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Jeff Fimmer looked at his dad quizzically. “Hey Dad, you seem to have been picking up a number of new clients recently, any particular reason other than to get me to do more office work?”
Jeff’s dad smiled, “Well Jeffery, a lot of things are going on currently over in Flint. I’m sure you’ll hear about it from your friends or the news. Suffice to say that a lot of people are going to be hurting really soon, and a number of them will want to file workman’s comp suits against GM. I’m picking up the ones that are legit cases where GM tried to bail on their responsibility. Don’t be surprised, it happens more often than I’d like to think. Good people get the shaft while others wash their hands of the mess and pretend it never happened. Just keep your eyes open and mouth shut and you just might learn something.” Given that this seemed to be sound advice, Jeff decided to do exactly that. After all, you can’t get fired or laid off from High School.
Jeff knew that his friends were already being affected. A number of them had already left school with their families on fairly short notice. He wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, but knew it had something to do with the GM plant in Flint. He remembered that Amy’s dad worked over there; maybe she’s got the inside track. He decided that getting out of the house and sneaking a cigarette or four with Amy (dreamy Amy…) would keep him out from his parent’s radar. Better that than get roped into more yard work or whatever will come up with next.
“Mom,” Jeff announced, “I’m headed over to Aim’s house. Figure we’ll go hit the movies or the drive-in or something. I already turned the cans, so I have some money for the gas tank and I’m taking your car if that’s ok?”
The reply was echoed in the garage as Jeff closed the door to the house “Yeah, ok hon… you just better make sure I don’t smell any smoke in that car or I’ll have your ass!”
Jeff cruised out Davidson Road toward Amy’s house, radio blaring, windows down and a Marlboro Light sticking out of the corner of his mouth. The station took a quick news break somewhere between Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” and Simple Mind’s “Don’t You Forget About Me.” “Here’s a quick news update for GM workers. General Motors announced plant closures today amidst what appears to already be an economic lull in Flint. The CEO of GM ….”
Jeff turned the station. “Sheesh” he thought, “what is the big deal? They should just all move down to Detroit; GM still has plenty of plants ‘n stuff down there. Of course, I remember the pain in the ass it was to move up here from Detroit. I can only imagine the extra misery it would be to do it without any job first. Dad always said never to quit one job if you don’t have another one already lined up. Hmm… I wonder if they’ll just move them to the other plants they have in Flint. Amy’s Dad will know.”
“Hiya Ame’s!” Jeff smiled. “I heard some shit about yer dad’s work… what’s up?” Jeff really was interested in finding out; however Amy wasn’t so interested in getting into it at the moment.
She gave Jeff a dirty look, “Grab the fuckin’ smokes and lets go. Dad’s pissed beyond belief, and neither of us want to be here.” Coming from Amy, this took Jeff a little by surprise.
Whatever was going on was obviously much more serious than he had estimated. Jeff retorted “What the fuck dude?! Fine let’s go, but let’s chill, k?”
Amy looked at Jeff and could tell that he meant well. “Hey,” Jeff said compassionately as they hopped into Amy’s Chevy Blazer “whatever you need to talk about… I’ll listen. That’s without trying to get into your pants!”
Amy cracked a short grin and began to relax, “You fuckin’ perv. That’s what I love about you Jeff; even the most perverse statements can make me smile if you’re the one saying them. Good thing you’re more like my brother ‘else I’d lay you out… and not in the way you’d like to think I’m talking about.” All Jeff knew was that the news break had something to do with why her undies were in a bunch; and it’s not polite to pick someone else’s undies out of their crack for them.
“Hey J’, did you hear the latest about our merger with V-tex? They apparently have guys who do similar stuff as we do, but are way less technical. They call them G-TAMs, but that doesn’t mean the same thing it does to us. It’d be like taking us TAMs and yanking out all the one-on-one troubleshooting that the customers love us for.”
He looked up from his book and slow burning smoke to smile happily at this new intruder to his peace. “Dude, they aren’t going to get rid of us.” Jeff responded. “The biggest reason why we have the customers we do is because they renew the support contract for shitty software expecting the level of service that we are renown for doing. The industry knows us dude. We’re staying put, and we aren’t going away. I’d say that we probably have the most secure jobs at this site, with the exception of management. Highly unlikely we’ll see much in the way of change.”
