Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Awkward

It’s awkward, this unemployment thing.

I’m talking to my oldest friend on the phone. For the purpose of this blog, I’ll call him Lucky. He’s the only person I know who’s spent a decade—twenty-five years, actually—with one company.

Don’t get the wrong idea—this isn’t a tidy ascent up the corporate ladder to the corner office. Lucky has been laboring in a strata with a far-lower profile.

The thing is, Lucky has avoided screwing up, pissing anyone off or likewise calling unwanted attention to himself for nearly a quarter-century. It is a remarkable achievement. He has perfected the art of workplace camouflage.

He was smart-enough to pick a company that has never been the object of a hostile takeover, and a job that has never been determined by a financial analyst to be a profit-sucking hole.

He has successfully avoided the employment contractions that have become a fact of life for virtually every other person I know. In 2010, when fifty-something white males bear a disproportionate share of America’s job loss, Lucky has a job.

But judging by his phone calls of the past eight or nine months, he is convinced this will soon not be the case. Faced with sales goals for the first time in his work life, he is struggling.

Yet every time the guillotine is set to fall, there is a store-wide sale. Or a homeowner in need of a custom-made bedroom set. Only RNC Chairman Michael Steele has dodged more bullets.

If the twin pressures of a weak economy and working in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately arena of sales aren’t enough, Lucky is also in the midst of a full-blown mid-life crisis. “What have I done with my life?” he asks.

I assure him there will be no statues of me in municipal parks, either.

As best I can, I caution him that 2010 isn’t the year to embark on a journey of self-discovery. I tell him 2010 is all about the survival. I can hear him straining against the newly-understood confines of his life.

The conversation then circles back to other things, like June’s unmet sales goals.

I confirm for Lucky that if his managers, coaches and supervisors really wanted him gone, he’d be gone. They would have waited by the door at the close of business June 30th and requested his name tag and work ID.

Lucky suddenly realizes he’s doing Chicken Little for someone for whom the sky has already fallen. “How are you doin’?”, he asks.

I give him the short answer and attempt to kid.

“There’s no way you’re going to be fired. I’m putting up a life-size cut-out of you and I’m going to rub its head every time I send out a resume. You’re Teflon Dude. Nothing sticks!”

My jealousy is showing. Friends aren’t supposed to be jealous of their friend’s lack of unemployment, are they? I have farted in an elevator.

I take a hard right and steer the conversation towards sports. “You think the Bulls are going to sign LeBron?” We then take the obligatory digs at each other’s favorite baseball team.

And so it goes until we simultaneously notice the time.

Like I said, awkward.

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