Monday, October 25, 2010


If you find yourself in my position, where a company tells you to return to the office a few days after terminating you to pick up your severance, you have to look good. We were let go on a Wednesday. By Monday rumors were circulating. It’s expected. Everyone wants to know if you took it well or if there were some fireworks. The last thing you want is for your former coworkers to think you are down and out. That was going to be easy. After the wedding, I felt great and made sure my attire matched my mood.

You don’t want to look to professional. You don’t work for them and you don’t need to impress anyone. What says, “I don’t give a darn”? Denim! That’s right. Now not just any jeans would work. I slipped on those skinny jeans I purchased on a rainy day in Paris last year. You have to let them know you are still a professional; my Benetton blazer please. (I am far from a label whore, but this was a special occasion). You want to show just a little bit of sexy. Something you would never wear to work. I stepped into my leopard stilettos.

Of course I needed my war paint. I pulled out my arsenal of cosmetics. This event required my favorite lip color Cranberry Kiss. I was glad I bought four tubes when Carol’s Daughter discontinued the line this summer. My hair was still freshly done in an up do from the wedding. I was ready.

Almost any way! I needed my business cards. The ones I printed years a few years ago with my company and title, but rarely gave out. That’s right I still had a company. Before I started working for the Organization I made money on my own. I would do that again only better this time.
The elevator door opened. I was greeted by the cold air that always filled the office. It matched the cold blue institutional walls that made it hard to work some days. I kept a small heater by my leg to keep me warm, but there was a slight side effect. I got a tan on the right side of my leg. It took me a week to figure out why I had a dark spotted patch on my brown leg. That’s another reason to be grateful. I don’t have to cook myself! The heater was passed down from a former colleague after her position was eliminated a year ago. She was a ghost of the organization's past, as I called them, and now so was I.

I was disappointed to see the receptionist desk empty, though I was not surprised. This was Cynthia’s lunch time. I was fashionably late for my noon appointment. My comrades and I were scheduled for separate severance appointments 10, 12 and 2. The Organization hoped we didn’t meet talk, or discuss our separate packages. We planned otherwise. I wanted to pass my coveted heater down to Cynthia. She was one of the few people I cared about in left at the Organization. Seeing her warm smile each day was comforting during the most difficult days.

“I’ll be down stairs.” A voice cried out. It was Jonathan. I looked at him and nodded. He disappeared as soon as I acknowledged him. Like everyone working on the executive side, He was on pins and needles. He worked closely with the executives and could not be seen away from his desk chatting away with a former coworker. I would meet him down stairs away from the prying eyes.

The doors to the executive suit opened. Kareem the new program director walked into the lobby.

“Hello”, that was one of three words he said to me since he took over a month earlier. His lack of interest in his staff should have been the first indication something wrong. At the Organization, it is typical for a new director to terminate staff and build a new team.

“How are you? I am here to see HR.” I shook his hand diffusing any fear.
“I’ll get her.” He said. As his short round physique disappeared behind the double doors, another appeared in low hanging jeans with slightly matted lock.

“Miss I heard what happened” It was a former client. The one I would see on 125th Street selling water and other items on the weekends.
“Why? What?“ He asked. Others joined him. There was outrage. There were more questions.

“All three of you?”

“Miss you want me to do something to them. Because I‘ll…”

“No! No! That is not necessary!” I said. It sounded like a joke, but I wouldn’t put anything past some of my clients. I smiled and in my most comforting voice. “It happens. It’s ok.”

“Come on Miss. There are some people who want to see you.” He said practically dragging me to the doors.

“I can’t.” I started explaining to him.

“She’s ready to see you.” Kareem said breaking up the commotion.
I walked back. My escorts didn’t leave my side.
“I’ll be right back. I told them.”

This was it. They told us our severance would be based on years of service. It was time to find out what the long hours, the money I brought into the Organization when I lead the company in placements. However, for some reason I wasn’t expecting much.

I looked into the remorseful eyes of the human resources director.
“Here we are again a year later.” It was an inside joke referencing the last time my position was eliminated. I took a pay cut. I had to. I just bought my condominium and I returned after traveling Europe. I was broke.

“Yeah!” She remembered the incident. I didn’t budge when she told me “you will receive two weeks pay.” I predicted it. It was standard.

I cleared my desk and said my goodbyes sliding my business card into the hands of a select few. “Did you find a new gig already?” My former manager asked looking down at my glossy card. I was going for that effect.
“It’s for my business. I always had a business.” He just lent me his copy of What color is your Parachute. (I know that was a sign.) He’s not getting it back now. I need it more. He still has a job.

As I took my final walk through the lobby I heard. “Miss, Miss!”
I turned to see the same client. “What about my resume?” he said with panic in his voice. “You have to ask management. I can’t do it now.”
“Miss! You were the best” I gave him a thumbs up. It was a small gesture in exchange for what he gave me, confirmation of a job well done. With a little more pep in my step. I exited and walked into my new life.

In the days that followed, I received calls from my former coworkers. Each called with concerns about my general well being. I assured them I would be fine. Then the most interesting call came from Carol a fellow ghost of the Organization’s past. She was experiencing a particularly difficult time, having been terminated. The organization said she was unprofessional. She never received a warning or a write up. Her unemployment issuance was denied. It was another example of an employee being discarded. It was always our fault when there was a problem at the organization and the solution was always to get rid of them.

