative into the conference room.  Sherise asked us to keep up with our work while the rest of the terminations were being processed.  She assured us that neither Mike nor she got advance notice of the down-sizing.

I understand now how a cow feels when it’s hit in the head to stun her before she is slaughtered and carved up into pieces.  Something bad just occurred, but the ramifications are unknown.  So I kept plodding in the direction I’m being herded trying to be cooperative.  In the recesses of my mind, something triggered the sense I should run.  But it seemed futile to attempt to escape and to where?

Nothing could be done to inoculate against the doom seeping through our offices.  Heads were kept down appearing intent on work, but every eye tracked the intruders in the hallway to see who they were hunting.  My heartbeat sped up and blood pressure rose countless times until I had a severe headache.  There was no panic room to flee to for safety.  We all felt a collective sense of relief when our row of cubicles was passed by, then horror when we saw who the victim was.

Suddenly a grim-faced, navy-suited woman, who normally handled benefits, turned into the aisle leading to my workstation.  I believe my heart stopped and I quit breathing.  After Sherise’s announcement, I returned to my desk and slipped the paperweight my Mother gave me when I got my first full-time, permanent job after graduation into my purse.  I removed a pair of shoes from a file drawer, stuffed them into my tote along with my iPod, phone and a couple of other personal items.  I set them on the back of my workspace and laid my coat over them intending to take it all with me when I was called.  Now it was my turn.  Before the apparition in dark blue reached my desk, she stopped and sort of nodded at Mark Carlson.  Mark’s face was ashen when he rose up and followed her to the conference room.

Mark was a ten-year veteran at Sel-Mor, and the rest of us relied on his knowledge of the history and background of the products we handled.  In fact, many people at Sel-Mor called to glean information from him.  Later I wondered whether his willingness to help others and share his knowledge reduced his productivity.  It was a sickening experience to see him approached and watch the look of panic and doom appear on his face.  Mark was stoic on the way out, but I heard a couple of stifled sobs from my co-workers.

While Mark was in the conference room a security guard appeared at his desk with Sherise.  The shock I experienced when I noticed the guard was wearing a holster and gun was equivalent to being told I had a life-threatening disease.  Regular security guards in the building were not armed with guns. I was forced to accept the deadly reality of the day.  They gathered together his coat, attaché case and phone.  Drawers and files were searched for any valuables or car or house keys.  An inventory sheet was completed by the guard and signed by Sherise.

One by one, the targeted employees were led to the designated conference rooms on each of the ten floors that Sel-Mor occupied.  A management spokesperson told them their employment was terminated as of now.  The human resources representative explained the ramifications and asked them to sign papers ending all benefits except health insurance which must be paid in full from now on, if they wanted to continue through COBRA.  A final check would be deposited into their checking accounts containing an extra week’s pay for each year of employment.  In exchange for the severance they had to sign a statement foregoing unemployment insurance for the number of weeks the severance covered.

At the end of the conversation, their key card was confiscated.  It was no longer active in the security computer system anyway.  The uniformed guard appeared and handed the now former employee the items collected from their work-station.  The stunned person was escorted to the elevator and down to the main floor, never again to enter the offices and wander through the hallways so familiar to them.  Other personal items like photos, calendars, books and plants were to be shipped to their home.

After a couple of hours, Sherise appeared in our aisle again and told us it was over.  She said all those of us remaining were safe.  We wouldn’t lose our jobs.  There was another email from HR for us to read.  I went to my inbox and opened it.  HR stressed the need to keep up productivity and not allow the sudden absence of co-workers, which seemed to me as though they were abducted by aliens, disrupt the work needing to be done.  I still worked for a wonderful organization and needed to make effective and wise use of my time for the benefit of the corporation and its customers.  Management would appreciate receiving feedback, through HR, suggesting ways to streamline processes, save money or identifying redundant positions or people who might not be as productive as they need to be in these trying times.

