Archive for December, 2011

NYT to staffers: “Again,” don’t let the door hit you in the ass
December 29, 2011

I used to work with an editor who was famous for outrageous and pointless orders. He was a deputy middle-management sort of person, even when, briefly he was promoted to real middle-management, but his silly directives carried a little added authority because he seemed likely, if he were on the receiving end of them to carry them out.

He was as white as copy-machine paper, had a doughy flaccid physique, and thick glasses that magnified the pouches under his eyes. He was in his 40s, it turned out, when I met him, but he looked like a grandpa in the sun room of a nursing home. He was not a healthy or happy looking guy. The seat of his chair, which he vacated only briefly, was stained and crusted with the remnants of meals he had eaten while sitting there. He ate three meals a day at his desk, starting with a breakfast sandwich he carried to his desk from the company cafeteria. All of which helped, when he gave his ludicrous and sadistic instructions on how to report a minor story, you would remember that he was more pathetic than mean-spirited. He was giving his life to the newspaper. He thought that’s what you were supposed to do. So did we. So when, towards the end of your night cops shift, near midnight, when the paper had gone to bed, and then a dispatch went over the police radio that about a domestic call in which a man might be armed, he would amble over. “You’re going to want to go there,” he would say, “and see what’s going on, until, say, 2:30 in the morning.” Once, when scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were in town to investigate the Anthrax attacks, he ordered me to chase them in my car, so I could report on everything they did while here. That kind of thing. Stupid, a lot of the time, but with one common theme: You were supposed to do whatever was necessary, and certainly whatever your superiors told you to do, in the service of collecting the news and getting it to the readers. It was like the army, at wartime — it was a mission, and you were part of a whole carrying out that mission. Your own life: the missed meals, lost family time, depleted energy were not to be figured into that equation. So while I did flat out refuse to stand outside the domestic disturbance until 2:30 in the morning that one time, most of the time, you did what he said, because that was how newspapers function.

What kept us from feeling like total patsies in that arrangement is that our newspaper offered phenomenal job security, enticed you to stay, yes, even threw a big dinner and gave Rolexs every year on employee’s 20th anniversary, then offered life insurance and a pension once you were 55, along with your 401K. So in exchange for giving it your all, you got security, maybe not a completely equitable exchange, but one freely made.

Which made a lot of us feel like patsies a few years ago when we all got an email saying nearly all of use were superfluous, and that anyone who didn’t accept the buyout offer risked getting laid off. Additional treachery made that even harder to swallow – like the discovery that a select handful of exceptionally unproductive friends of the bosses were quietly told they could stay, which a human resources woman told me couldn’t possibly have happened because that was illegal – except it did happen.

So, in spite of the improvement that leaving the newspaper brought to many of our lives, we couldn’t help but feel had.

All of that, however, pales, in comparison to the rude, snitty, supercilious “answers” to Frequently Asked Questions that someone at the New York Times company had the appalling indecency to send to employees of its regional papers the day after they discovered they had been sold out.

Here are some of the manifestations of utter contempt for the hardworking employees who were, I’m guessing already feeling a little dissed by having given no notice this was coming:

(Note the lack of useful information in the answer to “question” number 3 — bearing in mind these are literally hypothetical questions, one that the human resources department guessed would be asked — followed by the snotty-sounding “again”  to number 4. )

3. How many employees will be retained by Halifax?

That decision will be made by Halifax, but they have committed to making offers of employment to the vast majority of employees. You will be notified within the next 48 hours whether the buyer will be offering you employment.

4. What is the process for determining who will be hired?

Halifax has decided who it will hire. Again, you will be notified within the next 48 hours whether the buyer will be offering you employment. The New York Times Company has not been involved in that decision.

11. Should I plan to look for another job?

We cannot advise employees on their personal, professional decisions.

Huh? Then why’d you ask? You posted this, not the employees. Nasty.

Read it. It’s sickening – if the staffers who received this had brought this kind of indifference to standards of performance to their job as the person who signed her name to this blowoff, this would be justice. Otherwise, it’s an outrage.


TMI About Religion
December 29, 2011

LANTANA, FL — A few years ago, it was my misfortune to work under a supervisor who on Monday mornings often thought it appropriate to mention as casually as if discussing the weather what the pastor of his church had said the day before. I don’t know if it was good news or bad, thoughtful insight or pedantic drivel; the roaring in my ears following: “My pastor said yesterday . . .” always drowned out the rest.