“Did you read the emails” J’s co-worker asked “that the CEO and executive X sent out? I dunno. You’re probably right, and hey, V-tex actually pays their techies a decent wage. Instead of looking at us like burger flippers maybe we’ll actually be allowed a career, instead of a summer job in the boonies.”
J’ chortled at this, “Yeah wouldn’t that be nice. I won’t believe it ‘till I have it in my hot little hands. They’ve promised and blown it every year I’ve worked here. We hear the same spiel every quarter. ‘You’ll get this’ or ‘You’ll get more of that’ but does it ever pan out? Hell no, and it never will. The best thing we can do, or more to the point “I” can do is to keep my head down and my mouth shut. With any luck we’ll all come out of this, and be on our happy-go-fucking way.”
J’s cohort eyes the smokes, bums one, and quietly mutters “shit storms are a brewing J, time to pull in the sails and not be the guy in the crow’s nest like you usually are.”
J’ shrugged, “Yea yea, no worries. I’ve been here long enough to know when bad shit is coming without having to smell it when it starts to rain.”
J’ headed back to his desk only to find himself once again pondering the idea that perhaps being a Techie wasn’t where he was supposed to be in life. He really didn’t enjoy the whole “politics” thing, and had returned to school to finish his degree. It just didn’t seem fair that he should be stuck in the cube farm for the rest of his life. However if he had to he would, simply for the sake of his family if for no other reason. “Being a Man means providing for your family at all cost,” Jeff thought to himself.
“I think today, I’ll finally fill out that transfer application to one of the writing spots they have over in Content Development. I’d be happy to take a pay cut if it meant that I could write instead of making excuses for the company.” J’ wasn’t really saying it to anyone in particular. He rarely said anything to anyone particular, so much as he just sort of tossed it out there for a response to see how off base he was. Unfortunately most people were much better at keeping their trap shut.
It took a little while, a little snooping around to find exactly which spots were open, who the supervisor and manager would be for the position, and how best to tailor his application to suit his rumored talents. He’d also be finding out about whether or not his company would allow his speech class to be reimbursed.
“Hey J’” his supervisor called down the hallway lined with cubes like an ice tray, just as cold and grey as the inside of a freezer. “I need you to follow me to my office.”
“Great,” J’ thought, “what the hell did I do this time?” J’ went into Ray’s office shut the door, and took a seat.
“Sorry man,” J’s supervisor started, “ we can’t reimburse you for your class. It isn’t that it’s not in the budget, but the management team decided you need to focus on your job more. In fact we’d rather you not do any other projects either. Is it possible for you to stop going to school so you can focus more?”
Flabbergasted, Jeff responded “Uhhh… no, I can’t stop going to school, but I’ll stop the other stuff. I don’t know what you mean by focus on my job though. I’ve been getting perfect reviews from my customers for the last three years. How much more can I focus?” Ray leaned back in his chair and squinted at him so as to blur J’ in his eyesight.
J’ thought perhaps it was easier to bullshit a blurry image than when looking someone in the eye. “Well, we just need you to focus… so don’t do any more projects that you’ve been working on. Someone else will take care of them instead, don’t know who, but someone. Remember, though you’ve got perfect customer reviews on your record… the customer just isn’t our first priority here. We have other things to consider.”
J’ looked at the wall behind Ray’s head. Hanging there was a big picture of the CEO and the quote “Customer First!” Instead of cutting loose on the obviously bias weight stacked against him, he agreed in the most ‘hive drone’ way he could, and went back to his little box in Hell.
“Guess there’s no time like the present to get working harder on that transfer app.” ran repeatedly through J’s mind in the beleaguered and bewildered new reality he was presented with: A job where writing is no longer allowed.
“Amy let’s hit the drive-in tonight. We’ll get the bunch of us together and party it up!” Of course Jeff’s idea of a party was a bunch of them sitting around, smoking Marlboros and drinking coffee at two in the morning in the 24 hour restaurant in downtown Lapeer.
“I dunno Jeff, Dad’s a little edgy right now. They are really making it hard on him too. On the one side the workers are looking for him to do something, and all he can do is talk with the Union and see what it is that they were supposed to do,” said Amy.
Jeff wasn’t exactly the most business savvy person on the planet, and hadn’t quite grasped the enormity of it all. “Damn, seems like someone should just be able to step in and change a few things to get that place going again.”
“Wish it were that easy, but I don’t think anything good is going to come of any of this. We should just be happy that you only drive GM cars. That little Caddy of your mom’s and your dad’s big one will keep you out of the line of fire any way.”