No audible wailing could be heard throughout the building.  No sudden cracks appeared in the walls as the solid concrete beneath our feet shifted.  Lightening didn’t strike.  There was a virtual sense of mourning as people walked the halls in a daze, some in tears, some with red, puffy eyes and some with jaws set in a grimace.  

    A bird can’t soar forever.  Perhaps Sel-Mor went overboard in its hiring and spending during the boom times.  Certainly the sudden downturn of the economy that caused such a devastating effect on them couldn’t be predicted, or they wouldn’t have completely remodeled and refurnished the executive offices.  The week long annual planning meeting for management and the board of directors would be scaled back rather than scheduled at the Chateau Eza 5.0 of 5in Eze, France, with special events planned daily for spouses and evening transportation to Monte Carlo.  They would scratch handing out those ice scrapers, embossed legal pad holders and metallic blue USB thumb drives, with the company logo on them, like candy and not encourage us to use them for stocking stuffers for our family and friends.  

Reality settled in during the week.  Like an efficient surgical procedure, midlevel managers and employees with tenure were excised.  The counselors hired by Sel-Mor to talk to employees needing mental health care stopped coming into the offices.  I don’t think anyone stopped in to talk to them.  When they’re really needed is after the shock is over and those remaining start feeling survivor’s guilt and depression.  No list of terminated employees was provided, so we kept discovering missing co-workers weeks afterward.  I realized I’m safe, but not Jayson, whose wife gave birth to their second baby last month.  Not Maryanne, the single mom down the hall, who, after scrimping and saving for years, put a down payment on her first house.  Nor Sandy who drained her savings account to send her aging parents on a cruise before their health began to fail.  No sense of relief or heightened value developed when the carnage ended.  

 Then anger took hold.  I fell into the trap of investing myself into a job and the company employing me forgetting the cardinal rule:  We were “human resources.”  We were another expense on the balance sheet.  Any degree of trust in the smiling faces of top management dissolved.  

Rumors started to fly.  The ugliest one was that employees with performance problems were the first on the excision list.  The down-sizing was a good excuse to rid the company of undesirable employees.  Demographics partly determined who was retained so as not to run afoul of federal and state laws.  Age, race, national origin, and sex were weighed, not talent or skills or tenure.

A couple of days later, Human Resources sent an email announcing meetings for all staff members to discuss the events of the week, ask management any lingering questions, and hear how Sel-Mor planned to position itself for the future.  Any employees out of the office would receive a link so they could view the meeting’s video when they returned to the office or they were given a number to call in, listen to the meeting and ask questions in real time.

None of Sel-Mor’s top management attended the meeting.  The Vice President of HR and the Vice President of our department represented management.  Both of them, Nancy Brown the veteran HR VP, and Chuck Burton, the recently appointed VP, looked grim and tired.  They reiterated the gist of the emails sent the day of the downsizing.  A PowerPoint presentation showed us the savings realized through the reorganization and what management planned to do to position us for a more competitive market in the future.  I listened, and absent any other data, made the assumption the staff reduction was the only option given the current economic conditions.  After all, it was happening all across the country.  

They asked for questions.  Marlene raised her hand.  Marlene was the organizer in the office.  She was a short and somewhat stocky woman with a face that crinkled with kindness when she talked.  Marlene organized the Walk-a-Thons, the collections to help with medical bills for staff members who had premature babies or needed surgery not fully covered by insurance, and collected items needed by local animal shelters.  Marlene completed her MBA while working at Sel-Mor and was aware that there are alternatives to lay-offs.  Marlene asked if work-sharing or across-the-board salary cuts were considered.  She still appeared emotionally affected by the week’s events.  

Work-sharing is accomplished by cutting everyone down to, for example, a four day work week, every other week, thus reducing everyone’s pay but maintaining benefits.  The goal is to keep talented, trained employees, retain trust and sense of worth, and avoid the trauma of a lay-off.  It’s like an investment in the future.  It’s a statement that things will improve and when they do, we want our team intact.  It's a “we’re all in this together” action.  Nancy and Chuck’s heads nodded, “no,” alternatives were not considered then called on someone else.  Marlene teared up and reached for a tissue from her bag.  My reaction was, “why not?” but I didn’t vocalize it.  

