You know what’s crazy? I’ll tell you what’s crazy™
The former employee.
You passed them in the hall, and said hello. You sat next to them in meetings and took notes. You possibly learned the name of their significant other. Nice.
Then like a match in a hurricane; poof. It’s all gone, extinguished, so much dissipated smoke floating into forever.
The former co-worker is the person you counted on to do the work you didn’t want to do.
They are the person who helped stretch out the On-Call list so you had less weekends to fear your phone ringing.
The former co-worker is the person whose name you finally learned after half a year when you determined they weren’t a college intern.
The former co-worker use to sit in the desk by the wall. They had a stapler and a lap top and a little mirror that let them look at themselves and others approaching from the rear.
If you were lucky, your former c0-worker is still a good friend and someone you stay in contact with no matter where they move or what happens.
But all too often in this blistering ride through the stellar void, we lose touch and former co-workers, like sand castles built too close to the surf, erode over time.
I looked up recently at a desk that use to be occupied by a co-worker I liked and respected. That person is now gone. That desk is now occupied by another bag of corporate flesh.
“Hi whatever your new name is.”
My brain, like a 1999 Hewlett Packard with only so much memory availability, is full. To store the names and images of every former co-worker I’ve ever had since 1987 is a waste of valuable RAM space.
And because my memory is old and fading, I neither can, nor want to remember the former c0-workers who pass through my horizon.
As I scan the newsroom, I see the new former co-worker sitting at the old former co-worker’s work station and a thought crosses my mind.
Who the hell is that?
Was I introduced personally to this vessel of inadequacy? Or was that new future c0-worker introduced to me in a form letter email that the boss put out.
HELLO ALL. PLEASE WELCOME… BLAH BLAH BLAH.
As far as I’m concerned, this anonymous person is just a future former co-worker who hasn’t filed his or her resignation yet.
This co-worker, slowly learning to hate this position, is just one more soldier, who will eventually vacate the fox hole, leaving me to battle an onslaught of never ending lies, corruption and spot news by myself.
As some great philosopher once uttered; If you aint’ with me, you’re against me.
I’ve seen so many co-workers disappear into the ether of so what, it’s impossible to separate them.
Their faces blur together like watching a million Monterey Bay Anchovies behind the glass. The creatures are silver and sleek, each an individual, dancing and darting within the group, comprising a gigantic formation of sameness.
This is the visage of the former co-worker.
Hey I wonder what that guy’s doing now?
I’ve caught myself pondering that question before.
Sometimes it’s at a traffic light, when thoughts tend to wander.
Sometimes it’s in front of the urinal when my prostate is acting up and I need to occupy my thoughts with something relaxing.
These moments are fewer and farther between than ever.
Because the list of former co-workers grows exponentially.
They come and go and come and go. It’s like the luggage carousel at the airport where the same bags circle forever.
The soon to be former co-worker’s resume hangs on the lowest branches of the employment tree so the sloths that do the hiring don’t even have to raise their arms to pluck them from the mundane.
Are workers more dissatisfied now than ever?
Do they get into news as a 20 something, ready to battle the world, vanquish windmills in a quixotic battle of good versus evil, only to come to the insipid realization that this life is not for everyone.
The lure of being on TV only goes so far, lasts so long.
Getting paid in sea shells and sunshine is fun when you’re 25, but when you are 35 and raising a child, it keeps you up at night.
I was someone’s former co-worker once. I entered the door wide eyed and ready to tell a story.
I had ideas and ideals and a creative dream.
I’m sure someone who was hating their life and their job looked at me and said, “Whose that? Why bother?”
I was 25 and the foxhole was my sanctuary.
I was 35 and the story was my ally.
I was 45 and the truth my shield.
I was 55 and the desire to win still burns in me every day, like it’s the first day.
Am I a freak?
Or are my former co-workers just lost?
Funny thing happened on the way to the unemployment line.
I woke up and felt the same twinge of desire I felt 30 years ago.
I wake up every day needing to main line some bad ass.
I want to win. I want to be first. I want to be right. I want to illuminate. I want to expose. I want to inform. I want to help. I want to shine like the new penny in the scrap heap of dinge.
Sadly for the future co-workers of the world, the luster diminishes over time.
The world of everyone wins a ribbon for participating is just not realistic.
Life is about winning and losing. Participating is nice, but you don’t get a ribbon for it.
They say if you find a job you love, then you never work a day in your life.
There is truth in this.
If you are a weekend warrior, and your job is a means to an end, then you will find yourself in a new cubicle every few years.
Passion for the profession is important.
If you are good at what you do, the money will follow.
But if you are unremarkable, if you are uninspired, if you desire nothing more than to do what is expected of you, then you will neither satisfy yourself, or your employer.
They say misery loves company, which is why I try not to fester with the misery too long.
It’s the same old same old.
If you don’t like what the boss is cooking, then get out of his kitchen.
The path to being a future former co-worker is littered with stories of woe is me.
Save it for someone who cares.
The minute the door hits you in the ass, you become a Monterey Bay aquatic glimmer of sameness.
Who are you? What are you doing?
The red light turns to green and the adventure begins once again.
Hey former co-worker. Who are you again?
Why did you want to tell stories again?
Oh really? You are now a shill for a corporate flak who pumps out disinformation about what?
That’s the sound of me purging my stomach into the vacuous void of disgust.
You were knighted into a noble profession. You were charged with a single quest to better the universe through words and deeds and now you are selling your soul to a corporate whore who will eventually lead you to the same section of grass where you are now.
Is it really greener?
That’s a question only the former co-worker can answer.
I knew you well enough to say hi. I knew you well enough to recognize your foot steps on the worn carpet outside the break room. I chatted with you at the coffee urn to know your daughter was an aspiring athlete.
But now you are a former co-worker, and you are gone. Like a flush of a news urinal, your memory swirls, flows around the scented bar in the stained plastic screen, then disappears.
The water fills the basin once again. It is clear, motionless, ready for the next warrior to stand before it and go to battle.
Where have all my former co-workers gone?
They are so numerous, so voluminous, I really don’t have time to care.
I hope they are doing well. I hope the decision to be a quitter worked out for them.
But in the end, I can only count on the co-worker by my side. I have to know the man or woman beside me has my back as we dance to a deadline that only we understand in a hornets nest of radical change, blistering lies, horrific stories of disgust, and powerful moments of truth.
When a co-worker leaves.
It comes with a bosses letter.
HELLO ALL. SO AND SO IS LEAVING. WE WISH THEM WELL.
It’s a tea pot that howls in the kitchen. Take it off the burner and it’s gone.
Put the tea pot back on the burner and it whistles again.
It’s rinse and repeat.
2 more co-workers announced their departure recently.
I like both people. They are good workers, easy to co-exist with.
For reasons to numerous to explain or know, they are moving on.
After years of banging their head against an impervious, unmovable block of journalistic stress, they are moving on to something else.
One part of me is happy for them. If you no longer have the desire to wake up and battle the monolith of lies and untold stories, then go.
One part of me is sad for them.
It takes a hydraulic jack of determination to lift all the bull shit, sort through the inuendos and misconceptions.
It’s not for everyone. And not forever.
It takes a steely eyed scribe to stay the course, to sail forward secure you will not fall off the edge.
When you can no longer stomach the acid reflux of unreturned phone calls, the crazy hours, the insane deadlines, then it’s time to park your pen in your pocket, gathering your family photos in a box and go.
When you can no longer bring yourself to stare into the eyes of a dreamy eyed producer who wants a sound bite from a person you never interviewed, well, it’s time to hang em up.
So long former co-worker. Hope your next fox hole comes with a ribbon for participation.