My standing ovation

Well, it wasn’t quite in Leon Lott’s league, but then I didn’t wear an Ellie Mae wig, either. And the standing ovation I received when I got up to speak to the Columbia Rotary Club today was pretty overwhelming. I was humbled, awed and bowled over. I had been pretty calm up until that time, taking all the kind comments I had received from so many readers with tremendous gratitude, but also with a certain equanimity. This came close enough to choking me up that I had a little trouble with my delivery, but I made it through.

And I got some laughs, which was my aim. See, it was my turn to do Health and Happiness. If you aren’t a Rotarian and don’t know what that means, it basically involves passing on items of personal news about other members (births, deaths, hospitalizations and such), followed by a few (preferably tasteful) jokes. I had been scheduled to do it today for some time.

Since everyone I’ve talked to over the last couple of weeks had shown a lot of interest in my being laid off, I decided to just talk about that, rather than read a bunch of one-liners lifted from the Internet.

Here’s the written text I worked from:

Did you ever hear the one about the guy who had to do Health and Happiness on the first working day after he got laid off?

For some reason, for the last few days a Saturday Night Live skit has been going through my head, and I’m wondering if I dreamt it because I can’t find any reference to it on the Internet.

It was one of those spoofs that Eddie Murphy did called “Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood,” in which he was a down-and-out version of Mr. Rogers. It was a recurring skit. Anyway, I think I recall that one time he said something like this:

“The boys and girls in the park say, ‘Mr. Robinson, you’re so nice to us. You play with us, you tell us stories, you sing songs with us…’
“You ain’t got no job, do you?”

Anyway, I keep hearing Eddie Murphy’s voice saying that – whether he ever actually said it or not – and every time I hear it, I smile.

Which is not the reaction you might expect.

Friday was my last day at the paper. Robert Ariail and I had spent every moment we could find for the week before that cleaning out our offices. At about 7 p.m. Friday, we had been sharing the hand truck back and forth, and we finally got the last loads into our vehicles. Then we headed to Five Points to get a beer. Or two.

On the way in to Yesterday’s, out on the sidewalk, I turned to Robert and said, “Do you feel bad yet?”
He said “No. Do you?” I said “No,” and we just started laughing. Anybody seeing us at that moment, knowing the circumstances, would have thought we’d lost our minds. Mind you, we hadn’t had the beer yet. But we each knew what the other meant.

Don’t ask me to explain it. I dearly loved my job and worked with a great bunch of people, and I am very touched by the outpouring I’ve received from folks – friends and total strangers – who have expressed the sense of loss they feel now that Robert’s work and mine won’t be in the paper any more. And I wish the best for my good friends who remain behind, trying to keep putting out the paper in these difficult times. There’s just this thing where, perhaps selfishly, Robert and I are sort of glad they’re going to be struggling on without US.

So for the moment we’re pretty satisfied. But we realize, as do our 38 co-workers who also left the paper Friday, that sitting back and relying on unemployment checks is not the best long-term strategy.

For one thing, in South Carolina, the biggest unemployment check you can get amounts to $326 a week. If the job you lost paid a million dollars a year, that’s still the biggest check you can get. And don’t think oh, that’s OK, you can supplement it by flipping burgers a few hours a week until you get back on your feet. No. If you make $200 at a part-time job while you’re looking for full-time, that week you will only get $126 in your unemployment check. The $326 is a ceiling, not a floor.
Besides, you can’t even rely on the $326 a week in a state where Mark Sanford is the governor.

(What, did you think I’d stop expressing political opinions just because I’m not getting paid for it? … I can’t help it; it’s a compulsion.)

So anyhow, I figure I need a backup plan. So I’m working on a resume. One thing the employment security people said when they came to the paper to give us advice was that we should show our resumes to as many people as possible and get feedback. This seems like an excellent opportunity.

So tell me how this sounds:

Starts out with my name, e-mail address, phone number, etc. Then…

OBJECTIVE: A job, any old job, that pays more than $326 a week. And oh, yes – benefits, since we can’t seem to get our act together in this country on a National Health Plan, unlike the rest of the world.

JOB HISTORY: Assembled and led a highly skilled, motivated, effective team of 8 professional journalists who… No wait, that was several years ago, before cutbacks in our industry. Make that, “team of 7 people…” No, “6 people…” uh, 5… 4… 3..?

You know what; the number’s not important. Leave that out.

SKILLS: Writing, editing, pagination using QuarkXpress, general newspaper production, consensus building, interviewing, analysis of complex issues, blogging, photography, video production, community relations, and just generally going around acting like I know the answer to everything …

Is that too much information? Well, maybe it does need work. I’m open to suggestions.

Seriously, folks, I’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness I’ve been shown by so many of you over the last couple of weeks as I prepared to leave a job that has meant so much to me, and, I’ve been gratified to learn, to many of you. I feel humbled to have had the opportunity to do that job for the past 22 years. And to have so many of you tell me how much you appreciated the job I did just means more than I can say.

And I’d tell you all that, instead of making silly jokes about it, except that, you know, I’m a guy, and we don’t like to talk about our feelings.

Thank you. You’ve been a wonderful audience.

8 thoughts on “My standing ovation

  1. Mike Cakora

    So what did you and Robert have to drink at Yesterday’s? I like to have a Stella Artois there, just for a change. It’s not as hearty as some, but it’s clear and crisp, and if you’re lucky they may have one of the fancy glasses that the other guys make fun of. I think that the brewer should use this clip in their advertising.
    But that’s not why I’m writing. Have thought about using a headhunter? I know you want to stay in the area and something right up your alley may be hard to find, but if you ask around you might find a good one that understands your capabilities, talents, and desires and is networked enough to open some doors you might never think of knocking at.
    I had a lengthy stint of underemployment when the construction company I worked for in Minneapolis went into Chapter 11; they made me the controller on the day in January 1996 they filed, putting me into the worst job I’ve ever had for eight months. The construction side was strong — they were good — but they made the mistake of trying to develop a golf course on their own and sucked all the cash out of the going concern. We finally got thrown out of Chapter 11 to liquidation. So we moved to the Palmetto State — my wife’s a native of Columbia — to start over. It took a few years before I got back into the game at age 49. While I was lucky (preparation meets opportunity), several friends and one of my brothers have had great results with headhunters.
    I’m up in Northern Virginia for another week or so, but I’ll be back and would be happy to buy you a brewski or two at Yesterday’s.

  2. brad

    Actually, Mike, I have a whole separate post I plan to write about what Robert and I drank that night. I need to interview Robert, though, to see if I can fill in some gaps.

    We didn’t drink a lot, but we enjoyed what we drank. It was interesting. (Basically, we visited a bar owned by a friend of Robert’s who opened a bunch of bottles of exotic beers, gave us some little glasses and bade us have a taste of each.)

    Hey, it beats working.

    Be glad to meet you at Yesterday’s. Maybe James D. can join us.

  3. Randy E

    Breakfast each morning and brews at night. It’s the Brad Warthen stimulus plan. Careful, the governor will try to intervene.

  4. Birch Barlow

    I’m surprised the Rotary can still exist in a state with such an unenlightened, heartless ideologue for a governor; a man who has ruined almost everything else here.

    Nevertheless, congratulations for your warm reception by your peers. I’m sure it speaks to your work here in Columbia.

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