An Ending


The names were typed in a list, on a sheet of paper hung on a bulletin board in the hallway that lead into the offices. I don’t remember who told us about it, that the news was out. It’d been anticipated for weeks. Rumors about impending layoffs, and how many would be impacted. I just remember standing there, looking for my name. I figured I’d put in more than two years now, and that I’d be just on the edge if they took the ten percent that’d be about forty of the four hundred Conrad had estimated the totality of the union membership consisted of.

After weeks of speculation, the announcement came on a Thursday afternoon. It turned out that Conrad was right, it was a ten percent reduction in the work force. His estimate of four hundred was pretty accurate as the actual number was 412, meaning that there were forty one names on the list. The list was sorted by seniority, defined by start date, which was a column after name, sorted in descending order. I was number 37, with my   start date of 8/5/77 a week after number 41, “Platt, George 7/29/77.” If I’d started a week earlier, I’d still have a job.

It was 2:30 in the afternoon. After I found my name, I read the paragraph above the list. It was written in a bunch of legalize, and included an effective date of 10/31/ 79, the current date, four days before my twenty first birthday. I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around to see my foreman, Mike.

“Sorry, Dave. I was really hoping you wouldn’t get cut. You got any questions?”

“Today’s my last day?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“So I got about an hour left.”

“Yeah,” he said, “they say it works better that way.  No confusion about when the layoff starts. Better to make a clean cut of things – at least that’s the theory.”

I walked back to my department and took my working spot alongside Lew Reed. “Are you okay?” he asked. Word was already out.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said

Conrad and Jack and Jeff spent the better part of the remaining hour trying to buck me up, telling me that I’d be able to sleep in late in the morning, and that once I got signed up for my unemployment checks I’d be okay, and that I’d be free to go hunting every day.  Conrad said they’d probably be calling me back in about three months. I smiled and said that’s all true, and that I’ll be thinking of them when I roll over in bed and go back to sleep tomorrow morning.

I couldn’t tell them what I was really thinking. I couldn’t tell them that I knew with certainty I’d never enter the window factory again. I couldn’t tell them what they meant to me, and that without my job to go to, without them, the days were going to be as long and empty and lonely as the nights. I was trying hard to commit their faces to memory, etch them in my mind, knowing that I’d never see them again.

Lew, forty five years old and baby-faced, rolly-poly with a soft middle, in his olive green work shirt and trousers and that ridiculous fishing cap covering his bald head. Conrad with his snow white hair and goatee. Jack, burly and broad shouldered in his flannel even at sixty, his beard equal parts dark gray and white.  Jeff, my age, with his thick brown hair cut like a salad bowl had been placed on his head.

The last hour went by quick and easy, with nobody doing much work. Roger and Louie came in and joined the festivities, telling stories and ripping on each other like only a bunch of guys who’d spent the week days of the last two years together could. They had enough material on me and my antics to fill more time than we had to kill.

Then 3:30 came and we all walked out together, like we did every day, punching the time clock on our way out the doors of the loading dock to the parking lot.  I remember saying good bye to the guys, and waving to Wayne Cooper, an acquaintance from another department. I looked around and I realized that this, the factory and the guys I worked with, would continue, would still be here, only  with somebody else doing my job, snapping together the aluminum frames.  Who I could only guess.  I just knew it wouldn’t be me anymore.  Whoever it was going to be, I hoped they’d appreciate it as much as, until that moment, I’d taken it for granted, and that they’d listen and maybe even smile when the guys told stories about the goofy twenty year old kid who used to jump up on the tables and caw like a crow.

Advertisements

Sixty


How does it feel to be sixty years old?

Not so great.  To quote the late, great Leonard Cohen, “I ache in the places where I used  to play.”

Physically, I’m worn down and wiped out, and carry the greenish bruises on various parts of my body from falls I’ve taken.  My eye to hand coordination and my sense of balance have degraded to the point that simple things, like, hanging insulation in my work shop to typing this piece, have become difficult.  My vision becomes blurred and cross-eyed as my eyes grow tired, and my voice has grown weak to the point that too often I’m drowned out when I try to communicate.

Every day I’m witnessing new levels of ugliness that I’ve never seen before in this great country that I love so much. The places, the people, and the values that’ve been so important to me have faded and worn away, and I feel alone.  These dark days of violence and selfishness, cowardice and unfounded fear, prejudice and hatred, have turned victims of horrible violence into vile foreigners to be feared instead of embraced, to be met with a closed fist instead of open arms. It’s a place I don’t recognize anymore, where a charlatan and liar has taken control of our collective psyche and divided us with language and actions so despicable and outrageous that every day achieves a new low, and we become more numbed and anesthetized than the day before. I don’t recognize these soulless zombies walking the countryside, and in the empty and expressionless glances they shoot at me, it’s obvious that they sure don’t recognize me.  I’ve become a relic, a stranger in a strange land, a solitary time traveler, from out of a dark and forgotten past.

And then, just when it seems that things couldn’t get any grimmer, or darker, a number on a calendar becomes a representative for today, my 60th birthday, and I find myself surrounded by family.  Empty shadows and silence are replaced by warmth and laughter, and I and my faith are restored.

My daughter recently became engaged, and her fiancé is with her as she visits this weekend. The more I get to know Zach, the more I appreciate what a kind, generous, and decent guy he is. It’s amazing to see my daughter in love, and the fact that she’s found the perfect match restores the faith I’ve lost in myself, and in the world where I live. It’s the simple fact that in a world so ugly and divided that love not only still exists, but that it is still the most powerful force in the universe

So how does it feel to be sixty years old?

It feels damned good.