I’m always the first one to get into work. Our tiny office is in the not- so- chic area of Manhattan—9th Avenue and 38th Street. It’s an indistinct neighborhood in between the theater district and Chelsea filled with grime and fast food. Here’s my routine. I get off the subway at Penn Station and march straight into Cupcake Palace for my early morning sugar fix. They have any concoction you could imagine, but it’s either “Devil Dog,” “Marshmallow” or “Twinkie” and a small coffee with skim milk. (Sometimes I really go crazy and order a “Red Velvet” cupcake. That’s for Valentine’s Day.) But today, I come in earlier than my usual 8AM. The door is open and the light is on. I walk in and everyone in our one room office is assembled, eating bagels and muffins like automatons, glued to their computer screens. As a researcher, I know this is suspicious. They never stroll in before 10:30, and even stopped giving excuses like “They were shooting a movie, I was trapped in the train for three hours and my BlackBerry was down.” That was creative. Or “My ceiling was leaking, my roommate was drunk, and I had to collect the droplets in water glasses.” The best was the explanation for a sudden and unexplained five day disappearance, “I was searching for a friend in Tibet. You can give me a donation. Or a raise.” However, right now there is an absence of speech. They grunt “hello” not raising their heads. Big Moe, the owner of the agency, who typically arrives mid-afternoon, is already on-line. I have a feeling of dread.
“Hey “he IM’S.
Hi.” I IM back.
“Would you come into my office” he shoots back.
“Yikes,” I think. This can’t be good. I was told that I could take a long weekend after a year of hard labor without a vacation day. The troops were regrouping, planning my demise. In my last minutes, I frantically search the computer for clues.
“A-Hah! Wouldn’t you know it? My subordinate changed his email address to something long and flashy in preparation of his taking over my job. As opposed to monkeyboy, he is now email@example.com. There’s an old saying, “In times of distress, small organizations eat their leadership. “
My co-workers are still glued to their computers. They’re pretending not to see me. What fair weather friends! What about my shoe collection? I’ve amassed dozens of shoes under the make-shift desk I’ve put up with over the past year. How the hell am I going to drag them home alone? Like taxes and winter. I saw it coming. My friends warned me. I look back in a flash and it’s all there. I was never busier, but there was this gut feeling of exclusion. And I blamed it on my cupcake coma—sugar induced paranoia. Yeah, I blamed it on icing. But the fact is they were broke and I kept working. “You are a pink cupcake” I scream inside. I’m angry that I’ve played so fair, been so diligent, and left myself open to this exposure. For the past months, I should have been stealing corporate files, not trying to figure out how to keep them afloat. Idiot. I certainly let my pink slip show!
Here we go. “Think pink…” I walk down the hall, and hear my heels clicking on the cold tile floor. I concentrate on that sound to calm me. “Click, click, Jane is the mousy…”
I enter Big Moe’s office awkwardly. This is my one year anniversary. And I had helped him build the company from the ground up. I haven’t been paid for 4 weeks
There’s Big Moe, reclining behind a large mahogany desk with several computer screens blinking. He’s a large thin man with a fixation for working out. A runner (probably from the law) in his early 50’s, who’s traveled all over the world. His photographs of children, flowers, and rice bowls from exotic places like Laos and Phuket adorn the walls. Known for wearing outrageous attire, particularly to client meetings, I had to note what he was wearing for my “firing”– a blinding tie-dyed shirt topped with a brown suede vest. I think he picked up the vest in a thrift store—it was frayed like a baby blanket and trimmed with juvenile piping (multi-colored butterflies and elephants.) Unique! A very large silver peace sign dangles from his long neck with a black cord. He wears a green cap that says “Sustainable” referring to green marketing. That was my idea. He wears sneakers, his uniform—the ordinary kind, which are stationed beside his pile of cast-away loafers. I’m wearing a black pant suit with pearls. I was always kind of overdressed. “The serious one” like Hillary Clinton. I look at the wire rimmed sun glasses by his computer that he thought were “so cool.” I remember just when he bought them. He claimed they were “indestructible” and that’s why he paid so much. A true necessity. I was afraid he would throw them against the wall sometime when he got pissed which was often. Sometimes he forgot people were breakable. And a there’s a large stuffed goose with the inscription “Webbed Feet Hit Targets” Hah! That was mine too. We ate a lot of Thai food and deli during the late nights in this room. Big Moe’s the kind of guy who’s either your best friend or your worst enemy. I hope to see the smile that I knew so well in better days. The one that was full of exuberance. Big Moe looks guilty. Even for him. And worn. I fix my eyes on a large female ivory sculpture that I always liked. She’s a shrine to sanity. I say to myself, “Concentrate on the breath. In and out. In and out…”
“I’ve done some soul searching over the weekend, and I’m just going to make some cuts. Starting with you. I don’t even have money for rent or groceries. My weekend really sucked. All I could do was stay in. Of course, I won’t contest your unemployment.”
“And what about the back pay”
“Well, maybe by spring.”
“You really have made a mark on this company. Especially with the new website and logo. “
I’m leaving with nothing. No savings on a start-up salary with plenty of missed paychecks. I’m numb.
“Maybe things will pick up in September. “ I lie.
“With your background, I think you’re a candidate for a CMO position. You could be earning a quarter of a million dollars.” he lies.
“It was the typo, right?” “The one in the AsWell Presentation.” Self-blame is setting in.
“We had a client complaint.” He glares. “You spelled ass.”
“I gave the copy to you to proof!” It was so late! And their analytics were excellent. So, I’m getting canned over Ass Cream?”
“You know, I think I just might want to be a street performer again. Or learn to fly.”
“Are you joking? After all this!”
“That’s right.” He darts me a menacing look. “The others are going. They just don’t know it yet.”
It’s futile. What if I have cavities?” I worry.
I extend my hand. “Take care.”
I throw my keys on the desk, and think about past dreams.
What did I want to do when I was five?