Echoes are the first thing you notice walking into this once-proud room. Even if moccasins are being worn, footsteps are impossible to hide.
Friends and enemies alike are gone. Debates are few. Arguments, non-existent.
When a phone rings now, the person at the desk cringes. Because the person at the other end could be a few rooms away. With a stack of papers for you to sign. Sign away your last ditch effort at wanting to do something good. Something important. Something that matters. Eventually, the numbers will fall the right way. It has nothing to do with luck. Not how good or bad you are. Those days don’t exist anymore. Instead, you’re an item on a spreadsheet. When your worth becomes less than your cost, the knife it falls.
Unions concede wages now and consider it a big victory. Pensions are gone. That 401k match? Ha. We promise we’ll get it going again by the end of the next fiscal year. All the while the bonuses at the top of the food chain continue. $1.3 million here. $2.2 million there.
I never wanted to be at the top. I figure other than great white sharks, grizzly bears and maybe piranhas, I was in a pretty good place, why did I ever want to be a CEO or Executive Editor? Seemed like too much awfulness.
Now, I’m in a newsroom with very little news people in it. If you dare rock the boat, you’re labeled a trouble maker, a malcontent, or maybe even just an asshole. I’ve been called all three by editors in the past. All those editors are out of the business now. None of them were bought out. None of them seemed to care. They were fired. Simply put, for being bad at their jobs.
As I sit at my cubicle, waiting for what’s coming next, I think of the day I made a mistake in my career. The only one, really. I quit one job before I should have. That led to bad choices for quite a while. Not mistakes, because I was trying to do the right thing, just bad choices as they turned out.
The last job I had, the phone rang on a warm January day. I had come in to work early to get some stuff done ahead of time. Interviews were complete, story half written when I saw a co-worker get a call. He went into the HR office. Ten minutes or so later, he came out, head hung low with a cardboard box in his hand. Soon, he was gone. The scene repeated for another co-worker. The day of reckoning had finally come to this little place.
Finally, my phone rang. Ever since my first days on the job, I kind of expected that call. I was paid well for the first time in my life. And I was happy doing my job. A relationship had sputtered, sending me into an emotional hell, which cost the company money. And, never being the ass-kissing type, I didn’t make the right friends.
Ring. I picked it up on the first ring. My boss looked a me in horror. He’d brought me into this. Now, he had to watch me leave.
“Well, it’s been fun,” I said as I got up to go to the HR woman’s office.
“Sorry man,” my boss said. I didn’t believe him then, still don’t.
I walked in to the HR office. Where the HR head and the EE were sitting. I took off my ID badge and toss it on her desk.
“Where do I sign?” I asked with a smile.
“Thanks for making this easy,” the EE said.
“Hey, don’t worry about it,” I replied. “It’s the way of the beast now.”
“Sadly, it is,” he said. Not looking at me.
I felt a wave of euphoria come over me when I exited the building. Honestly, other than a few first kisses and a slow dance I hadn’t felt this good, this relieved, this happy since pushing the accelerator to begin my first solo cross-country drive in 1994.
Everything was a blank slate. Well, everything but my debt, which I wasn’t too worried about at the moment. What was next? Anything was possible.
So, that begs the question: why are you back in Eastern North Carolina, sitting and waiting for a phone call? I guess I wasn’t ready for the unknown. The change. The exit.
This time, however, I am. Fourteen months of toil, with some major rejection later, I know it’s time to say goodbye. To a lot of things. One by one I’ve tried working through them. Some I tossed aside. Others I made a shaky peace with. Lastly, that telephone call needs to come.
And I know it will. It’s just a matter of patiently waiting.