Former Occupation: Teacher
Contact Information: Sara Greenwald is a contracting technical writer in San Francisco who will be unemployed again this fall. Stories of hers have been published in Pindeldyboz, Third Space, Red Fez, the Harvard Medical School Literary Magazine Lunchtime Stories, Comet, Moondance, Thirteenth Moon, Chalk Circle, Stories, Bread and Roses, and Janus magazines. One received a New Millennium Writing Award. Other work was nominated for publication in the HBJ Best New American Voices anthology, and one of her novels was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize.
She has been through layoffs where everybody was miserable, where nobody much cared, and where the only people who were miserable were the ones who had to stay. Then there are the ones where they lay you off and try to sneak you out of the building so no one will know… but don’t get her started.
It wasn’t a downer at all. The first thing we did was to have a big party, right after the all-hands meeting, which we called the all-shaft because that’s what they gave us. My whole department and the managers and vice presidents and attorneys and administrative directors, and docketing and administrative specialists and resource acquisition specialists, and project directors and project managers and assessment assessors and quality assurance evaluators and evaluation assurance specialists and information technologists and technical administrators, and just everybody, came. It was a time for situational festivity.
The guys from MarCom borrowed a forklift from Facilities and brought us all the leftover corporate gifts. I got three company t-shirts, one with the old SmartStuff Pharmaceuticals logo, one with the SmartStuff Worldwide logo, and one with the SmartStuff Biotechnical name that we’d only had for six months. They’d be cool soon; we’d know each other by our ex-company t-shirts if we got jobs together again. My best InfoTech friend Cynthia got some adorable boxer shorts with last year’s new logo, and two company-logo alarm clocks it turned out didn’t work. We drank all the champagne left over from parties MarCom threw at conventions, and got so drunk we could hardly pack up our cubicles. I was looking forward to two weeks of severance pay and the company also paid for us to take classes on how to look for a job, and the Human Resources manager gave everybody a hug and said to remember not to beat ourselves up about things we couldn’t control.
Next morning I got up just as early as if I still had to go to work and got in my car. Since there wasn’t any work to go to, I drove to the mall and bought a notebook and went to the class, all ready to be situationally studious. Situational, that’s one of my favorite words.
My class all had to say what we loved about our old job. I didn’t know, because there were so many fun things. The hacker nerds had amphetamines and the attorneys had cocaine and there were the greatest times the day the product would ship. We’d all do our drug of choice and play computer games a stock-option a point. When the work was done, we’d lie out in the SUVs in the parking lot making love if we weren’t too wired and looking up at the stars. Sometimes we did it after the ship and sometimes during QA check and sometimes nothing shipped at all. When the teacher came around to me I still wasn’t sure. Maybe the day I became a permanent employee with options. That was the day I understood what the company made and realized I could never explain it so somebody else would understand. Mostly I told people it was about computers and the genome and said ‘let’s interface’ or ‘up-regulate,’ depending which they knew.
An admin said she loved helping people organize their calenders. A project manager said he got excited walking bankers through wiring diagrams. A QA tech said her biggest thrill was triple-checking every item on a forty-page list and knowing before she even started that every single one would be right. An attorney said negotiating the last tick on a contract made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
Waves of understanding flowed over me while they told their lies, because all of them, one time or another in the parking lot, had told me I was the biggest thrill they could ever hope for, but they were married and things. They brought the same love and devotion they declared for me and were using it here to be situational about work. I was overwhelmed by their situational love and solidarity and the bittersweet realization that this layoff and this job wouldn’t be my last. Next time we met we’d know only by our identical t-shirts that we had been to heaven together in the parking lot.