a fine day for a hanging
Tuesday, February 6 2001
I've been reading a lot about fucked-up dotcom layoffs, those based on nefarious schemes hatched at high levels under great secrecy, so I expected the worst from today's round of the game called "oops, we didn't lay off enough at the beginning of the month!" Not entirely secure with my job, I decided to leave nothing to chance. So I left my bike (which is supposedly owned by the company) at home and walked to work. It would be one less thing to have to cough up should my cubicle get shut down today.
On the way to the west end of Rochester, I found myself walking behind a rotund guy who looked like he was casually puffing on a cigarette. The clouds he left in his wake, however, smelled like marijuana. I know I should have wrestled him to the ground and performed a citizen arrest as a faith-based gesture against America's moral recession, but then again he might have had a prescription for that stuff.
I took pictures of myself as I walked down Colorado in Santa Monica, wondering if this was to be my last such walk ever. It had all the makings for another beautiful sunny day in Santa Monica. A fine day for a hanging.
It was a fairly typical work day at first, and then in the late morning the electricity suddenly died on my floor. So there we were, sitting there in darkened cubicles full of beeping battery backups waiting for the promised slaughter to commence. Without computers, I couldn't do any work at all, so I went outside and took pictures of the spectacular Tree Ferns growing in planters on the front deck. They're entering late-fiddlehead stage, when fresh new fronds unfurl from rolled-up fiddle-head forms, eventually spreading out to the size of your average American flag.
When it seemed clear that the power outage was a lasting one, I walked down to the KFC at the corner of Pico and Stewart and bought a box of fried chicken pieces, which I devoured in one sitting while seated on a sidewalk just north of the 10 freeway. Every now and then it's good to do things as the homeless do them, because the way the homeless do most things is the way those things ought to be done.
Back at the office, the power had still not been restored, and no HR people were waiting by my desk, so I went down the corridor to commiserate with the UK CTO, whose project seems as if it's being sabotaged at every turn. Her developers are recovering from an auto accident, operations can't get her beta site working, and every now and then someone turns off her development box or overwrites global.asa. "I'm just giving up!" she sighed in comic desperation (it's another one of those English ways).
It didn't look like anyone was being fired amid the still-beeping UPSs of my floor, so I went out on the balcony and read today's issue of The Los Angeles Times (free copies of which are one of the company's perks).
Eventually the CTO drove me down to the conference center at the corner of Sawtelle and Olympic so we could attend the big scary mandatory company meeting. We passed the brand spanking new Etoys.com office building on the way. Whatever will it be used for now?
While we were waiting for the meeting to get started, we ducked into a Starbucks for coffee (which I had to buy since the CTO didn't have any cash). We sat there for awhile talking about the difference between Los Angeles and London and how the weather might be nicer in the LA, but that, well, London is probably better. No doubt about it. All cities built after the invention of the automobile should be demolished.
We joined the massive throng of colleagues in the conference hall. About three hundred people still work for the company, and they were all craning their vulnerable necks, looking around to see if their friends were still among the living. I sat next to Stevie, Julian's new housemate, a very black dude whose job is the policing of metadata integrity. He congratulated me on having survived and proceeded to tell me about a wild and crazy multi-screen AIM discussion that had broken news of each casualty as it had happened. Particularly hard hit this time were the departments of editorial content and digital media operations.
It was, I suppose, your typical company meetings for these times of dotcom belt tightening. But I don't really know because, unlike CollegeClub.com (which had these sort of meetings on a weekly basis), this was only the second such meeting I've ever attended while working for my present employer. And that other meeting, taking place as it did this summer, occurred under much cheerier circumstances. Still, the senior executives on stage did their job and made it seem as if the layoffs, the continued lack of profitability and other disquieting things were merely turbulence out of which our corporate skyship would eventually pull, to continue sailing on through friendly skiesTM. The key to the future, we were told, was arriving at profitability by Q3. Every other concern was secondary when it came to attaining this goal. This was stated in such a way that we in the crowd were left with no option but to be delighted about it. Such is the consummate skill, I suppose, of a big-shot corporate executive. Nonetheless, they finally had to own up to the fact that there would be no automatic raises this year and that, though bonuses would be coming out at the beginning of next week, "the bonus pool" had been decreased. At virtually every opportunity where the employees could have erupted into applause, they simply didn't.
After the meeting, the UK CTO joked to me that it was good that she'd been in attendance and been noted by the big-shot CEO, because when it came time to mention overseas efforts, he was sure to say that the UK effort was still an important company priority. Then, while in the 'loo, she had a sudden realization. Perhaps it would be easiest to just fly me to London for the last two weeks of February so we could knock off the final bits of development as a unified team. Well, as you can imagine, that sounded like a great idea to me. My mental baggage was packed months ago! Who needs Los Angeles when you could be hanging out in London? Interestingly, the day of my departure would be my birthday, February 16th, the first anniversary of my firing from CollegeClub.com. I kind of like the ironic tension between the way I was handled by my former corporate masters and the way I might be handled by my present ones.
Soon after we returned to the main office, the power came back on and I was able to actually get some work done, miracle of miracles. I'd survived the day with my job intact! In this business in these times, one has to be thankful for different things. I don't know, though, that I'm willing to accept not being laid off in place of a raise.
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