Another meeting. We’d been called to one of those goddamn windowless conference rooms abutting the elevator shaftway. It was boiling hot in there but it didn’t matter -- the firm was saving energy, that’s what mattered. Green was important. Green was money and green was social conscience. No matter how many people you laid off, you could always make a statement by going green.
The boss was supposed to arrive soon and dread was spreading through the closed room like an ink stain in a wet shirt pocket. Some of us sat, then stood, then sat again. Some of us stood, then sat, then stood again. The SOB was never on time. Somebody volunteered to go get more chairs. Everybody looked gray. Too much time indoors poring over the numbers. The effin numbers that told us nothing except that our jobs were in jeopardy. We sucked on mints. Someone dropped off a case of Poland Spring water even though those plastic bottles definitely weren’t green. Some of us shuffled our feet and counted carpet threads. A couple of us began fanning ourselves with our notebooks. A few noses wrinkled at the first sourish whiff of BO. Some of us counted backwards from a hundred like patients do when about to get etherized and others tried to imagine sitting under a palm tree somewhere in the Caribbean. Everyone had had it. We had run out of juice. Hell, the whole industry had run out of juice, the way it was run. We were betting on dead celebrities.
Pinky Kaiser said it best: “We used to run on fumes but now there aren’t even any fumes left.”
Finally the boss came in. His eyes were bloodshot but his teeth were as white as a showroom toilet. His little silver skull-and-crossbones cufflinks sparkled. For effect, he had loosened his tie and unbuttoned his collar. He was wearing enough Antonio Banderas cologne to make anyone within spitting distance light-headed. After popping his knuckles a couple of times, he scanned the room and flexed his jaw.
“We have watched our market share fall and we have seen our paradigms shift. We have tried to do everything in our power to defend our business against this climate. But we have come up short. We can’t find additional revenue, so we must reduce costs. Again. And you all know that our biggest cost is people. This is a hard truth to swallow. So we must make sacrifices across the board. No one is exempt but me. Every department must take a hit. Now is a time for reflection. Each one of you must ask yourself the question: ‘do I belong here?’”
Randy Randy shot a nervous glance toward Lucy Doe who was studying her cuticles. The building's machinery hummed and the flourescent light fixtures hissed. She thought to herself, “How can anyone afford to buy books in this economy? Is the business ever going to come back?” They’d all been through tough times before, but the current situation was unprecedented. E-books cannibalizing sales, retail chain failures, the “free" economy, grotesque over-production and market saturation, employee turnover, the death of print media, the proliferation of niches and the explosion of self-published content. It was all too much.
After fighting off tears, Lucy looked up. What the boss was saying sounded important. “I can’t fire all of you, even though I’d like to start with a clean slate, with people whose minds haven’t been poisoned by experience. You think because you’ve been in the business all these years it means that you’re prepared to deal with change? You’re wrong. That experience of yours is garbage. Throw it in the trash. It no longer applies. We need a new road map if we’re going to get where we need to go. One that isn’t based on the past. We’ve got to dig in and protect our assets. That’s why our lawyers are working hard to build a Maginot line around our content. At the same time, we’ve got shed our liabilities. That means employees. Yes, we still need some people to turn the lights on and off, but this will be the end of the line for many of you.”
Big effin deal. There had been rumors circulating for months that something major was going to happen. The company was millions of dollars behind plan and deep in debt. The sales outlook was bleak. Sure, we were still profitable by historical standards, but just barely. It didn’t matter anyway. The boss didn’t care if we made a little money or broke even. Somehow a publishing company had metastasized into a media conglomerate. The home office needed continual growth to pay down its debt. Otherwise how would they be able to borrow to fund future growth?
Pinky Kaiser said it best: “This cash cow may be quaint but they need the milk.”
The boss cast his bloody eye over the room. “Do I have any volunteers? Someone willing to make the necessary sacrifices? Who’ll go back to their desks and start firing people? Right now. Today. I need warriors.” No one said a thing, no one raised an eyebrow. We had had it. He was talking to zombies. “Okay then. This meeting is over. Keep your calendars open -- my assistant will be setting up appointments with each of you individually. And I wouldn’t book any vacations if I were you.”