Thanks for your service, by Rich Paschall
He had been in the business for almost 40 years. The last twenty-seven of those with the same company. He liked his job and thought he was good at it. In just a few more years he would retire. Everything seemed to be on track.
When Carl started in his career, orders were processed with typewriters. Carbon paper was used when multiple copies were required. Details of international orders were sent overseas by telex machine. Everything was done manually and file cabinets were stuffed with files of all the orders and shipments.
Carl made it through all the changes. At first, he thought an electronic typewriter with memory was just about the coolest thing. Fax machines took the place of telex machines and worldwide communication was getting easier. As the decades went on, technology and communications advanced faster and faster, but Carl kept right up with everything. You could never say that Carl was behind the times.
Despite the efficiency of his work life, the same could not be said of Carl’s personal life until recent years. Only as retirement thoughts started weighing on his mind did Carl pay attention to his accounts. For the last few years, he contributed to the 401K plan. He even took out some small CDs for better interest return, since savings and checking accounts returned him only pennies per month, literally.
Then came the problems of advancing age. Bifocals were no longer good enough to do his job. He was recommended to get trifocals but opted for a second pair of glasses — just to see the computer. His hands were stiff and sore and he needed medication for that.
Nerve pain in the feet demanded a drug as did high cholesterol. His blood tests never satisfied his doctor and even when he felt well, there were many pills to take. Despite all these issues, Carl still carried on in grand fashion and handled his job like a pro.
When Carl got a new boss, they seemed to get along well. She appeared to appreciate his experience and they often had nice little chats. When Carl asked if he could come in late so he could have his annual physical, his boss seemed disappointed. He assured her he would make up the time during the week and she finally voiced approval.
The doctor’s visit showed the usual issues, but also “abnormal cells in undetermined significance.” Carl was referred to a specialist and he had to ask for another morning off. The boss looked quite perturbed when she said: “OK if you must.” Unfortunately for Carl, he did, in fact, feel he must see the doctor.
The specialist was a handsome young man with a sunny disposition. He indicated all the dire situations that may be happening with such a cute smile, that Carl still felt at ease. His examination and subsequent biopsy lead to “dysplasia but cells are undetermined.” Carl was recommended to a surgeon.
Again, Carl asked for a morning off. The stares of the boss led Carl to say he would make up his time the same week and he would not ask for any more time off in the coming months. He was greeted with a long and painful silence. “Fine,” the boss stated with an air of exasperation.
The following day was a Wednesday and Carl worked hard all day under the glares of his much younger boss. Whenever Carl looked around, she seemed to be nearby staring at him. Needless to say, it was a rather uncomfortable day. Normally, Carl had pleasant days and nice little chats with coworkers. He never got close to any of them or saw them socially. One young man loved having random little conversations with Carl about anything every day, but he was the only friend if you could call him that. Carl was just at work to do his job.
At the end of that day, just past 5 pm, the facilities manager, the superior to Carl’s boss, invited Carl down to her office for a chat. When he got there his boss was already seated and staring at the floor. The facilities manager began.
“Carl, you know we think you have been doing excellent work for us for many years but…” Then there was a long pause while the manager looked for the words. “Well, the business has fallen off some. A stronger dollar means weaker business. We are well behind budget for the year and we must eliminate a position. I am sorry, but we have to let you go.”
Carl was dumbfounded. He planned to work another two or three years and retire. He was not ready for this. His boss continued to look at the floor when the manager spoke up again. She explained about the last paycheck, vacation pay, Cobra insurance, and unemployment. She said she would write a nice letter of recommendation. She closed by saying she was sorry, it was not personal, it was just economics. She thanked him for his years of service. His boss continued to stare at the floor.
He returned to his desk, took a few personal items while his boss hovered nearby and he was then prepared to leave. That’s when she came over and asked for his badge and ID and walked away. “What was that?” a longtime female coworker asked. “I was fired,” he replied. The coworker started to cry. Carl quietly said goodbye, looked around for his young friend, who was already gone, and he left.
After a few days of reviewing jobs online and making a few calls, Carl saw it would be difficult at his age and salary range to find a new position. That night, he lined up all of his prescriptions on the kitchen table, including the container of powerful painkillers for his hand pain. Next, he got a bottle of one of his favorite wines, appropriately chilled. He opened the wine, poured himself a glass, and sat down at the kitchen table. There he looked over the table and contemplated his future.