The Job

“Stop looking at me,” The Missus mockingly complained. “I can’t help it.”

We were at a local café eating lunch Thursday and I was soaking in the moment. Every forkful of salad she put into her mouth was preceded and followed by an irrepressible grin. The smile ran from ear to ear and revealed that my wife has far more teeth than I ever knew could fit into a human mouth.

The reason she was, to use her words, “grinning like an idiot” was because today she starts a new job. It’s closer to home. It’s more responsibility. It involves doing things with her degree. It carries with it managerial capacity.

And she’s at the U.

For the past six months, every day she’d come home from her job bone tired and maudlin. She broke down twice in that time period, begging me to let her quit. Each time, the reality of her situation eventually sunk in and she pressed on, knowing she needed an Option B before Option A could be told to go screw itself.

Today, she starts.

Today, as she noted repeatedly during our lunch, “Everything around me just feels fresh and new and amazing.”

The food tasted better.

The clothes she wore felt nicer.

The plants she was growing seemed healthier.

Heck, I probably seemed like less of a dink.

It wasn’t the money or the change in scenery or the ability to be closer to home. It was the sense that she now mattered to people. Her current job has people who are asking, “So when can you come talk to us? How can we help you? Do you need anything?”

It was a sense that she was alive.

About a week or so ago, the phone rang and Mom was on the other end. She was calling to chat before she left for Easter Break on a much-needed vacation.

In February, she had been told she’d be getting her contract for the 2012-13 school year in about a week. She had a choice: Sign it and face the unknown of what Governor Deadeyes might do to educators’ rights or decline and retire.

She went back and forth as the contract kept getting delayed. For her, it wasn’t a question of money. She and my father aren’t rich, but they were amazingly smart with their money. Dad rode the last wave of American Prosperity to a full pension and a good 401K. Mom was part of the State Teachers Retirement Fund.

It wasn’t a “work or don’t eat” kind of situation. In fact, the one thing that their financial adviser ever said that my mother just railed against him for was the time he noted, “Well, based on how set up you are, all I’m doing is basically managing your kid’s inheritance.”

And that’s what was really bugging her about this contract.

Over the years, she and her fellow teachers made sacrifices for the sake of a promise of what was to come. They often agreed to terms in which they took little or no raise in a year, instead agreeing to have the district cover part of their pension or sweeten the retirement pot.

She told me on several occasions, “I HAVE to retire this year. I worked too hard to get my retirement set up just to have them take it away from me.”

For most people, it would be a no-brainer.

Fuck ‘em. Quit. Live out the sweet life.

She had told me on several occasions I had to help her write a letter that would tell her boss she was resigning at the end of the year and taking retirement. She told me she didn’t know what goes into a letter like that.

It then dawned on me that she had never written a letter of resignation in her life.

She never had to. She’d been in the same place for more than 40 years.

I had gone through several drafts in my head and began pondering them again when she called.

We began with the small talk: How was the packing going? What did she think of the trip she’d be taking? How was Dad?

Near the end, she paused.

“I got my contract.”

I could feel every nerve in my body tense.

“I signed it. I’m in for another year.”

“Wait. What?” I asked as my heart stopped slamming against my breastbone.

“I talked to my boss. He said he wanted me to stay as long as I wanted to stay and that I didn’t have to do a few extracurricular things I didn’t want to do. He also said I was “redlined” this year, which has something to do with what they can and can’t do with my pension. I guess we’ll see.”

“How do you feel about that?” I asked, knowing that every journalism teacher I ever had in my life would slap the crap out of me for asking that question.

“Lighter,” she said with a smile I could hear. “I feel a lot lighter.”

I don’t know Khristopher Brooks, but I know a lot of kids like him. They sit in my classroom every day and learn how to turn hyperbole and spin into news that doesn’t suck. They crowd into my office and flood the newsroom, seeking that slice of experience and that little bit of information that will help them get a leg up as they careen toward graduation.

They hopefully pack together a set of clips, a cover letter and a resume and send it off to every third-rate newspaper, every half-assed magazine and every website that needs a blogger, knowing full well that 1,000 other people are doing the same thing.