“Err Amy, what does that have to do with anything?”
“Jeff, face it, your family is rich. Nice house on the lake, your dad is a lawyer making good money. You don’t have a whole lot to worry about.” Jeff was a little taken aback by this instant change to an almost accusatory tone.
“Just hold on a minute Amy. First, you know as well as I do that while my parents may be ‘well off’ they are by no means ‘rich,’ second you also know to some degree what it took for my dad to get there too,” said Jeff defensively.
“Sorry Jeff, when we get back to the house you’ll see what I mean. Even my mom isn’t comfortable at home at the moment because she can’t stand to see my dad under this kind of stress. Didn’t mean to jump at you like that, but like I said, you’ll understand.”
Upon arrival they could hear Amy’s dad immersed in an obviously tense conversation even before they opened the door to the garage. “What the Fuck do you mean they’re hanging us out to dry?!! Those Bastards! So much for trusting the Union to stand up to those shysters…. Oh hey honey, hiya Jeff. Didn’t see you two standing there. One sec and I’ll be off the phone and outta everyone’s hair… Yeah, I’m still here. Protest? Hmm, lemme think… that hasn’t been done in years and if you think it’d work you’re kidding yourself. We’re all screwed and there’s nothing we can do about it now other than to wait out the storm and see what shakes out in the end. Yeah, yeah, yeah they mentioned a severance but then I also heard that they killed all the pension plans. No shit, call over to the hall, I’m not kidding.”
Turning to Amy and Jeff, Amy’s dad says apologetically “Hey honey, things are going to be a little tight for a while. I’m really embarrassed to say this, but it does look like I’m out of a job along with the other plant workers. Now with the plant gone, I suspect that the rest of the area is gonna go down the shitter as well. It’ll be an interesting ride though won’t it? Don’t worry kiddo, we’ll pull through. We’re much better off than some of my crew. I at least have the Guard I can fall back on. Most of the others don’t. In fact, you may want to go rescue Deena from her house. Her dad wasn’t one of the lucky ones.”
“What’s up with Deena’s dad, Dad?” said Amy. “We were going to head over there and pick her up anyway, and then get Deanna and Jason and Rich to hit the drive-in.”
Amy’s dad looked concerned, “I think it would just be better if you got her out of there for a little while. See you later, and I probably won’t be up when you get back. G’dnight.”
“Amy, what the hell was that all about?” remarked Jeff in full astonishment.
“Jeff, that’s what I was talking about. The world is going to hell in a hand basket.” lamented Amy.
Jeff rolled his eyes in response, “Greeeaaat. Just what we needed; realistic confirmation of shit we already figured was happening, but refused to admit.”
“Well Jeff I tell ya, there’s no admitting anything now. The quarter is already spinning in the air, and the object to the game this time is not to get stuck underneath the fucker when it lands.”
Jeff buckled in, “Well then, let’s assholes and elbows over to Deena’s and pick her up first.”
J’ polished up his application and resume` all professional and tidy. He dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s, and happily trotted over to Ray’s office. He’d worked a lot of hours since they spoke last, and this transfer app was keeping him alive and going. It was a goal, hell it was damn near a dream that he just wouldn’t let go of. Funny thing, “dreams,” they always get you screwed in the end… both figuratively and literally.
“Hey Ray, you got a second?”
“Sure J’, what’s going on?” Instantly Ray started to do that squinting thing, that J’ knew well by now was an indicator that the BS level was going to increase tenfold very shortly.
J’ set the transfer application on Ray’s desk, “Could you sign this for me so I can run it down to HR?” J’ had never had an issue, nor had anyone else that he had ever known, getting the application signed. Not getting the transfer was an entirely different matter, but this was a new day in an obviously new paradigm.
Without even looking to see what the department was that J’ was trying to transfer into, and from what J’ could tell, without even looking down at the paper Ray stated “Oh, sorry J’, I can’t sign that.”
Jeff was quite a bit taken aback by this, “Why not? Is there something up? Am I on another performance thing that I don’t know about? What’s up?”
Ray began to squint even harder, “There’s a moratorium on all transfers out of this department until further notice. We’re loosing too many headcount too quickly, so we aren’t letting anyone leave.”
“Rayyy… four people just got hired into other departments yesterday, and we just got five new TAMs today. I don’t see why I shouldn’t be given a chance. Seems kind of bias or discriminatory to me, don’t you think?”