Up until then it never occurred to me there were viable options to the brutal slaughter that just occurred.  Sel-Mor never turned to their staff to help with the tough decisions or options to lay-offs.  I felt we were treated like furniture and not valued employees with the wide range of problem-solving skills and creative thinking we were constantly told Sel-Mor valued in us.  It was a helpless sensation.  We were like pawns on a chessboard being moved around by the will of a superior force, which had a strategy we weren’t allowed to know, rather than an integral part of a team.  The rest of the question and answer session became a blur as I found myself back on the roller coaster of emotions I’d been going through all week.  

Nancy and Chuck didn’t give us any new insights.  If they knew more, they weren’t authorized to share details.  The meeting ended.  Later I would think back and wonder if they weren’t there to identify trouble-makers.  Marlene was one.  The next week her cube was stripped bare and anytime a passer-by noticed and looked at one of her former co-workers quizzically; they drew their pointer finger across their neck.  A couple of days later, the HR Vice President, Nancy Brown, was terminated.  After some time an enthusiastic, bubbly woman half her age was hired.  She was given the title “Assistant Vice President of Human Resources” even though she reported to the Treasurer and seemed to do the same things Nancy did.

Management reminded us over and over to keep our production up, retain positivity for the sake of Sel-Mor’s customers and not foster negativity in our departments among our co-workers.  We were a valued part of the team and the company was dependent upon us to survive the economic downturn.  That was the official message.  The news of the Board of Directors awarding our CEO a 50% increase in salary as a reward for cutting costs was announced at the end of the fiscal year.

 

 

Tamer Mostafa, 7/13/2015

Current Occupation: Job Coach for adults with developmental disabilities.
Former Occupation: Creative Writing Instructor
Contact Information: Tamer Mostafa is a Stockton, California native whose writing has been influenced by many, but directly affected by the teachings of Joshua McKinney, Alan Williamson, and Joe Wenderoth. He has published over 30 literary works in various journals and magazines such as Confrontation, The Rag, Poets' Espresso Review, Stone Highway Review, and Phantom Kangaroo.

 

#

Protocol

 

-July 16, 2014

 

The workers follow it to a tee

inside the bank

behind the bandit barriers,

staring through their reflections

to hollowed faces

and muzzles tapping the glass.

The alarm is triggered

and bills slide through the slit beneath.

 

For the robbers, it never

goes to plan, panic sets in,

someone hiding behind their weaponry

fires automatic shots

rattling against the chamber.

Before leaving, a need

to grab extra collateral is agreed upon.

 

The hostages know of no protocol,

didn’t know one existed,

but follow instructions

to the back of a van,

curl up on the sun-heated floor

holding in the nausea

that eighty miles an hour in city streets

without a seat belt brings.

 

The residents, hearing the sirens,

veer their cars to the right,

pave a path in some monotonous

routine, turn their backs to the wheel

until they see the van,

door open and human shields

losing skin, bit by bit

with every shot.

 

The officers know their rules,

their rules of engagement,

know the number of hostages,

condition of the vehicle,

how to intercept a situation

in its infancy,

how to hold a shield upright

against their body and face.

And they know that six hundred rounds

are six hundred too many

for one city

and one woman.

Charles Rammelkamp, 7/6/2015

Current Occupation: RETIRED
Former Occupation: ADJUNCT ENGLISH PROFESSOR and TECHNICAL WRITER
Contact Information:  Charles Rammelkamp has published a novel (The Secretkeepers), two collections of short fiction and two volumes of poetry.  A chapbook of poems, MIXED  SIGNALS, was published in 2014 by Finishing Line Press.  A full-length volume of poetry entitled MATA HARI: EYE OF THE DAY has just been published by Apprentice House.

 

#

Dignity for Hire

I approached it as a job.  Well, I stood to make as much as twenty grand for half an hour’s work, so what more logical attitude to take?  Friends had submitted my name. I hadn’t really expected to be called, but here I was.

