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You Can't Fire Me; I Retire
June 9, 2014 - Diane Laney Fitzpatrick
Some of my peers are retiring. Which follows most of my peers having grandchildren, so it's kind of the second shoe to drop. I guess next up is my peers moving to independent senior housing with emergency call buttons in the bathtub.
I'm always amazed when someone retires after 20, 30 or more years at the same company. What's that like, to stick with something for that long? I can barely stand to stay with a book more than 400 pages.
I've seen the pictures of the retirement parties, the grip-and-grins with the VP, the cakes, the gag gifts. Let me fill you in, though: When we moved into our house in northern New Jersey, the guy had just retired from a newspaper and among the things he left for us to throw away was his goodbye gift - a jersey mounted in a giant frame behind glass. Everyone at the paper had signed it and written sweet messages. It was at the curb within five days of us moving in. So remember that when you put all that thought into your beloved co-workers' retirement gift.
I wasn't a lifer anywhere, so I never got a jersey-behind-glass, a watch, a plaque or a cake from any company I worked for. But I did get some great parting gifts from my coworkers. When I left the Vindicator, my friends gave me a necklace worthy of Cleopatra and a little pot that still to this day sits on my coffee table. When I left the Morning Journal, my friends there, given false information that I was a gourmet cook, gave me a Silver Palate cookbook that looks great on my kitchen shelf.
I tried not to make big dramatic exits. If it weren't for my need for references and the so-called law, I would have just snuck out and not returned. OK, so, yeah, I'm just gonna go over here for a minute . . . with this box of stuff from my desk . . . and my coat. I'll be . . . right . . . back . . . in . . .
When I see the photos from my friends retiring, I'm impressed to see the big turnout, the full sheet cakes (without misspellings or Cake Wreck fails). People attending seem genuinely sorry to see the retiree go; they seem sincerely happy that person worked there for as long as he did, but now are happy that he's going to a better place, albeit somewhere with an emergency call button in the bathtub..
That must be nice. I never felt like my leaving any of my jobs caused anyone any emotion whatsoever. I was liked and appreciated, but easy to replace.
At one of my small newspaper jobs, we had a publisher who thought it would be a good idea to go around the room at the annual Christmas party and say something about everyone. This wasn't during the mix-and-mingle part of the party. No, this was when the band had stopped playing and we were in the program part of the evening. Mr. M - I won't say his name. I've been burned before, thinking these people would never in a million years read this blog, so let's just give him a James Bond name and leave it at that. - So Mr. M had a few too many scotch and sodas and decided that the message he wanted to convey was that everyone - every single employee of the paper - was important in some way.
So he went around the room and effectively made every single person feel like a piece of shit. Take Lorraine here. You might think that just because Lorraine only works in the composing room that she's not important. You might say, 'Oh, Lorraine can wear jeans and an old shirt to work. Lorraine has a small, insignificant job. She doesn't matter.'
Meanwhile, before Mr. M could get to the good part, where he says But you're wrong! Lorraine is important too!, Lorraine is sitting there with a blank stare, Mr. M's hands on her shoulders, looking at all of us, her eyes screaming Come on, you guys, you don't think that, do you? When we did make brief, unavoidable eye contact with her, our eyes said, Hey, dude, sorry but we could be next, so . . . I remember staring down at my shoes most of the time, praying that before he could get to me, Mr. M would collapse from alcohol poisoning.
The whole presentation was a colossal fail in Mr. M's attempt to make employees seem appreciated. The company didn't do a doggone thing for anyone who retired. When I worked there, no one retired at all. The people who didn't flee while they were still young died at their desks.
Mr. M should have come up with something - anything - that would make us want to continue working there until our retirement. The promise of a cake, and a grip-and-grin with him would suffice, if he could manage to hang in there that long.
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Diane Laney Fitzpatrick is the author of Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves. Her Just Humor Me column runs here on her website at www.DianeLaneyFitzpatrick.com.
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