Ray began to scramble for a legitimate response. “Oh, no, honest, I already had to turn down a couple of other apps today too. You aren’t the only one. Besides, transfer apps are signed on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. You weren’t first, so you weren’t served.”
Mentally Jeff sighed to himself in disgust, “Um, ok. I frankly think that this is a load of crap… but if he says so, then I guess I don’t have much of a choice.”
Ray questioned, “I thought you wanted to stay in Platinum Support J’, why are you applying to get out?”
“Well Ray, this, just now, right this second, is one of the reasons I changed my mind. We’re under a career progression moratorium shrouded in secrecy; and I can’t do anything that I know will help the group as a whole to better do their current job. I just think I can better serve the company if my best skills are utilized, instead of my ‘pretty good’ skills. I know I’m not even close to the top of the TAM quality hill as compared to others around here. It just figures I would do better where I would have comparative or better skills than the rest of the group.”
Ray smiled and squinted, “Oh J’ you’re underestimating yourself. You’re one of the best we have. Why else would you be getting perfect ratings from your customers for so long? Remember, that’s really important and is a sign of an excellent TAM.”
J’ felt a little confused at first. Then he remembered he was talking to upper management. Their logic is more like bumper cars than a train. “Well thank you Ray. I appreciate your rhetoric on the matter.” J’ smiled appreciatively on the outside, and on the inside he was fuming.
When J’ got back to his desk a message light was flashing on his phone. He needed to call his wife right away. “Hiya honey, what’s up?”
“Hey sweety, our daughter needs to go up to Shriner’s Hospital in Portland right away. They want to examine her bone structure because of her birth defect. Her hemi-hypertrophy is messing up her hips really bad and she’s starting to feel pain when she runs. They want us up there Tuesday, and Grandma in Charlston is not doing well either. It’s coming up on Thanksgiving and we figure she’s not going to make it until then, so the family wants us down there on Saturday for a little pre-Thanksgiving celebration; Pizza, etc. Nothing fancy. Our son has had his surgery date bumped up to Thursday. He’s going to need Daddy there.”
J’ sighed deeply at the sudden change in schedule, “Wow, ok, well I have more than enough emergency leave available. I’ll go let Ray know that I’ll need next week off. Thankfully it’s not the week after next, I wouldn’t be able to take actual Thanksgiving week time at all. Everybody else is already taking their Paid Time Off.”
“Will you get in trouble?” said J’s wife sounding quite concerned.
J’ tried to reassure her, “I hope not, I better not. The little thing called Family Medical Leave Act should prevent me from getting in trouble over it. We’ll see though. I’ve known this company to break the law flagrantly multiple times in the past, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they tried to pull some bullshit. I’ll just try to get it, and we’ll go from there. I’m not going to be away from my kids for that stuff. So I’m sure we’ll come to an equitable solution.”
J’ got up from his desk, arranged all his files and customers for his absence and went back to Ray’s office to let him know. Ray approved the leave J’ needed, and then out the door J’ went. J’ knew things were going to start getting shitty. The smell was familiar, and the wind in the air was one he hadn’t wafted in quite a while.
Jeff, Amy, and Deena decided to swing by Jeff’s house on the way to dropping Deena off. Jeff’s parents were waiting at the door with a look Jeff hadn’t seen before, embossed on their face like the Greek statue of David. Pale, cold, and so lifeless you’d think they’d been standing there for millennia.
“Guys, come on in, no no… nobody is in trouble. But you’re going to need to have Deena stay the night. Her mom will pick her up in a few hours. There’s been a few….”
Jeff’s mom began to cry, in light hic’s and sniffs only to break down into all out knee bending travesty as if it with a baseball bat from behind.
“Mom… what the hell is going on?!”
J’ and family weathered out the week with much crying on behalf of their son (who either couldn’t pee, or would bust a stitch when he did and bleed), only to return to one of the most stressful weeks J’ had seen in a very long time. Finally it was Thanksgiving weekend. J’ left the office for a “once every other quarter” beer down at a pub.
His wife called, “Honey, Grandma died. We don’t know when the funeral is yet, but we should know by Monday. If you could just head in this direction, I know you’re having a beer for the first time in months, but….”
By the time his wife had trailed off on the word “but,” J’ was already in the car and headed home. His family needed him, and by God that’s more important than any solitude.