We all had to jump and wave our hands enthusiastically while the insipid theme song jingled out of overhead speakers like elephants on tiptoes.  We shook our hips and hands, smiled as if we were trying to turn our mouths inside out.

Then the host, dressed like a lawyer at a high-profile trial – you know the guy I mean – came out from behind the curtain to studio audience applause and regarded us all with a kind of sardonic solemnity, as if he might break out laughing at any minute, roll around the floor.  With the same straight face, he spoke to us as if we were a gathering of scholars, scientists at a symposium discussing cures for cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s.  

This guy could make eye contact without really looking at you.  It was a real trick, the way he made you feel important and insignificant at the same time.

“For the win,” he announced, like some sort of archangel proclaiming the end of time, “What does a woman do after her husband falls asleep?”  The correct answer was based on a survey of a hundred random people interviewed at a Burger King in Arizona.

“Pig out on junk food?” Contestant A speculated.

“Do online shopping?” Contestant B ventured.

“Read a book?” I guessed, knowing it was the wrong answer.

None of us got the correct response, but we all walked away with a thousand dollars.  

Twiddle her twanger? Really?  Come on.  I mean, really?

 

 

 

Bradford Middleton, 6/29/2015

Current Occupation:  Low-grade sales assistant for big supermarket company.
Former Occupation: Student, Music PR, writer, admin serf.
Contact Information: Bradford Middleton lives in Brighton on England's south coast.  When he isn't writing stories and poems he can often be found on the check-out at a local supermarket.  For more from him follow @beatnikbraduk on Twitter.

#

HOW THE HELL DID THAT HAPPEN?

Back to work on a Sunday after a week off
And no-one can even be bothered to say hi
Let alone ask how my blessed week away has been
A week spent trying to piece together a life
In a city I ain’t lived in for nearly ten years
That went to shit on about the Wednesday
And ended in the ubiquitous three-day drunk

So back to this town and back to work
Within ten minutes the boss is shouting
As I wander round our store feeling dazed
Work the delivery she says, I’m going for a cigarette
As the new guy flounders beneath the mass of a queue
I simply ignore it, loading a cart
Thinking how the hell did I get back here?

#

TERRIBLE NEWS AT THE WORKPLACE

I’ve had some days of feeling down about my job
But right now it just seems to be something I can’t shake
There is no way out, no end in sight
As my job circles the drainpipe leaving me with thoughts of dread
The thought of just one more shift
Leaves me feeling just damn sick

The boss I hated, the one who’d gone away
He’s coming back, demoted, on a lower grade
But he’ll still be my boss and I know he can’t wait
My colleagues are all happy as he’s English
And apparently one of us but all I can remember of him
Is how useless he was and how my name was just ‘tills’

With the new boss, of Russian-Peruvian descent,
I have a camaraderie bonded over music and politics
But no one else seem to think he’s better than what we had
As under their breaths they just mutter about damn immigrants
Taking our jobs, whilst telling anyone who’ll listen why their voting UKIP
Just so we can have more idiots in charge rather than people who are capable…

#

THE MAN WHO TOOK DOWN EASTER

At work one day I was asked to do something I thought I’d enjoy
I got to work hard at my task
Taking down the promotional stands from the day before
When a young kid walked in with his Mum &
I was busy un-stacking the shelves of the chocolate eggs and bunny’s that announced it had been Easter but it didn’t take long before
I returned to the real world; being interrupted by a voice behind me

Mister, what are you doing the voice enquired?
I’m taking down Easter, no more chocolate eggs for another year I told him
Did you get your fix? I goaded
Cos that’s it now, they are all gone
The kid looked at his Mum and his bottom lip began to quiver burst into tears at the thought of no more chocolate and with that image in front of me I thought
It’s days like this that make me feel glad to be alive!

