Journal entry: July 2, 2001 (age 32)
Ah, the dotcom bubble. Over the past year, it’s introduced me to the highest salary I’ve ever had, the first stock options I’ve ever been offered, and the slow poisoning of my soul by a very corporate corporation. For me, the very word “corporation” connotes an earthbound body violently bereft of spirit. My corporate employer, VeriSign, is more bereft than most. Located in Dulles, Va., VeriSign is the sole keeper of the Internet domain name registry. That means they sell people the rights to their own name – plus the suffix .com, .net or .org. They sold microsoft.com to Microsoft. They also will sell anyone the right to anyone else’s name. That’s how whitehouse.com became an adult entertainment portal.
VeriSign is the kind of place where they fire people while they are on vacation. I can empathize with that, mainly because they fired me while I was on vacation. News of industry-wide layoffs have been widespread for months, so I can’t say it was a total surprise when I returned from Florida last night and received the news. But on my answering machine? The call was from my boss, Payton Smith. Payton is a capable and stand-up kind of guy, and as such has been one of the few bright spots of this job. He too had been let go, along with half of our department. His call was a final act of kindness, designed to spare me the indignity of going into work unaware of my negated status.
The head’s up about my head coming off left me wrestling with a quandary all night. Here’s a sampling culled from the stream of my consciousness: “Should I stay home tomorrow, and avoid the awkward messiness of going in just to get fired? But I have personal belongings in my office, and I should delete my personal documents and e-mail from the PC. Should I go in and talk to human resources about any severance or health insurance issues? Or should I sleep in and drown my sorrows in a Count Chocula and Teletubbies binge?”
Ultimately, I decided to go in. My surreal mission led me past the darkened offices of my fellow firees, as I jingled the keys in my pocket and murmured to myself, “Dead man walking.” In my office, I hurriedly booted up my computer and started going through my desk drawers. Every minute or so, another unsuspecting person walked past my office door. Their eyes widened at the sight of me; their pace quickening so as not to invite a greeting from the ghost within. By the time a hapless higher-up shuffled into my office to lower the boom, I had finished packing up my music CDs, my framed wedding photos, and my beloved pothos plant. “You can spare me the spiel, Bob – I already know.” Moments later, a relieved Bob escorted a just-relieved me from the building.
On our way out, we passed the office of my least favorite co-worker, the Vice President in charge of Arrogance and General Unpleasantness. I recalled the first meeting she held as the head of our department, in which she informed all of us that “Your job is to do one thing: make me look good.” I smiled with the realization that I had failed in a task that was, by any measure, impossible.