I was fired earlier this morning in a brief and awkward meeting attended by myself and my younger supervisor, Ms. Little, who once let it slip that she was born the year CD players were invented. The embarrassed security guard picked at his fingernails and pretended not to notice as I made an unauthorized stop at Judy’s desk to say goodbye before getting escorted out of the building.
“You keep representing the group.” I said good-naturedly referring to the training class we both belonged to 20 years ago. My departure left her as the last member of our class still in the office. As I stood staring at her, I saw the visible creases in the corners of her eyes and the extra weight she had accumulated after years of break room birthday celebrations. She seemed like family after all these years, but I as I leaned in for a hug I was met with a handshake.
“Keep in touch, Tony.” she said warmly, but professionally. Maybe she was trying to show the office that she was still worthy of her place among them or she was afraid that my new unemployment status was contagious. She added a pat on the back as an afterthought. The same type I give my children when they sniff around for attention as I read the paper on Sunday mornings.
I can’t blame her. It is a different office today than it was when we started. The latest batch of new hires remind me of my nieces and nephews playing dress up in business suits. They pepper their speech with jargon such as “mission critical” or “customer centric” instead of speaking plain old english. The office has turned out new recruits, who in my opinion, take themselves way too seriously.
Ms. Little has been with the company for a whopping three weeks. As a fresh start, she pulls in a salary four times less than I did, but her commitment is unmatched. I have never been in the office morning, evening or weekend when her perfectly highlighted hair wasn’t peaking out of the top of her cubicle, an oversized paper coffee cup never out of her reach.
She is a sweet gal, that Ms. Little. Her nails always sport a french manicure and she wears only tailored business suits, no doubt, on the advice of her college guidance counselor. If she ever does leave the office, I bet she spends the weekend by her apartment pool turning herself every ten minutes, tanning rotisserie style to ensure her appearance is impeccable. Or, maybe she is the spray-tan type. Fifteen minutes in and out saving her enough time to fit in a workout then head back to the office.
Out with the old and in with the new I suppose.
As I headed to the door, I caught a glimpse of my middle aged self in the window. I tried to remember when I stopped trying to keep up. When did I stop polishing my shoes or dressing for the job I wanted rather than the one I had? When did I start bringing a cooler with lunch rather than “network” at lunch with the other up and comers? When had I decided to only make right turns when driving home?
At the front of the office, the young security guard helped me maneuver out the front door with my brown cardboard box of personal effects. A gold framed family photo teetering on the top of the pile fell out, but the quick handed guard breezily caught it before it landed.
“Say, how old are you?” I asked. His name tag read Gary, same as my oldest son.
“Twenty - One, Sir,” he said just short of saluting me.
On closer examination, I noticed his security guard outfit was made of unforgiving polyester and embellishments sewn in to the fabric to promote the illusion of military swagger. It looked like a costume rather than a uniform. Poor sap is stuck in this rat race just like the rest of us, I thought. I made a mental note to add him to my nightly prayers.
Gary handed the photo back to me and I looked from the office to the family photo where my own image was smiling stupidly back at me. I knew I would miss the office, but for now it was time to go home.
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