It made me fantasize about saying (while we were on personal matters): “That reminds me, the main squeeze and I were having sex the other day, and we . . . ” which, I hoped, would have been cut off there, because I’m actually no more anxious to share the details of my love life than I am to hear the details of this work-shirking, hard-drinking, elitist buffoon’s spiritual life. But the similarity of the inappropriateness of the two thankfully unrelated topics seemed lost on him.

I found myself remembering that awful time that I had to hear (at least the beginnings of) what went on at the local Episcopal church, because I was talking this evening about Christopher Hitchens and the impetus he felt to declare the righteousness of his atheism to the very end.

I was talking to a relative who shared with me the isolating experience of being raised orthodox Atheist, and who felt that Hitchens had taken a stance that needed to be taken, in times when religious belief seems as mandatory a qualifier for public office as lack of a violent criminal record or dependence on antipsychotic medication. Hitchens’s contribution to our culture came up because this is the season when the losses of the last year are tabulated in obituary reviews — the one undeniable afterlife. And I think Hitchens got a break on the stridency of his atheism, which seemed to me to defeat the entire point: that what is sacred and spiritual, or not, to each of us is, by nature, personal.

And I can’t help it. Whether its the former supervisor or Hitchens, I find myself wishing them, in the figurative afterlife, confronting some fearful figure with an accounting ledger, telling each of them, for the exact same reason: “Big mistake.”

Mobile Home Community Christmas Party
December 28, 2011

LANTANA, FL — I always wished I could live in the kind of little English village where that Agatha Christie mysteries and Jane Austen romances unravelled. I envied people who lived communally enough with their neighbors to guess at their secrets, but not enough to know them. That is at least part of what drew me to life in a mobile home community, where we live close enough to critique each others cars, gardens, habits, supposed vices, but autonomously enough to avoid being personally affected by them.

The distinction between a Mobile Home Community and a Trailer Park is important to understand, in order to understand the rest of this. Not that there is anything wrong with trailer parks — aside from homes filled with the unhealthy combination of alcohol, ammo and disappointed dreams as well as dwellings that fall to pieces in hurricanes. Maybe those are stereotypes anyway. The great difference is that a Trailer Park usually is a transient place, and a Mobile Home Community tends more to be transient only in the sense that “God’s Little Waiting Room” might be considered a transient place.

Many of the people left in our Mobile Home Community are here because their parents were. The homes, while mobile, last longer than the people, and the land keeps us here because we own it. There is the difference, which sounds like it boils down to one of social class, but it isn’t. It’s one of lifestyle. It doesn’t cost much to stay or leave here, but we bought into it and so we stay. And for me, that makes it like a little English village, where you know just enough about each other to stay entertained, and just little enough to wonder about things.

The annual Christmas party my neighbor throws gives us a chance to appreciate that. My two newly widowed neighbors were there; one described her husband’s final hours to me, the other was too busy celebrating the holiday. Both were doting wives with long sick husbands.

My dithery across the street neighbor who, possibly has never completed a sentence in the dozen years I’ve known her, mentioned her late son, as she sometimes, but seldom does. The tragedy of losing an offspring, her only offspring, that thing that is considered the saddest and most unfair of losses, happened years before I met her. I asked how he died. She dithered. Pneumonia, she said, ah, ah, it might have been AIDS, I don’t know. Then she told me again how much she is looking forward to reading a story I’m working on, which happens to be about AIDS, and for the first time I believed her.

The subject of crime on the street came up with the man who lives nearest the entrance of the community. It hadn’t been bad, he said, since the guy in the first mobile home left. That guy, a former airline pilot and chronic drunk who had a car bedecked with bumper stickers that would have made Ron Paul blush (well probably not, as it turns out) made all his friends at the corner bar, a place with no windows and one of those silhouettes of a perky-breasted long-haired female figure over the door called Duke’s Lounge. His social habits and proximity to the front of the street did tend to make our Mobile Home Community look like a Trailer Park, a resemblance that was intensifed when Hurricane Wilma turned his home into a pile of scrap metal, and he and his friends who he had offered shelter from the storm continued to drink among the ruins. The destruction of his home caught the attention of the man’s daughter who collected him and put him in a nursing home. This happened six years ago, but my neighbor was mentioning it now, in the conntext of the caches of ammunition he had found among the remains of the man’s castle.

Which did make our quiet Mobile Home Community sound a lot like a Trailer Park, but also reminded me of how one miscreant could threaten the security of a cozy English village in an Agatha Christie mystery or a Jane Austen romance.