Let me take you back to the night in question, February 27. A Friday, and I’m going home later than usual.
But not because I had to work late.
I’m a little buzzed, actually, because a group of former coworkers and I went to nearby Steak Frites for whiskey and beer. After we part company for good over the rain-slicked sidewalk, I finish my fourth and final cigarette for the evening on the walk home; I vow to quit my lingering, “social smoker” habit.
Soon the bustling energy of Houston Street on a Friday night washes over me. It’s something I know well. Used to, anyway. I look at all these meticulously dressed-down people in their twenties and thirties. A few happily rootless fortysomethings, grayer and paunchier, float through the younger group’s orbit. All of them making plans and meeting up. All of them ignorant of, or indifferent to, the economy crashing down around them.
Not me, though. I just got laid off.
= = =
That’s why we went for drinks.
Some of us got whacked, others survived, but now they’re all “former coworkers.” And we all knew something was up. Weeks earlier, a fee dispute between our client and the agency’s higher-ups had prompted the client to take its business to another shop.
Besides, the timing of Feb. 27 was too perfect. End of the week, end of the month, end of the pay period. Even the benefits drying up dovetailed nicely. There’d been some superstitious chatter among my coworkers and I that the ax would fall Jason-style on Friday the 13th. But that date came and went without incident. Yet the suspense continued to build.
I take my time getting home. My wife asked me to pick up dinner (“Whatever you want,” she said. “This is your night.”) Before I go to Puebla Mexican up on First Avenue for tortas, I stop by Bowery & Vine Wine & Spirits around the corner from Whole Foods. I know there’s at least one magnum of red wine that sells for less than ten beans.
Inside, I compare a light montepulciano to a bold chianti and go over the day in my head. I think about the dozen of us or so who got jettisoned and the lucky scores allowed to remain aboard. It’s like The Office with an uncredited rewrite by Agatha Christie.
My pal in the traffic department Klodet actually teared up. Her officemate Neal gave me a remarkably crushing bear hug for such a sweet-natured man. I returned to my office after making a round of good-byes in the studio… only to find Carolyn, an office support staffer, and Aleesha, a junior account woman, going through my things.
“I’m not even gone yet!” I mock-shouted from the doorway, startling them.
“Tim!” they cried. “We thought you left without saying good-bye!”
They weren’t ransacking my pen-and-pencil organizer or unplugging my THX computer speakers, though. Hardly. They were scribbling farewell notes to me on Post-Its. Just in case I came back.
Tonight calls for the strength of a chianti, I decide.
I think of my friend and sometime mentor from across the hall, a legendary copywriter and creative director named Harold. Once upon a time he helped craft the still-in-use tagline “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” as well as the iconic Kool-Aid pitcher that used to come exploding through walls.
This morning I informed him that I was being let go following the disbanding of my team. Harold’s gray-mustachioed mouth went slack and his eyes ballooned inside his dark-framed glasses. But Harold isn’t one for crying. In fact, he could always make me laugh—even today. He let the news sink in. Then he nodded at my Iron Maiden concert T with its battle-helmeted skeleton and demon Eddie, and he snapped, “Well, at least you wore the right shirt.”
Unlike Harold, most in the office teed up familiar sayings for the occasion. As in, “one door closes, another opens.” Or “everything happens for a reason.” And then there’s the ever-popular “I’m sure it’ll be for the best in the long run.” I acknowledge that these folks mean well. Regardless, they probably didn’t know what to say. I wouldn’t.
Still, as the rote aphorisms accumulate in my foggy head, I can’t help but think of Jake’s retort to Brett at the end of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Brett tells Jake that if she and he had given their love a chance, they “could have had such a damned good time together.”
“Yes,” Jake says wryly. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
Pretty, yeah. Pretty ugly.
= = =
At last I’m home.
I enter the hallway that leads into my apartment. Although it’s difficult to see, I make out a shape wiggling at the end of the corridor. I switch on the hall light.
My wife’s arms are extended around the corner from the living room. Her arms hoist our son in midair. Lil Buddy, he’s smiling at me. And kicking his doughy legs like mad. Finally, my better half steps into view, also smiling, and she’s careful not to let the boy’s happy feet anywhere near her belly.
I don’t even bother to hang up my trenchcoat. I just move into the living room in one giant stride. I kiss them both, put the tortas and the wine down, and thank God my wife still has her job. Then I take Lil Buddy from her. I hold him up high. The legs begin to kick again with renewed zeal. He scrunches his cheeks and brow, crinkles his nose and does his scream-laugh thing.
Even as I realize that not only won’t I be walking to work, I won’t be working, even as I sigh with regret over bidding this column adieu, and even as I wonder what the hell I’m going to do now—it’s an incredible feeling to lift up my little boy.
What could be more incredible?
Two things, actually: one, the belief that I’ll get through this and, second, the fact that, come August, he’ll be a big brother.
covers covered the walk-to-work beat, uniquely and eloquently, for Trainjotting. We think he’ll return when he scores a new job.