 

 

Lou Gallo, 6/22/2015

Current Occupation:  Professor
Former Occupation:  most of life, professor; as a kid and teen worked at my dad's woodworking shop
Contact Information:  born and raised in New Orleans.  Now teaching at Radford University in Virginia, living with wife and daughters.  Publications include GLIMMER TRAIN, TEXAS REVIEW, SOUTHERN QUARTERLY, RATTLE, TAMPA REVIEW, BERKELEY FICTION REVIEW, storySouth, XAVIER REVIEW, MISSOURI REVIEW, MISSISSIPPI REVIEW, NEW ORLEANS REVIEW, et al.  Chapbooks include THE ABOMINATION OF FASCINATION and THE TRUTH CHANGES.  Poetry volumes include HALLOWEEN and OMENS.  I am founding editor of the now inoperative Barataria Review and Books:  A New Orleans Review.  I have been a contributing editor of The Pushcart Press.  

 

#

THE WORKERS

 

The workmen outside have been at it all day

digging up the street with jack hammers,

back hoes and Deere machines I can’t name

though which, if fitted with flesh and blood,

would resemble dinosaurs, a stegosaurus maybe

and certainly T-rex.  They handle the monstrous

machines deftly and with a grace I can only envy.

They’re going down deep into the street

toward the pipes, pumping out bilge and brackish

filth, a chthonian venture, linked close to hell.

The workers wear hard hats and filthy clothes;

they dig in the rain, at night the moon

coats them with luminous silt, under the blazing sun

they sweat heroically.  They never seem to tire

or gripe about the arduous drone of their lives.

 

When I step out onto the porch, trek down the steps

and head toward my van parked on that street,

a thick book of poetry wedged between my arm and chest,

they stare briefly as I stare briefly at them.

They, of course, are the poems

not anthologized in my book, the honest poems,

not the morose, maudlin, cynical, gloomy poems

I have read all my life and passed on to students.

I steer carefully between machines, roll over

a thick hose, and edge past the detour sign.

Tomorrow, I’ve heard, the workers will move on

to another street. . They’ve finished the job here.

My book presses hard against my ribs.

 

Troy Cabida, 6/15/2015

Current Occupation: Customer Service Assistant
Former Occupation: Unemployed, Student
Contact Information: Troy Cabida (b. 1995) is a Filipino writer based in central London. His recent work has appeared on Our Own Voice, Thought Notebook and WORK. He is a columnist for Miracle E-Zine, Instazine21 and has been credited as an editor for several issues of Siblíní Journal and Thought Notebook. He has also self-published a poetry book titled Lost in London on Blurb, which will be rereleased as an e-book in 2015. Catch him blogging about life over at www.troycabida.wordpress.com.

 

#

The New Guy At Work

 

He’s got direction in his veins, focus on both pupils,

he wants to feel the pain, the exhaustion, the different kind of sleep.

He’s done with all of Youth’s bitchiness, to see through

the quarter life crisis that’s been waiting for him,

 

dreams for artistic satisfaction, a degree to hang on the wall,

that all expenses paid trip back to the motherland

and endless dates with his perfect girl.

 

He’s got a life to fix, you see.

 

So for £7.00 an hour

he won’t bother with you

and how much you think this job sucks

 

doo roo roo doo doo

Gary Beck, 6/8/2015

Current Occupation: I am currently a writer
Former Occupation: I was formerly a director/playwrite.
Contact Information: Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director and worked as an art dealer when he couldn't earn a living in the theater. His chapbook Remembrance was published by Origami Condom Press and The Conquest of Somalia was published by Cervena Barva Press. A collection of his poetry Days of Destruction was published by Skive Press. His poetry collection Expectations was published by Rogue Scholars Press. His plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles were produced Off Broadway. His poetry has appeared in numerous literary magazines.

###

Worker's Dilemma

The strident demand

of master alarm clock

yanks me untimely

from wistful dream,

curse, shut it off,

doze off again,

then burst awake,

overslept,

shower, shave, dress,

rush to work,

late again.

The implacable

office manager eye

glistens tyrannically,

glares accusingly

sending me to my computer

afraid of confrontation,

as long as I'm dependent

on my meager salary.

 

#

Divided Nation

Educated people

join a profession

that rewards efforts

with comfort, security,

even pride in status,

the return for attending

a learning factory.