They are operating under a crush of student loans, the expectations of being the first generation to attend college and the sense that the applicants are many while the jobs are few.

And yet when they get that offer at the Beaver County Tidbit, they come storming into my office like they just won the lottery. They have a look of unbridled joy on their faces as they explain how they’ll be covering the school board, county government, weekend cops and the occasional hog roast at the Piggly Wiggly Parade of Pork all for about $8.50 an hour.

They bounce up and down and if I knew for sure I wouldn’t get fired for it, I’d give each of them a hug. Instead, I smile back and just get this great contact high from their passion.

That’s why what happened to Brooks should be viewed as a criminal act and someone should kick the unnamed “publisher, HR and corporate” assholes in their collective balls. They should be named, called out and shamed into giving this kid anything and everything on Earth.

If you missed it, read the story.I’ll wait. When you’re done throwing up, let me know.

In that moment of unbridled joy that rarely befalls anyone, let alone a guy who is going to work for a newspaper in Wilmington, Delaware, Brooks wrote a nice tongue-in-cheek press release on his blog, stating that he had been “signed” by the paper. It was a perfect “wink” of a press release that you’d see whenever a team signed a free agent. It was cute, it was funny and it in no way cast any disrespect or aspersions on the paper.

About 20 minutes after the Gannett Posse discovered the post, Brooks got a call. His offer of employment had been rescinded.

In short, he was fired before he even started. The crime? “Using the company’s logo on my personal blog and quoting the executive editor from my job offer letter.”

Fortunately for Brooks, Seal Team 6 was otherwise occupied when he committed his heinous crime.

He begged the paper to reconsider, telling the editor he’d take the post down, he’d have Romenesko take his post down and that would be it. No harm, no foul.

The editor said no dice. This was coming from people far above his pay grade.

Romenesko wanted Brooks to write something for the site. Here was Brooks’ reaction:

Romenesko apologized for what happened and asked if I wanted to write a few lines as reaction. I couldn’t. I was feeling numb. A few minutes earlier, I was hungry, but suddenly I had lost my appetite. All I could think was: maybe the News Journal wasn’t the right fit.

But I couldn’t fully bring myself to believe that. I thought the News Journal would be the perfect step for me. When I met David Ledford, the executive editor, we got along very well. And I’ll still go on the record as saying I really like that guy. I was starting to interact with my fellow reporters on Twitter and I was lining up apartments to view this Friday. Everything was looking thumbs-up, so why did this happen?

The kid noted he already received dozens of job offers from all over the country. His Twitter feed picked up some serious steam. He isn’t bitter and he’s just trying to get a grip on all of this.

Fine. I’ll be bitter for him.

How dare you miserable cocksuckers take away this kid’s moment of joy?

Who the hell do you think you are, giving him that “first job” golden moment and then snatching it away and leaving him with a mouthful of ashes for his trouble?

I hope you bastards are always known as “that paper full of assholes that fired that kid for being happy.”

Whatever evil befalls you, it won’t be enough.

You took a sliver of his soul away that day.

I remember the first time I got “the job offer.”

Gainful employment outside of school.

A first step on a career path.

I had applied for the job as a joke and figured I’d never make it. The interview went so poorly, I asked the grad student who was responsible for shuttling me around to take me some place to buy a school T-shirt. The reason? I knew I was never coming back here.

During an interview with my would-be boss, a man who was well known in the field and who was the object of my undying respect, he turned to me and said, “I have four applicants for this job and everybody is more qualified than you.”

I don’t know what the hell happened between that moment and the day I got the offer, but when I called in to check my answering machine messages, I had a call from him, telling me to give him a ring when I got a chance.

I ran down the hall from the lab I was supervising to the student paper to borrow a phone. When I got a hold of him, he laid out the terms of employment in this matter-of-fact way, including health care, dental, vacation and so forth.

I still have no idea what he said after, “I’d like to offer you the job…” He might have told me I’d need to lick his car clean every day. If he had, I would not have hesitated.

I staggered out into the main part of the newsroom, unable to feel my legs. My head was fuzzy and I swear I was going to pass out.

I finally fell into a chair. When a concerned editor asked me if I needed help, I just smiled.

