Monday, November 17, 2008

Changing Times

by Mike Crawmer

The times, they are a-changing….and, contrary to the wonderful results of the recent election, not necessarily in a good way.  Your everyday working stiff is taking a bit of beating.  If our economic crystal-ball gazers have it right, that beating has just begun. 

I can’t write about the impact the global economic and fiscal meltdown is having on the publishing industry.  Let’s hope little--maybe in troubled times people escape into fiction.  I do know from my obsessive reading of the news that some businesses have caught a bad cold (retailers, construction, even some law firms) while others have succumbed to fatal heart attacks (Lehman Brothers, Mrs. Fields, Sharper Image, etc.). 

This week, the company that gives me a paycheck every two weeks caught a bit of a cold.  It was rather sudden.  Just two months ago we were celebrating our biggest revenue-producing year ever.  Everyone knew an economic bug was floating around, but the powers-that-be reassured us that we were positioned to weather the fast-spreading fiscal disease.

Well, so much for reassurances.  Yesterday, we learned that 50 of our fellow “associates” (a weasel word if there ever was one) had been “laid off” (another euphemism, rather like saying “passed away” for “died”).  The corporate leaders took a significant pay cut (though we grunts were spared that, for now), and certain financial goodies were cut or reduced in size.  

For a few hours after the announcement, the offices were eerily quiet, making the numbing sub-roar of the white noise flowing out of the HVAC system only that much more irritating.  Then, by quitting time I heard something that sounded suspiciously like laughter.  I should know today if that was a fluke or if we’re over the shock and getting on with life.  

Who knows how long this new “normal” will last.  Apparently, one of the company’s biggest clients—a major U.S. automaker reportedly on the edge of bankruptcy—has yet to pay off its breathtakingly large invoice.  I’d be willing to bet we can kiss that money good-bye. 

So, what’s all this have to do with my WIP?  Little, I hope.  After all, in the great scheme of things, my company’s woes are less than the bat of one eyelash.  But it is one more distraction I don’t need after coming off several months of obsessive fascination with the presidential campaign.  I do know that watching my characters grow and develop and get in and out of trouble on the computer screen is blessed break from the litany of bad news coming out of Wall Street and newspaper headlines, and now our corporate offices.  So, for that I’m thankful.


Tory said...

I remember working for UPMC and going through three rounds of lay-offs. What was particularly demoralizing was how some hard-working person making $25K was always laid off, and some person making $90K who had worked 3- and 4-day weeks for the past five years was kept on.

At the current organization I work for, all the lay-offs I've seen are for people whose jobs aren't really needed, who are lazy, and have nasty temperments. I can't say it's fun to see anyone laid off, but it does seem to be easier for me to take if there's some sense of fairness involved.

Annette said...

Oh, Mike, you've hit on one of those topics that make me stick my fingers in my ears and go "la-la-la-la." I keep telling myself that my husband has been at his current job since 1977, that he's survived other economic "resessions" with his job and paycheck in tact. But with new owners at the helm, who knows?

But you're so right about the wip being an escape. Take out all your frustrations on your characters. I sure am.

Joyce said...

I went to Prime Outlets in Grove City two weeks ago. Because of news reports that no one was buying anything and retail sales were nil, I expected the place to be empty.

I was surprised to see it was packed. And people were buying, too. Most people had multiple shopping bags. There were busloads of "tourists" who were being dropped off to shop. So either people are saying "screw the economy, I'm shopping anyway," or else the news isn't quite as bad as the media is making it out to be.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Jeff, a topic that's been on my mind for about 6 months. I work for the last big American Beer Company that has been a great and steady employer.

Now the ruthless Brazilian management team of the Belgian based comglomerate is ready to take control and EVERYBODY in my building is expecting the worst. Instead of Christmas bonuses, we are likely to receive pink slips.

I haven't been unemployed since I was 15 years old. And while I'm in better shape than a lot of people, it still sucks.

AND I've found that the situation sucks the creativity right out of me. I'm dragging on my WIP and I just want to move on.

Gina said...

I can chime in as the voice of experience, having been down-sized out of the job I'd held for more than eighteen years last summer. There is life after lay-off. [Although technically I wasn't "laid off" - they just made me an offer I couldn't refuse: "take an early retirement or be laid off." I took the early retirement and had another job within 6 days.] So dust off your resume just in case and remember to cross your fingers, because the difference between those who find new employment and those who don't seems to be purely a matter of luck.

mike said...

Joyce--I know what you mean. I think the "recession" is hitting some parts of the country harder than others. Same with foreclosures and falling house prices...our area's been spared the worst apparently because the local population is relatively risk averse (no surprise there!).

Losing my job in D.C. in '77 was a shock to my ego, but it really was a blessing, freeing me to move to Pittsburgh. Absolutely no regrets about that.

Annette and Will--got my fingers crossed for you both.

Dana King said...

Thanks, Mike. This post strikes a nerve with me. It may be just me, but it still stings.

Growing up in Western Pennsylvania in the late Sixties and Seventies, getting "laid off" meant you were coming back. Orders at the mill might be down, or they needed to re-tool, or the furnaces needed maintenance, but you'd be off for a few weeks--maybe a few months if times were bad--but you fully expected to return.

I was "laid off" myself several years ago, with a severance package. They can dress it up however they want, but none of us were ever being invited back. We were fired, terminated, riffed, whatever you want to call it. Softening the language by calling it a lay-odd didn't impress my landlord, or make it any easier to find another job.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Well, as of 9:00 AM CST I now work for the world's largest brewer and 3rd largest consumer products group in the world. I'll likely only have that experience for a few days (Hell, maybe hours), but hey, it's goin' on the resume.