Going-away party last night. It was a lovely shindig at a very cool bar on the west side, not in the sense of trendy-cool but more because it had a welcoming atmosphere and offered very much not your average beverages. Even their well drinks were made with quality ingredients. None of which I can recall at the moment, except Evan Williams whiskey figured prominently in a few of them and that was the brand we had the most of at Fort Whiskey at Burning Man last year (and I wouldn’t doubt there will be a repeat this year, assuming we can all score tickets). And no, the lack of memory has nothing to do with how much I drank, as I had one bottle of Not Your Father’s Root Beer and then called it quits because a long bus ride while intoxicated sounded like not a whole lot of fun.
The person going away is one of the good friends I met while working at the physical therapy clinic in 2011. The one where I went to work one Sunday and when I tried to unlock the door, my key wouldn’t work. At which point I planned to call the owner and discovered Owner had called me, probably about the time I was pulling out of the driveway, to say “Don’t come in, plumbing problems.” And we had been told earlier in the week that homeless guy who camped out in the alley behind the building told the owner someone had been trying to get into the building the weekend before, so I didn’t really find the changed locks all that hard to believe.
By the time I got home, though, the merde had hit the fan.
Everyone, staff and clients alike, had gotten the same email announcing the business was shutting down, and the staff were emailing each other like crazy, as I’m sure you can imagine. Chief among our concerns was, would we get paid for the last couple of weeks of work? And for the longer-term and full-time employees, accrued vacation was also a concern.
One of the newer staff members was also the rep for the payroll company the owner used, and this individual at one point decided to castigate those folks who were asking these very valid questions. Said individual pointed out that we’d “only” lost jobs, but the owner had lost a life’s work and we should cut the owner some slack. And as to accrued vacation and other benefits, this individual seemed to think it was gauche to ask, that the owner had expressed the intention to issue final checks and didn’t even have to do that, so don’t ask for more.
There was a collective “Whu??” Because, really — we’d all worked in good faith for however long the owner had been planning to shut down, and since the deal was, we worked and owner paid for us to work, ethically speaking the owner did have to, whether the legal system agreed or not. And in that economy, there was no such thing as “only” losing a job. I think the stats around then were 3 million jobs available…and 13 million people looking for work.
And so one of the other staff members wrote one of the most glorious takedowns I’ve ever read. I’d have to reread it to summarize it accurately, and to be honest I don’t think I want to read it, but the gist of it was, in the economy as it then stood, all the staff’s questions were right and proper and completely valid and just where did Payroll Rep get off the boat condescending to a group of adults as if they were spoiled brats asking for things they didn’t deserve?
It really was glorious. It may not have accomplished anything past getting Payroll Rep to exit the conversation, but that was actually not a bad outcome under the circumstances.
So, that was a Sunday, and as I recall we were told that day or the next to show up at the office at 9:00 on Tuesday (I think it was) and collect our final checks — and if we were smart, we would go immediately to the local branch of the issuing bank and cash those checks. Looking back on it, I don’t know if we were supposed to think the funds might be seized pending some kind of legal action, or that the owner would clean out the account in a couple of days. Either way, we did indeed appear at the designated time and place, got out checks, and hightailed it to the bank, where everything went quite smoothly.
Of course, we were all still out of work. And the job hadn’t paid me enough to qualify for a loan modification, so I was still losing the house. And I’d worked rather a lot of overtime the last couple of weeks the business existed, which did not get onto my final check…but I was so desperate about everything else at that point I’m not sure I’d have had the energy to fight for those last few dollars, even if I hadn’t already decided it would like getting blood from a stone.
At any rate, it took a while, but everyone eventually came out of it okay. But in the course of my not-being-okay for a year afterward, lots of these wonderful folks helped me every way they could, including Going-Away Friend. I haven’t seen any of them as often as I’d like, so it was even more bittersweet to be taking a couple of buses to the bar and only staying a couple of hours so there’d be buses running in the homeward direction, just to say goodbye.
But I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, and I’m so grateful to have her, and all the other terrific people from that not-very-terrific time, as my friends.