Monday, December 17, 2018

Silent Night: A short-short story

It’s 4:43 PM. Normally, he’d still be badgering delinquent borrowers for another hour or two but today he couldn’t make himself. After all, it was Christmas Eve. Even at FemLoan.org,  which expected long work hours for the cause--microloans to women--this day no one would look askance at him. So he craned his body out of his chair and was about to leave his office when his boss entered and asked if she could sit down.

She rarely came in, usually communicating by email. He thought, “Maybe it's to hand-deliver the usual "Year-End" gift card to Ben & Jerry’s, Seeds of Change, or some such?” But her face was too serious. Her usual workplace-pleasant demeanor was replaced by flatness: "I don't know how to say this but I'm laying you off."

He couldn’t bring himself to say anything. She waited, then murmured, “I’m so sorry. After all these years here, and especially as an older worker, I know this must be hard. You’ll get severance plus two weeks more pay, whether you leave today or in two weeks, your choice.” And she crept out.

He trudged toward BART vacant, then looked up at the swaddling skyscrapers, buildings he had rarely noticed or had viewed as monolith symbols of Financial America. Now
those buildings felt like symbols that he had been part of something big, appeasing his liberal values with the belief that FemLoan.org was one of the few good guys, or should I say, "good gals?"

On BART, he noticed that he was the oldest passenger. “I’m old, face it, I’m old. Oh, what right to I have to keep working when millions of young people can’t find beyond barista work? Good socialist, it’s time to walk my redistributionist talk.”

Trying to savor his last walk from BART to home, he looked a bit longer at the leaves. “Hmpph, Californians fly back east for autumn color, yet just a month later, we too have yellows and reds. Look at that liquidambar—that's a great name--that Japanese maple, that ginkgo, the world’s oldest tree and it's as yellow as if hybridizers spent decades creating it.” 


Then, thoughts about his worklife intruded. “I was maybe eight when dad said, 'Work. That’s what matters. Work.' Odd I remember that. Then my first job: I came in right at 9 and was shocked that people were reading their newspapers—9:15, 9:30, they still hadn’t started?! My first job out of college was managing volunteers. I thought being a boss meant I was supposed to boss people. No wonder I got fired—College was not about job training; it was about liberal arts. Then there was the time I told my boss that I liked New Yorkers because they’re straight shooters. My boss unfortunately was from the tactful Midwest and I soon got laid off. Could that statement have contributed? Then I volunteered at FemLoan. It took months but finally got hired ‘even though you’re a guy.’ Somehow, that statement didn’t bother me; I had drunk the Kool-Aid. That was, let’s see, 23 years ago. Little by little, I lost some of the passion, maybe a lot. Maybe getting dumped is for the best.”

As usual, he passed the doughnut shop but this time, turned around, went in, and asked for a cinnamon roll. The clerk said, “They were made at 4 AM. They’re a little stale.”  He said, "It's okay. I'll take it anyway,."

When he got home, he made himself his usual green tea in a Japanese pot. He sprinkled a little water on the cinnamon roll, put it in the microwave, and it came out as moist as  if it were fresh. He settled into his easy chair and savored that rare treat, cutting the sweetness with the tea. “Now what? Retire? Volunteer for another nonprofit? Maybe it’s just that I’ve spent two decades phoning borrowers who tell me they can’t pay back their loan—Anyone would be burned out after that. Or do I do the standard retiree thing: sleep late, TV, movies, grandkids, doctor's appointments, read? I have this pile of books on my bed where a woman should be. I don’t really care to have a girlfriend but I can’t make myself read the books either. Should I write my memoir? That feels narcissistic. Get into shape? I’m just not motivated, and he took a bigger bite of the cinnamon roll.  I’ll think about this some other time.

He pulled out his laptop. “What should I listen to? There’s this guy Marty Nemko who, every year, on his radio show, which is about jobs, at Christmas plays Silent Night on the piano. I wonder if he ever recorded it? To find out, click HERE
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I read this short-short story HERE

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