When J’ got home he assured his wife that he’d have as much time as they would need for dealing with the funeral and any other associated issues. “I’ll just talk to Ray when I get in on Monday, I have no doubt that he’ll understand that things have been crazy tough lately, and that’s not counting the other sixty billion things we’ve had blow up on us lately.” J’ smiled when he said this, and could hear it put enough of a smile on his wife’s face that he was satisfied with his effort until it was needed again later.
June 30th 1987*****
At the news, Deena screamed loud enough to echo off the lake surface for what seemed like hours.
“DADDY WHY!!!!!!!??? BEING LAID OFF IS NO REASON TO DIE!!!!!!” She collapsed into Jeff and Amy’s arms.
They carried her up the stairs and put her down in Jeff’s bed with Jeff’s mom there to comfort her as she cried and screamed herself into nightmare imbued sleep.
She had no chance to have the answers to questions she needed so badly.
What is it about being laid off from a career of nearly 10 years would cause a man to crack under the pressure to the point of committing suicide.
Later, much later, Jeff and Amy found out what the suicide note had read. It wouldn’t be until yet twice again as long before Jeff understood what it meant.
November 30th 2005*****
On Monday J’ walked into the office early, obviously worn and a bit haggard from the Atlas like weight he’d been bearing as long as he had. It was already obvious that J’ was on the edge, and if he was going to be able to handle his family’s stress for them he’d need all strength he could muster.
J’ thought to himself that it was a damn good thing that when they returned from his “grandmother-in-law’s” funeral he would have some sort of stability. J’ organized his paperwork for the second time that month so as to take care of family business. Prior to going to talk to Ray however, J’ decided to take a cigarette break.
“Ok, quick break done. I gotta get in there and get this submitted and done. Just have some paperwork and then talk to Ray, and finally I can go help my wife.”
“Hey J’, I need to talk to you.” Ray said when J’ walked in the door returning from his moment of cancerous bliss. Instead of following Ray up to his office however, he was marshaled into the office next to the Security Desk.
Instantly, having such the grasp of the obvious that J’ indeed did possess, he could tell something was up and it wasn’t good, especially right before a funeral.
Late Night, June 30th 1987*****
The note Deena’s father wrote read as follows:
[i]My dearest and loving family;
I never thought in my years of being a man that I would ever be in a position where I could not support you, where I could not keep the roof over your heads, when I could not keep the clothing upon your back nor be able to provide any variation of food for you to eat.
Times have been tough, and frankly I cannot see any way out for me. As a Father, as a protector, I need to be able to provide those things for you that you so desperately need to survive.
While I understand that Love is important, and transcends space and time, livelihood and sorrow, it cannot feed you or cloth you or keep the rain and snow from your pillows. However if I’m away, the love will remain and you will have all that is needed for you to survive.
I squandered nearly 10 years living a job that treated me horribly, instead of spending 10 years loving you. At least I can now love you always, and with the means I have left behind there is more than enough for a family with one less person. So I chose me.
I know you may not forgive me for an act of selfishness such as this, however in this new paradigm I was thrust into without any guidelines on what to do, desperate times sometimes find good things to come from cowardice acts.
From between the raindrops,
Evening, November 30th 2005*****
J’ never expected that after nearly 10 years of squandering his life away doing a job that not only did he despise, but had been physically damaging him, had been absorbing all the heart and soul and passion he could feed it; after all the time missed with his children and wife throughout the years, that it would end up like this.
“J', Jeff Fimmer, you’ve been laid off. No, you may not get your personal items from your desk, good bye.”
It was then that J’, or “Jeff” as Amy used to call him, fully understood the note left by Deena’s father, and the gravity of the situation he now faced.
Late Night, November 30th 2005*****
When Jeff got home, he didn’t say a word to his wife or his children. Instead he went into the bedroom slowly and methodically. He took out a bottle of high dosage sleeping pills, a pen, and a piece of paper.
On the paper he wrote:
“My dearest and loving family; I never thought in my years of being a man that I would ever be in a position where I could not support you, where I could not keep the roof over your heads, when I could not keep the clothing upon your back nor be able to provide any variation of food for you to eat.”
He then crumpled up the paper, threw it away, and cried the tears of hopelessness.
Every night since that day, after everyone has gone to bed and been tucked in, after everyone is cozy in their slumber, I, Jeff Fimmer, still do cry.
"All computers are garbage. They only contain answers." ~ Pablo Picasso