“I got the job…”

Jobs are funny. We love them. We hate them. We want them. We want to leave them.

Not all jobs are created equal in terms of money, societal value or esteem. We vary on how we feel about certain people in certain jobs. For example, we’re not all that fond of police officers when they pull us over, but in a crisis when we’re fearful, they become our best friends for a fleeting moment.

When an ice storm knocked out power to about 95 percent of Northwest Indiana one year, The Missus and I huddled in our house, sustained by the warmth of a kerosene heater and the hope that power would come back soon. When we saw the electric worker walking through our yard to the power pole, we put on boots and coats and ran out to thank him and offer him a beer. I’m sure we would have hugged him, had we not already freaked him out. His job was our salvation.

I’ve often said that money isn’t everything but it beats the shit out of whatever comes in second. It’s more pithy than true, as I could more than double my salary if I left the friendly confines of Fitzwalkerstan and headed to Texas or Oklahoma or some other place where you can fit a tea service on your belt buckle. I could also go into data analysis and research and probably triple what I make.

Instead, I’m here and I’m happy. I matter.

That’s all the Missus wanted as well. When the lady doing the hiring started talking about pay, she kind of tuned out. The job, she said, was what drew her here.

It’s the same with Mom. She could be a sub or go do something else. She could follow my father as he sought out the daily bargains at Walgreens or he went on the quest for the cheapest Diet Coke in Milwaukee County. Instead, she’s going back because she can’t imagine doing anything else.

It’s why I just hurt for Khristopher Brooks, even though I’ve never met him. He mattered for a moment only to be told later, “Sorry, but we decided to be dickheads about this. Maybe we’ll see you at a job fair this year.” He even loved the job after he had been told he couldn’t have it anymore.

If there’s one thing that ever captured my sense of a job, it was this clip from the movie, “Dave.” Kevin Kline’s character makes a pretty astute observation about how people react when they get to work and they get to matter.

He’s also right that you never know what you can do until you try.

I went upstairs around 10:30 last night to see how the Missus was doing. I figured I’d need to get her to relax, to wind down and to understand that she needed to sleep. Instead, I found her curled up in bed, passed out with her Nook in her hand and the light still on. The puddle of drool on her pillow indicated she’d been in this position for some time.

I took away the Nook, shut off the light and climbed into bed. My sleep was less restful than hers, for sure. I kept having dreams that she overslept or that something had happened to the car. I set my alarm on my day off so that I could back-stop hers just in case the power went out.

When she woke up, I’d been awake for hours. She still had her “idiot” grin on and a new dress to match. When she left, the Midget and I called after her.

“Have a great day at your new job!”

She paused.

“I will.”

4 thoughts on “The Job

  1. >>Heck, I probably seemed like less of a dink.<<
    From the stories I've heard from A, I somehow doubt this.
    Great post and big congrats to da Missus.

  2. Thanks for posting this. I’ll see that some others get to appreciate it, too.

  3. I’m sorry to say, but I agree with the majority of the commenters at HuffPo about Khristopher Brooks — how can anybody hit adulthood in this culture and not know that corporate types are touchy and have zero sense of humour, and a hyperinflated sense of what looks “damaging” to the company? I mean, fuck, I’m a technical writer and in my last job, I was told not to use the word “bugfix” in my release notes (despite the fact thatevery software company on the planet uses the word “bugfix” in their documentation), because, according to the suits in charge, “that makes it look as though our software is crappy.”
    I never, ever refer to my work by name on the internet. According to the internet, I work for a nonexistent company named Posh, Inc. Which of course is not the real name of my employer. I thought everyone over about the age of four knew that. Modern corporate culture isalways looking for offense. When I took a business course, one of my instructors said that if you run your own business, you should never do anything you’d be ashamed to be written up about on the front page of the New York Times. Good advice, and I recommend people stick to it when dealing with their employers. Not that I particularlylike the status quo, but I’m also not able to wave a magic wand and change it, either.
    Also, like, just judging by the way he writes, dude needs to get over himself in a big way.

  4. Man, I love your writing. Congrats to your wife. I hope her job keeps that smile on her face for a long, long time.

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