Layoff Day

I stopped wearing stuff from my dumpster bag for Layoff Day, and chose to wear a sort of pink slip type outfit.   It wasn’t an actual slip, but it was pink, with some slip-like qualities.  

The weird thing about layoffs when you work for a unionized bureaucracy is that the layoff decisions have no bearing on keeping the agency effective; it’s all about seniority.  

And, it’s not like a list is posted, but rather, the information leaks out slowly, like a toxic gas.  Ms Click Click finds each person, escorts them to the Great S’s office one at a time, where he gives a small speech and then hands them the notice.  It took hours.  Since our cubes are outside of the Great One’s office, we got to see the sad march that everyone was required to do, and felt sorry that Ms. Click Click had been tasked to be the grim reaper.  She looked like she might cry.

B. and I went out for coffee early to miss a little bit of it, because it was pretty depressing.  “Why are you ordering decaf?” B. asked.

“Oh, I’m just trying to cut back a little.  I was thinking of doing a juice fast some time this month.”


“I dunno.  I’ve never done one.  I’m trying to do this 30 days of inviting yoga into my life, and I think a fast is part of it.”

“Yeah, but why quit coffee?”

“So I don’t get a headache if I fast.”

“I’ve done fasts before too, but I still chew tobacco and drink coffee and alcohol.  You can only take this stuff so far.”

“That sounds pretty purifying…”

There’s a bit of game theory involved in figuring out who gets laid off, even right during the middle of it.  I heard something about game theory lately that I can’t quite remember, but it involved soccer.  When a player gets a penalty kick, the opposing goalie has three choices:  stay at center, lean left, or lean right.  

Because most players kick right-footed, it makes most sense to lean left to prevent the goal, but because most kickers expect the goalie to lean left, they kick straight.  To win most often, a goalie should protect the center, but they typically lean left even though they know better.  They don’t want to be that guy that just stands there and lets a goal get scored.  It looks worse, in their mind, to be standing still and lose than to be doing an action and lose, even if the action they take increases the odds of losing.  It looks like our office is involved in a big penalty kick fest.

There are about a dozen seniority lists on our internal website, one for each job title, and as each person gets escorted into the execution room by Ms. Click Click, we call up the list, and try to figure out what else we can infer, based on knowing exactly where everyone is on the list.  Like, if person A got laid off, that definitely means Person B is gone, because they’re beneath them on the list.  

And, there’s another aspect, bumping.  People who get laid off can bump other people from their job under certain complicated circumstances that we all know, and sometimes the bumped person can also bump.  

I was explaining it all to R., who had many questions.  “It’s not like that board game, Sorry, R.  It’s way more complicated.”

“Mom, does it seem sad that you had to bring up a board game to not explain this?  Couldn’t you just say, ‘it’s not like a regular job?” 

He has a point.

It will take a few weeks to see how it all shakes out, but the gist is that some lovely talented young people will soon be gone, as are some people who have worked at this very same job for over 20 years, and don’t really have many useful tricks out in the world. 

When you work with people for a long time, they become like family.  Sometimes it’s a weird, dysfunctional family, but family none-the-less, and it’s sad to see people leaving.  It will probably end up being a great opportunity for some, but I suspect some might never work in their field again.

Our section was strangely spared from the cuts.  A bunch of us went out for a beer after work; it felt like a cross between the way you feel at a family holiday when you sit down with people you know in a really long-term way but don't socialize with much, and the relieved chatty behavior that people exhibit after a plane has landed, when everyone is especially friendly because for one, there’s a collective relief that the plane didn’t completely crash, and for two, they know that any conversation they strike up won’t have to last for the whole 6 hour flight, but just the last few minutes during the struggling with the overhead luggage and waiting part.

You realize you care a lot about these people, even though they can be super annoying.  It’s relaxing to sit down with people when you don’t really have to begin in the polite, “Oh, how are your kids?” sort of way.  

The waitress rattles off a list of beers, and one of them is “dry hump ale.”  B. turns to me and says, “oh, that’s what you should get!”  I know.  Who would even name a beer that?  I tried to google it to verify the name, but the hits were so numerous, and looked so sketchy.  You see what I mean about not having to begin the conversation in normal ways.

We have the chance to tease each other about our quirks, and especially tease Da Boss about how any time we go ask him for a decision, he starts reminiscing about his grandfather’s pickle farm, completely avoiding any decision-making.  We give awkward man-hugs to one another upon departing, and go our separate ways, thinking how oddly rich life really is.


  1. I'm oddly interested in the grandfather's pickle farm.


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