Monday, June 22, 2009

Meaningless Acts

I had half decided not to go to work today it being Monday without anything to do except to mark time. But there were a number of administrative tasks like using the copier machine for my own purposes and plunking down a few heavy envelopes in the outgoing mail tray. Call them last minute acts of meaningless sabotage, but mostly, I had an eye to saving money, and being a warm summer day, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to do some laps at the gym. I took my usual route downtown, noticing fewer cars, wondering if it’s because people have left for vacation or just left, probably both, I said to myself as I passed Patrick standing in front of Colonial Donuts and selling Street Spirit. After several years of occupying this same spot, he’s developed a group of regulars, like myself, who buy the homeless paper from him in the morning on the way to coffee. I’ve already told him that I’ve been laid-off.

“Oh, no,” he said. “They’re taking away all my customers.”

Past the sentry of Patrick is the Blue Sky Pot Club, one of many cannabis outlets in downtown Oakland, which as a city of pot clubs, is trying to fashion itself as the Amsterdam of the United States. Already, a group is gathered outside its doors waiting for the club to open. Old people, young people, some in wheelchairs, all colors, men and women. I drive around the corner and use my pass to open the security gate of the parking lot. Swiping the badge becomes a recognizable gesture, not part of an endless routine that has composed my years at this place. I’m actually starting to like the idea of leaving. It makes me feel less encrusted.

Soon I’m upstairs and discover that JL, the man who hired me, has sent an Outlook invitation for lunch. I’m not really dressed today, just jeans and a polo, but why not, although it does mess up my plans to leave the office by noon. I need to stop at the vet’s and pick up medicine for my cat’s thyroid, plus my boyfriend’s coming home today from Memphis. But I recognize that closure makes its demands. I send JL a message and accept his invitation. I’m outside his office at the appointed time of 11:45am. He’s on the phone. He’s always on the phone, or in the middle of a conference call, or talking to someone else who’s in his office. I wave to him hopefully and he gives me the “one-minute” sign. At noon, I’m still waiting outside and do what’s I’ve ben wanting to do for these past seven years: I head for the elevator and let his administrative aide know that he can call me when he’s ready.

“I’m sorry,” she tells me. “Some things don’t change.”

Back at my desk, I make no small bones about my annoyance and let everyone around me in cubicle-land hear about it. For my outgoing luncheon, I had hoped that things would be different. But really, why should they be? I’m the underdog and my co-workers are rooting for me. In five minutes I receive the message that JL’s ready.

“I’m going to make him wait for me!” I announce. I know, it’s pitiful, these small, insignificant acts of retribution. But what the heck. They make me feel better.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

To My Mother on Father's Day

Years went by and I didn't realize
how many of the married set
had demagnetized connections.
Not you. Whenever you walked,
you placed your hand inside his back pocket
and anchored yourself there, half-joking
calling him Lord and Master
while he shook his head, right,
named you Toots,
made your eyes glow with indoor lighting.
I wanted as much.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Big Count-Down

After more than a year of waiting to hear the word from on high, I received the dreaded laid-off notice. Now I'm copying email addresses and phone numbers of people I want to stay in contact with post bootox. In the meantime, I’ve got one more week left on the payroll before filing for unemployment. In my newly laid-off status, I've become a member of the American mainstream. Oh joy. Having completed all outstanding work and with tons of sick leave on the books, I’m still able to use a fast Internet connection at my desk in case I want to register with agencies and look for work. I know people on my crowded floor have their eye on my cubicle space. The other day, someone wanted to know about my desk stand. I'm already being dismembered. The lesson here: none of us are indispensable.

Mostly, it’s a chore to come to work. I'm now a pariah. Employees look away from me in the elevator. They don’t know what to say. I’m an uncomfortable reminder that they, too, may, receive similar news, and pray that the Angel of Unemployment will pass over their cubicle wall. Of course, friends have taken me aside to let me know that whatever I may think, I am one of the lucky ones, released from the bondage of paying into a 401K plan and saving for retirement, which has been the adult, responsible thing to do, suddenly out there on my own and free to make new choices. I’m not ready to make choices. All I know is that my monthly balance sheet is not looking too good.

