"Holy shit, you got pinked!"
"That's right. But remember, we call it involuntary separation now."
"Do you have to clear out right now? I'll help you."
"No, I've got two weeks. May twenty-second and I'm history."
"Two weeks? Why two weeks?"
Most RIF victims had to clear out immediately. This edict was instated after one of the first recipients of a layoff notice was allowed to stay through the pay period. Each of his last days people saw him in the office carrying a tennis ball. Bouncing it, tossing it, squeezing it. They didn't realize that each day it was a different ball. And each day he flushed a ball down the toilet in the men's room. About a week after he was gone the pipes backed up with devastating consequences.
"They gave me two weeks if I agreed to train my replacement."
Larry was silent for a moment as he considered the humiliation of having to train one's own replacement. But to me two weeks' pay was two weeks' pay I wouldn't get if I didn't take the deal. And besides that, the two weeks would give me time to say proper goodbyes to those in the newsroom and on the beat who deserved them. I considered the alternative of being walked out the door by security with a cardboard box of personal belongings even more humiliating. I was sure they would watch me to make sure I wasn't carrying tennis balls to work, but they didn't have to worry. That wasn't my style.
"So that's it? That's all he said? Two weeks and you're out?"
"He shook my hand and said I was a handsome guy, that I should try TV."
"Oh, man. We gotta get drunk tonight."
"I am, that's for sure."
"Man, this ain't right."
"The world ain't right, Larry."
"Who's your replacement? At least that's somebody who knows they're safe."
"Figures. The cops are going to love her."
Larry was a friend but I didn't want to be talking about all of this with him right now. I needed to be thinking about my options. I straightened up in my seat and looked over the top of the four-foot walls of the cubicle. I saw no one still looking at me. I glanced toward the row of glass-walled editors' offices. Kramer's was a corner office and he was standing behind the glass looking out at the newsroom. When his eyes came to mine he quickly kept them moving.
"What are you going to do?" Larry asked.
"I haven't thought about it but I'm about to right now. Where do you want to go, Big Wang's or the Short Stop?" "Short Stop. I was at Wang's last night."
"See you there then."
I was about to hang up when Larry blurted out a last question.
"One more thing. Did he say what number you were?"
Of course. He wanted to know what his own chances were of surviving this latest round of corporate bloodletting. "When I went in he started talking about how I almost made it and how hard it was to make the last choices. He said I was ninety-nine."
Two months earlier the newspaper announced that 100 employees would be eliminated from the editorial staff in order to cut costs and make our corporate gods happy. I let Larry think about who might be number 100 for a moment while I glanced at Kramer's office again. He was still there behind the glass.
"So my coaching tip is to keep your head down, Larry. The ax man's standing at the glass looking for number one hundred right now."