Some less educated,

but also ambitious,

join the military,

don't open their books,

study rifle 101

learn how to kill,

rather than bookkeeping.

G.I.'s face frequent perils

civilians never encounter,

which sets them apart

from the foreign life back home

grown stranger to them daily,

with increasing rampages

turning the country

into a war zone

with unexpected attacks

not quite often enough,

at least not yet,

to throw us into panic.

When the troops come home,

those who still have a home,

because the banks have been busy

while they were bleeding far away,

flagrantly foreclosing

vulnerable homes,

owners too busy

serving their country

to dispute what they owed.

Yet when banks collapsed

the government rushed

to bail them out,

they were too big to fail,

callously creating

a new doctrine,

a capitalist dogma,

the little are too small

to bother saving.

#

Susceptible

I'm too tired to work,

so I turn on the tv

that tries to submerge me

into channels of response,

instructions to buy something

whether I need it or not,

graphic demonstrations

with painstaking details

of every type of crime

actually committed,

or created by writers,

motivation day or night

to get up from the couch,

grab my assault rifle,

go out and kill someone,

courtesy of the sponsors

whose inspiring messages

saturate the airways,

eroding repugnance

for iniquitous acts.

#

Democracy in Action

The streets are filled

with forgotten men and women,

poor, desperate, homeless,

while the lords of profit

feast in their mansions,

unconcerned with the well-being

of fellow citizens

ignored by secure congressmen,

who will shut down the government

at the behest of their masters,

rather than do their duty

for the suffering people.

 

#

Condition Normal

Across our troubled land

more and more disasters strike,

some wreaked on us by nature

unbalanced by the works of man,

more and more destructive acts

killing children, the elderly,

tragically unprotected

since we can't watch over all,

increasing rampage incidents

targeting schools, malls, movie theaters,

most frequently the workplace

where the disaffected return

armed, detached, implacable,

ruthlessly performing better

than any previous function,

murdering methodically,

finally killing themselves

after destroying the lives of others

in untimely slaughter,

frequently inexplicable

when breaking upon strangers,

leaving the gift of mourning

for devastated survivors

who cannot comprehend

the death by murder

of precious loved ones.

 

Hyacinth Andersen, 6/1/2015

Current Occupation: Customer Service Manager
Former Occupation: Secretary
Contact Information: Hyacinth Andersen’s poems have appeared in Black Magnolias Literary Journal and on MindsetPoetry.Org and TimBookTu's websites.  Her memoir, All or Nun: Memoir of a Black Catholic Growing Up,  was listed as a semifinalist in the Kindle Book Review Best Indie Books 2013 Contest. 

 

#

Don’t Feed the Animals

 

    Trina stands at the watering hole watching employees eat company-provided muffins and bagels.  They are a motley crew at work: Rachel, the woman who is obsessed with clipping coupons; Marty, the uber-sarcastic male who is woman repellent; Tania, the effervescent nonstop talker; Parker, the CEO; and Trina, the highly-driven, type-A personality who is determined to climb the corporate ladder.

    Rachel offers Trina a muffin, but she resists taking one.  Trina knows that muffins and bagels can make one fat and are the equivalent of corporate anesthesia–comfort food provided to the masses to keep them calm. And Trina knows the soothing shade of blue the break room walls were recently painted has the added benefit of being a stress reducer. She read an article in a scientific journal about how colors can affect mood and well-being and she recognizes what Parker is trying to do at the office.   

    But Trina is not like the other employees at Davis & Associates.  She is smart, tough, and fit.  Trina has worked hard to achieve what she has in life, and she is ready to take on more responsibility.  Hence, the late afternoon meeting Parker has scheduled with her.   

    Trina knows the meeting is about her yearly evaluation.  She has busted her butt for the company for several years now, working long hours and putting up with office politics, in the hope of advancing her career.  She wants to be more than an analyst.  She wants to be Parker’s right-hand woman, a vice president with the company, and she has worked hard to obtain her goal.