After years of being compressed into an 8 to 5 format, I just want to repot some root-bound plants on my patio ledge and catch up with doing the wash. I did toy with the idea of buying a franchise for a gourmet peanut and butter business on the West Coast where none are located, or applying for a $30,000 grant from something called the Metanexus Institute, which had a nice George Orwellian ring to it. But within minutes, I thought better of either prospect and decided that the smart thing to do was to get a haircut and a pedicure. I owed that much to myself, and to any upcoming job interviews. So I spent the afternoon sitting in a chair in front of a mirror while Richard trimmed my hair and then drove down the hill to the pedicure salon where my feet were soaked, sanded, and daintily painted with a new coral polish. My friend who is contemplating retirement came over my house where we saved money by cooking dinner together and drinking a bottle of wine.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Countdown to Layoff

The countdown. Tomorrow is Friday before my last full week when I springboard to a some new place in my life, but probably doing the same thing I have been doing, which is working out problems on a blackboard the size of a laptop screen. Right now it is evening, past the time for any reality show to distract me with its nightly eliminations, and toward the end of June when days are the longest and plants on my patio are the greenest, especially the tomatoes. My cats have settled down for the evening on the Ikea POÄNG, a chair that curves in two directions and then rests on a strong center of gravity. Evening hum of the refrigerator and the flapping of the cat door. My shoulder muscles ache from the endless clicking of a mouse. I want to learn how to do something else with my hands.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I Tell My Mother How I Found Love

I fell for my husband
like a suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge.
It wasn't a great marriage.

When he held me,
pleasure ripped across the surface of my face.

A convention of seagulls
told me to scavenge for a key.
From there, everything snowballed.

I discovered the mathematics of randomness.
Zeros and ones
like flowers, candles, and photographs

framed in red cinnamon hearts.
Amid fire, these ones
occupied a street corner. I drew three cards,

which is how I met him.
My eyes shone topaz. I tasted help
in his emergency numbers.

He showed me how to eat the moon
and came back in a few minutes
with a warm pair of gloves.

Clearing Out

As soon as I heard that I was to be laid off, I removed all signs of myself from my in- and outfacing cubicle walls. This included framed photographs of my children, flyers of upcoming poetry readings, flow charts of President Barack Obama’s cabinet that I had received in Washington, D.C. at his inauguration, and an assembly of mementos that marked my participation as a clown in the City of Oakland’s last Holiday Parade, as well as the program from the public funeral of four police officers at the Oracle Arena earlier in the year. Email addresses and phone numbers of division superintendents took a nosedive into the circular file (I scored it as a 10), which was the institutional dark green color of all wastebaskets. Of course, Ikea probably sells red and blue and multicolored wastepaper baskets. I made a note a check the next time I went there to buy tea candles, but figured it that would be some time before I'd get there.

It was easy to clean out my desk drawers. Mostly I had used the space to store extra napkins from lunch. Then there were two drawers of file cabinets with remnants of projects I had worked on during my tenure as Web Project Manager; did I forget to say what I did? Or have I already forgotten? There were folders of contract information from the developers in Chicago. Flowcharts, needs analyses, and all kinds of what nots. Except for files from Human Resources with information about my 401K account, I figured I could easily abandon that information to be absorbed into some vast institutional memory, shapeless and inflated with meetings. What need had I for paper when I could copy my electronic files to flash memory and comport them to my laptop at home?

I observed my handiwork. There was no longer any me there. I was a California poppy who had folded up shop. It was only a matter of weeks before I took the final step: returned my Identification badge, handed over my cell phone, and said good-bye. In the meantime, I wondered if anyone in management would say, “Thank you.” I knew better. The whole thing was so depressing.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Layoffs and Domestic Partners

They’ve murdered my life and I’m sitting bleeding. The weapon? A layoff letter that ended seven and a half years of working as a Web Master with a bus company. Everything is over. Financial stability is threatened at its root. My routine has become an empty shell, a discarded skin as my flesh is laid bare to the ravages of the sun without protection. No more regular checks rolling in on a biweekly basis. No more ease in paying bills. The question of what to do about two more years of college tuition for a daughter who will be taking finals soon and completing her sophomore year. My head hurts.

