Bureaucracy for Breakfast

Laughing at the economic divide. Featured on NPR, AOL News & Chelsea Handler

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vol. I: “Do you have any hope?”

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You know that old song, “Take This Job and Shove It?” The one sung by some dude named Johnny Paycheck, about a man fed up with working long, hard hours for a lame fat-cat boss? A few months before I got laid off, when I was in the la-la land of believing my job was super secure, I started thinking about that song. See, I felt lucky to have a job in this economy, but I wanted out. I was sick of working for “The Man,” whether that man was a woman or a dude or a tranny, didn’t matter. I felt trapped. So I started humming that Johnny Paycheck song, sadly realizing that when that song was popular, people could have those fantasies of telling a boss to “shove it!” and strutting out of the office smiling, head held high, knowing there would be another, better job right around the corner. These days? Not so much.

We can’t really tell our bosses to shove it. We have to hold on, sit tight, and pray we don’t get laid off even though we secretly, maybe even desperately, want out. I hummed that song quietly, wishing I could strut giddily out of the office like I was living in some sappy 80s movie with a rollicking soundtrack and poufy-haired actors. I hummed it until they shoved me, right out of my job.

I’m sure a lot of you know the drill. Boss calls you in. You have that queasy feeling because if you aren’t just a little paranoid about losing your job in this economy you’re possibly delusional. You sit facing your poker-faced boss. You KNOW what’s coming. For me, even though I wanted out of what I was doing, I felt sick. I felt scared. Confused. And, deep down, kinda excited. But mostly queasy. And a little betrayed. I’d never been laid off or fired before. I had worked my ass off for two years, what the fuck?! I had just gotten a freaking raise and promotion! I was dispensable? After all that? Yep. Welcome to 2010.

My boss said they were “restructuring the department.” I just love this veiled corporate lingo. The queasiness started to give way to little bubbles of excitement that were floating into my consciousness. OK, so I wouldn’t have a paycheck. Or health insurance. Or an expense account. Or a neat little swipey card to get me into the building. But… I would have FREEDOM!

I stifled a Cheshire cat sized grin and asked, “I’m not sure what to do here. Should I pack my stuff and get out? Or go back to work?” I was having celluloid inspired fantasies of weepily packing a bankers box with my “personal effects,” (of course there would be a sad little plant poking out the top) as colleagues passed by my desk saying how awful and unfair it was, them laying me off, where was their loyalty?! Etc etc… But that’s what happens in the movies. This was, of course, real. We didn’t have any bankers boxes. And I didn’t have a plant.

My boss told me to “work” the rest of the week, so I could get all my vacation days (pretty cool of her I must say). But once I walked out of her office it was real, real hard to go back, sit at my desk, and do any sort of work for this company that had shoved me out. I sat there, staring at the phone, at my laptop and post-it notes and the piles of scripts and books and DVDs I had accumulated over two years, stunned. I had no clue what to do, but hearing the big bosses on their oh-so-important phone calls, going about their business, just pissed me off. So I stood up, shut down my laptop, grabbed my purse, and left.

It was gorgeous, warm and sunny in Los Angeles and I rolled down the windows, blared Wolfmother, and texted all my friends in Venice who were either also unemployed or freelance, who I knew would be able to meet me for drinks, lots of drinks, at 4pm on a Tuesday! I was part of their club now! The “I can do whatever the hell I want, like sit by the beach and have a weekday beer while the sun is still out!” club. The “I can sleep past 6:30am!“ club. The “I can wear pajamas all day!” club.

Ah, I was so naïve then, in those early days of laid-off-ness. Little did I know that just around the corner lurked things like dealing with the EDD first thing in the morning (if you’ve gotten unemployment “insurance,” you know EDD all too well- I just love it that on the form they call it your “unemployment insurance award”, like it’s akin to getting an Oscar), getting parking tickets you can’t afford because your car USED to be parked in a secure garage every weekday, freeing you from thinking of evil things like street cleaning. There’s also the strange phenomenon of suddenly having every waking hour free. At first that prospect is amazing – you can do whatever the hell you want – but eventually, if you don’t learn to be productive and create some sort of schedule, you may just find yourself – after 2pm drinks with your other unemployed friends – flipping through Us Weekly and watching things you never watched before, like Millionaire Matchmaker and Monster Quest, slipping into a minor depression, wondering if you’ll end up waiting tables again after getting a debt-heavy masters degree and having a fancy title like “executive.” But all of this came later. Those first few days of freedom reminded me that even though my job was secure, it wasn’t what I truly wanted to do with my life. Maybe my new years resolution of “I will leave (insert name of company here) this year” actually came true, only they did it for me. The universe does work in funny ways like that, as they say.

When you’re newly laid off I think it’s important to give yourself a week or even a few weeks to just BE. To relax and take a deep breath and not stress about the fact that it is utterly impossible to get through to the EDD to ask them about your unemployment checks. This is very difficult, I know. One lesson I learned: forget about calling the EDD. And don’t try to be sneaky by calling the Vietnamese number, hoping you’ll get a bilingual person on the line. They don’t pick up either. Just email the fuckers. They’ll get back to you… eventually.

So at first I celebrated my new identity as a free agent, and thought of all the things I could finally do, now that I had the time, like WRITE. I went to the beach. I read Vogue and Elle and any old mindless thing I could. I started cooking again. I was feeling pretty great. Positive even. Like the world was mine to explore! Then my 93-year-old grandfather, Big Papa (yes, really) called. I picked up the phone and sauntered outside into the sunlight to have what I was sure would be an encouraging pep-talk type conversation. I mean, he was my grandfather, right? Family is supposed to lift us up and make us feel real good, right? The conversation went something like this:

Big Papa: “So I heard you got laid off honey.”

Me: “Yeah, a few days ago. But I think it’s a positive thing really.”

Big Papa: “Honey?”

Me: “Yes?”

Big Papa: “Do you have any hope?”

Me: “Um…”

I guess, in retrospect, that was a pretty fair question.

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