    Parker listens attentively as Rachel relays a story about her adventures in coupon clipping. What she bought, how much she saved, yadda yadda. Trina is bored with Rachel’s chatter, but she pretends to be as interested as Parker is in the story.  Parker then listens as Marty tells a joke.  

    Typical Marty. He loves to tell jokes though he usually ruins the punch line. You would think he would know better. Go figure.

      Parker finishes listening to Marty’s joke before nodding in Trina’s direction. He leaves the watering hole and returns to his office with Trina following close behind.  It is time for her evaluation. Trina is positively aglow with anticipation.

    Parker tells Trina to take a seat before closing his office door.  Trina sits in a chair opposite his desk and folds her hands neatly in her lap.  Parker begins speaking about the contributions she has made to the company and how he appreciates her being a high performer.  He says she will receive a raise and a bonus, but not the promotion to vice president.  Glenn, from the fourth floor, has received the promotion instead.

    When Trina inquires as to the reasoning behind her not being promoted, Parker states her contributions were not deemed “CEO worthy”.  Trina is stunned by the news as she has worked twice the number of billable hours that Glenn has worked over the last two years and she has put in more time at the office.  In fact, the more Trina thinks about what Parker has said to her, the angrier she becomes. Parker all but promised her a promotion, and now she realizes he fed her a lot of baloney for two years.

    Trina plasters a smile on her face and finishes out the meeting with Parker.  However, she is angry at the way Parker has treated her.  She wants to scream.  She wants to break something.

    She heads to the break room, grabs a chocolate chip muffin off of the table and takes a big bite out of it.  She can taste its gluten-filled goodness as she chews the muffin and swallows it down.   Marty enters the break room for a second cup of coffee and spies Trina eating the muffin.  He starts to tell her a joke before Trina asks him out to lunch.  Marty is stunned by the invitation, but a smile creeps over his face at the thought of lunch with Trina.  He agrees to meet her at Baileys at noon.  

    Yet, Trina knows the pleasure will be all hers. She has been starved of corporate approval for too long. She intends to rip Marty’s ego to shreds later. Her claws are sharp for occasions like this, and she intends to use wiles to take down her prey.     

 

John Grey, 5/25/2015

Current Occupation: Retired
Previous Occupation:  Financial Systems Analyst
Contact Information: Australian born poet, US resident since late seventies. Worked as financial systems analyst. Recently published in Clay Bird Review, Voices de la Luna and Pea River Journal with work upcoming in Euphemism, Gargoyle and The Homestead Review.

 

#

The Constant Office

It's not the job I wanted

but it's the one my alarm

sets me up for.

And my razor, shower and tie,

even my coffee,

are in on it.

I get teamwork

even before the real team meets.

When I grab the steering wheel,

I've already been working an hour or more.

The drive is less a commute,

more a moveable office.

By the time I'm in the elevator

up to the tenth floor,

I feel as if

I've only ever been on the job.

I have to make money.

It's like making love

only it's not my wife

but Alexander Hamilton

who's in bed with me.

Of course, Ben Franklin

is the one I really ache for.

The way home is no different.

I pretend to eat dinner,

watch television,

while what I forgot to do today,

what I need to do tomorrow,

fill the in-box of my thoughts.

Even sleep recharges me

for no other purpose

than so that it can

recharge me again the next time.

 

A Personal Revolution

 

Seated at his kitchen table,

picking at cold cereal,

husband and factory worker and man,

imagines himself a revolutionary –

 

Inform all the comrades at once!

Let them bow before these demands

I wrote during the commercials

of last night's ball game.

We have our rights.

We will not be cowed.

Long live the workers!

 

Andy out after forty years on the job.

They killed him.

They beat his body to a pulp.

They foreclosed on his house,

booted his family out to the street.

Management must listen

or we'll stop work,

smash all the machinery,

and burn this building down.

 

Finishes breakfast,

slips on boiler suit,

drives to work, clocks in,

reports to the assembly line,

slips some coins in an envelope

for Andy's retirement gift,

Noise and dust,

pain and sweat –

only ten more hours

until the next manifesto.