Now someone is talking to me but I can’t make any sense of it. Except for the buzzing of something that sounds like a swarm of mosquitoes, I understand three words: “No More Job.”

I heard about my layoff before my manager had been informed. For the past year the newly entrenched Information Services Department as they liked to be called instead of the more off-putting “Information Technology Group,” had gobbled up my job. (Ever hear of the “peace keepers” as part of the U.S. military arsenal? Same story here.) Instead of letting me know what was happening, the hyenas slowly fed on my carcass tying my hand to a mouse pad for about a year before pushing my bones out the door. It was a prolonged misery. But who said that communication was one of the hallmarks of geeks? Or for that matter an agency whose idea of communication was to inform employees about any upcoming memorial service for a deceased retiree?

One afternoon just before the close of the fiscal year I received a call from a union member to come downstairs to her office. As a member of the union board’s executive team, I surmised that the phone call had something to do with layoffs, an item which we had discussed for the last several meetings. I was right about the layoff part. Only this time, it was my own funeral. Actually, we were scheduled to have an exec board meeting the following day, and the team didn’t want me to sit down at the table to discover my name inscribed on the layoff list. I was both dead and alive and not wanted.

Back on my floor and not far from the cubicle, which up until that time I had called home, I approached my new manager. Recently, I had been transferred from one department into her Marketing domain, and asked if I still were to be a part of her team in the coming new fiscal year. She smiled and reassured me. “What’s the matter?” she said. “Did you think you were going to fall through the cracks?” I weakly smiled yes, how could she guess, I was concerned about that very outcome.

The union protested. Management countered. Back and forth around the meeting pole we went. On the third day of what seemed like my inevitable layoff, I went home and sat on the couch to watch the evening news and did everything I usually do to get myself ready for bed. Brushed my teeth. Threw my dirty clothes in the wash. Opened the refrigerator door and closed it again. Finally, I wound myself in my covers and found a place next to my partner.

Several hours later, I was still listening to the cars screech down the hill outside my condo. Saying I could not sleep would be an understatement. My head was an airplane terminal and everything flying above me was crashing into everything else. There were no air traffic controllers. They had all been laid off. I was feeling murdered all over again and resolved to leave the bedroom so as not to wake up my boyfriend who had to rise at 5:30am in the morning. I removed myself to what use to be my daughter’s bedroom and fell out on the futon. It was not a safe landing. Gripping the blankets I began to sob, to shake, to wail. My cat got up from the corner of the room where she was sleeping, blinked at me with iridescent green eyes, and then walked outside to the living room.

How could this happen to me? How was I going to get my daughter through college? How could I let my children down this way? How was I going to reinvent myself, particularly in this job market? How was I going to compete in middle age? How was I going to pay my bills? Followed by: Why didn’t the mothers of executive management teach them to say ‘thank you?’ How I would never come back to work even if they begged me, crying how they had made a terrible mistake. How the management of the IT or IS department or whatever else they wanted to call themselves were a bunch of self-important creeps. But mostly, I felt afraid.

I crept back into the bedroom. My boyfriend grabbed me. He held me. He talked to me. He did all the right things. He told me everything was going to be all right and I believed him. I really did.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

To My Younger Mother

Never thought I'd be older than you,
already can see the monster who approaches
with eyes glittering, the one who pulls
my ear to the ground and says,
Come here little girl. I figure this homey
doesn't know what he's raving about,
beside, you warned me never to talk to strangers.

It's not the kind of Death I want, especially
if I have any say in the matter. Mine is more
like the outer edge of spring just before summer
when the Oakland hills go totally limeade,
a purity of growth that leaps from planter boxes,
begonia blossoms so pink,
just looking at them can make your heart stop.