“Did you hear?” She asked.
“Who?” It was early in the quarter. I assumed there were more layoffs or terminations. “The organization lost the Center.
“What?” There are times when reality is better than fiction. This was one of them. The Center was the Organization’s biggest contract.

In December, 30 employees of the Organization would join me on the same unemployment lines we once ran. I will pray for each one of them. I know they will all find better opportunities, but as for the Organization, I have to say, had it coming.

“God don’t like ugly” Carol said. I agreed.

We lost a job and now they would lose something that would jeopardize the well being of the entire organization. I considered how the conditions would worsen in the months that would follow. The Organization would have to make up for the loss in revenue. There would be salary cuts, less staff, longer hours. I couldn't help but think some how I was spared.

Was it God protecting me and pushing me forward? Was it Karma coming back to the Organization? I believe it’s both, but for our purposes let’s call it… severance!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Wedding Day

The wedding was beautiful and so was the bride. Despite my anxiety, I enjoyed every moment. The last thing I wanted to do days after losing my job was attend a social event. I knew inevitably someone would ask about my profession. It is one of the most common questions asked at gatherings, and I had no clue of how I would answer.

Though I am hopeful (no, certain), I will find love eventually. I do have another 60 (no 70 years on this planet), I have to accept the fact that I will never walk down the aisle with Pop. I will never have a father daughter dance. It was all I wanted when I proposed to The K-Man after Pop was diagnosed with cancer. It wasn't much of a proposal. There was no ring or romance, just a question. After 7 years who needed the formality. Desperate to create a memory and to bring some happiness in a time of pain and uncertainty, I asked him certain he would accept. He told me no. Not in those words exactly more like not yet, we have a lot to work out or some thing like that. I told him I would not forgive him if Pop died. He did. That's how The K- Man became the ex (the abridged version). I promise to give you all of the excruciating details later, but this is not about my day that never happened. This is about my best friend's special day. I was grateful and honored she asked me to be her maid of honor. I know now just how much she loves me and that is a blessing.

I was trying to process my emotions and then I got laid off two days before the big day. What else was I to do? I packed up my bags and baggage hopped on a metro north train bound for Connecticut. I rode off preparing for the question I was certain would come. What do you? What line of work are you in? It's my favorite question to ask? Now it is haunting me. These days its common for someone to answer "I am between jobs right now". I never thought about how that person on the receiving end of my question felt. I have to think of new conversation starters. (If you have any out there let me know.) God is testing me. There is no other explanation for this torture.

I was slouched down in the hair stylist's seat, still exhausted from the rehearsal dinner the night before. I am accompanied by the bride, her mom, Tia another college friend. The Bride had us up at 6AM for a 7AM hair appointment. It was going to be a long day, I made it through the previous nights festivities without having to answer the question. Maybe I could get through the weekend, I thought as she finished washing my hair and escorted me to her chair. It was time to twist my locks. This is usually the time for small talk. "How do you like dresses?" the petite brown woman asked . "Oh they are beautiful, they look great on everyone", the only respectable answer even though it was true. "How long have you known the bride?" "About..." I had to think about it. You never count until. Someone asks. "12 years, we met in college." (I have been out of school for 10 that make sense.) I can't believe it was that long.

"What kind of work do you do?" the dreaded question. I knew it would come sooner or later. I thought about it should I answer, "I am social worker/career advisor". I always loved talking about my job. People found me interesting and caring. "Oh that's wonderful" they would all respond. "Wow it must be so rewarding helping people. I hate my job", a bit of envy in their voice. The truth is it was rewarding. I love working with people and then the hidden benefit of always being the most interesting person at the party.

If I changed the tense to was and said, "I was a social worker", I would probably hear I am sorry from another well meaning person. A discussion on the recession and how everyone is affected would follow. Normally I enjoy discussing the current economic crisis and debating solutions, but not when it revolves around my personal livelihood. That was not going to work.

Then there was... I didn't know could it possibly work. I hadn't said that in such a long time. "I am a writer. I am a performer." I said it and it felt so so good. "Really my daughter is an artist.", she said. " Is she?. I have been doing spoken word for 10 years, and I earn my living performing on college campuses". "Really", she answered. "My daughter is the president of the Black Student Union. She loves spoken word. She would love to see you perform. I am going to tell her to check out your website.

At that moment, it occurred to me all this time I had been claiming the wrong profession. I never intended to to be a social worker. That was just a job I got to pay some bills. No different than waiting a table. I got lost because I loved the work. I am and always will be an artist. Never again will I claim another profession. I don't care if I get elected president of the United States I am going to tell everyone "I am an artist and in my spare time I run the country".

Suddenly I was liberated. I was free. I am not unemployed. I can't be unemployed. It's impossible. Art is my life's work.

At the wedding, I danced. I celebrated. I read my poem. Most importantly, I honored a woman who supported me through all my grief, joys and scatter brained ideas (Including this blog. Actually one of the reasons I am finally writing this is because I can't yap to her while she is on her honeymoon, and I have to tell someone.) I know she will continue to support me. The only thing that has changed is her name. I helped her to live out one of her dreams and now it is time to live mine.

The party continued well into the morning. I danced the night away confident that Entrepreneur/ Artist E is even cooler than Social Worker E.