Grand Exits and The Art of Asking For Too Much
This whole business of being laid off from my job happened so suddenly. It was just a short time ago, actually, yet I’ve already begun the kind of inevitable transformation that results after having been lied to up and down, and finally given that dreadful notice. I’ve realized the blessing of free time, and take each day slowly, carefully considering what I shall do next, if after five years in the industry I will ever again set foot in another print shop.
I was brought aboard one cold day in January 2003 to help setup this new spot in Roanoke, VA, to take on the design tasks, and all things technical. If, for example, you had a problem with your Microsoft Word document, you just couldn’t get the fonts to come out right, or whatever—you’d come to me. If the pictures in your PowerPoint presentation appeared too dark, if they in fact needed to be rescanned altogether—this came to my door. And I was glad to do it. I loved this line of work. Each day was challenging and presented me with many opportunities to grow in this field. But it was especially tough getting off the ground, since the owners, both husband and wife, were mere accountants, and had no former printing experience. Of course, on top of that, were their strange ways, the idiosyncrasies they brought to the environment—perhaps from too many years of marriage, of no longer liking one another. Their son-in-law, who also worked there, immediately had many strange stories to share with me, that they were not “very social people,” and warned me I should mostly direct my complaints and concerns through him. He felt he had figured out a way to talk to them.
By Valentines Day, we had finished setting up equipment, hired our sales representative and pressman, and were ready to open for business. There was a lot of confusion about why a graphic supplied by a customer would sometimes turn out to print so low quality. My explanation—that you absolutely cannot grab a low-resolution image off a web page and expect it to print picture perfect on a high-resolution printer, or press for that matter—went in vain. This was common knowledge in this game, but at first they just wouldn’t take my word for it. Son-in-law was running to Father-in-law, trying to explain. Father-in-law was sending Son-in-law back to me, wanting answers. I would rephrase my answer. He would run back to Father-in-law, then return to me. “Something has to be done,” he would say. “If necessary, we can send you to some classes.”
“You can tell him it won’t be coming down to that,” I said, and of course it didn’t. Eventually we worked through the miscommunication, and we were up and running as a full-fledged print shop cranking out business cards, brochures, and photocopies.
Most of the problems were linked to miscommunication. This was, in fact, the cardinal sin of the office: miscommunication, or just plain lies. Without a doubt, I can say it was lies, since our first pressman—a troublesome narcoleptic—was eventually terminated in such a dishonest manner. As I was heading out the door one Friday, I waved goodbye knowing it would be his last day. My boss had him back to the office with Son-in-law looming just outside the door, in case of trouble, and told him he had to be let go that very day because there just wasn’t enough work for him. The next day, his replacement arrived, right on schedule. She was an older lady, and honestly, everyone including myself found her to be unskilled in her performance. She too became subjected to my boss’s dishonest methods, as she had quickly become “dead weight.” They would allot time in the evenings to bring in a new person for training. Then, “We’re gonna have to let you go. We need someone who can work full time here. We found just the person who can, and she starts tomorrow. If you want, you can remain on call, and come in when we need you.”
I learned of these details through the son-in-law. It scared me, because I knew if they could do it to someone else, they could do it to me, even though at one time, my boss expressed that I was a Godsend, and was really pleased with my abilities. So I kept that in mind, too. “That’s their fate, not mine. I’ll work as hard as I possibly can. I’ll keep this place afloat. I’ll keep it more than afloat; it’ll be a well-oiled machine in no time. That’s how I’ll make it through.”
Outside my door, all the chaos continued. The business was picking up, but the management remained the same. My boss and his wife would try to handle the workflow, but lose files, not realize what day it was, forget appointments, misplace this and that, scream and yell at one another, and when it was over, there was dead quiet, there was tension, and discomfort. I tried my best to stay out of it, but couldn’t avoid interaction altogether if I was to remain working there.
I was up for a raise, so in May, I got up the nerve and asked. My boss agreed this was long overdue and well deserved. “You’re a survivor here,” he told me. Two months went by and no raise. What the hell? I was furious that I had to ask him again. What’s up? What’s going on? Am I asking for too much here when you already agreed on giving me a raise, but haven’t followed through even after two months? He started hemming and hawing about how he was actually just working on it over the past weekend, and come Monday, we can sit down and go over it all on paper. That sounded nice and official, and put my mind at ease. I also brought up that he owed me sick time, vacation time, and bereavement, to which he again recognized was a valid complaint. Finally, I got that raise, and what was owed to me. I was proud that day, knowing I deserved it for all the hard work I put in, but also irritated that I had to keep prodding him to get it. What use is a damaged television that you have to hover over, holding down the power button just to keep it on? That’s the way I felt. Even if he was straightforward with me and said, “We haven’t been doing very well these past couple of months, but in such and such amount of time we can revisit the idea of a raise,” that I would have respected.
In August, things were slow. I returned from a three-day vacation with surprisingly very little to do, and found the 31st to be my last day. I should’ve been more trusting of the signs all around me. Towards the end of the day, my boss, coward that he is, had to send his wife in to give me the layoff notice, and only after a few minutes he quickly poked his head in the door as if he was tied up with something really important, but was granting me a moment to offer a final nod to my good efforts.
“You no longer seem happy here.” And: “It seems you’ve outgrown the place,” were his reasons.
I handled this in a way that surprised even myself. Though obviously upset, I remained very calm, saying, “There’s really nothing I can say, except that if you have been unhappy with me, you should have come to me and it would have been rectified that very moment. But now I get the feeling, like you’ve done with two others here already, that you’ve hired someone behind my back, they start tomorrow, and so this is something that can’t be turned around. You have someone already lined up, don’t you?”
“Why is that?”
“Well, because the people at Corporate told us to do it this way, that graphic designers can’t be trusted. If they’re given a two week notice, they usually take that time to trash company files on the server, and devise other ways to sabotage the system.”
This made me realize since he wasn’t an honest man, he was always distrustful of others; he was projecting his own qualities onto everyone else, and therefore, no one really got a fair shot with him. I wanted nothing more to do with this person. “Let it all be over right this very minute,” I thought. I gathered my things as quickly as possible, and set sail.
Looking back on this, I think it was best that I didn’t make a grand exit, cussing those people out until their kidneys failed. Why burn bridges? Why lower myself to their level and battle it out with them, the type who would never admit their wrongdoings, that they had taken everything they could from me, and then backstabbed me once they felt there was nothing left to take? I saw it all so clearly on that last day. There was nothing left they could give me.