Fired!

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The following is a talk that I gave for the Write Club at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles.

Getting fired has a stigma attached to it, and I think this is wrong. After all, when you are fired, what does it mean? It means you didn’t fit in at the corporation you were working for. And what is a corporation? It is a machine. It certainly isn’t a person. It exists merely to create value for shareholders. It exists for no other reason. And you are a cog in that machine. When you are fired, it shows that you are not a cog, but rather a unique individual, and therefore incompatible with the system.

It is better to be fired than it is to quit. When you quit, you are doing your boss’s job for him. Why should you? You’re not getting paid to do his job, are you? No, make the bastard fire you. Make him earn his pay. He gets paid to make you earn your pay, so make him earn his pay. Give him some reason to fire you. I don’t know, trim your toenails at your desk. Scratch your ass at the water cooler. Chew with your mouth open.

But whatever you do, don’t get fired for some grubby, venal reason. When I was working at Coca-Cola, they had this contest, in which one of the prizes was this retro Coca-Cola vending machine that you could have in your living room. A guy I worked with was doing the paperwork for this contest. He arranged things so that one of these machines was delivered to a friend of his, who hadn’t taken part in the contest. When the company figured out what he did, they fired him immediately. A couple of security guards escorted him out of the building. They didn’t even let clean out his desk. They wanted him off the property immediately. So, he sacrificed his job so a friend of his could have a Coca-Cola vending machine in his living room. Oh, please.

On the other hand, I’ve seen people go out of their way to get fired, but weren’t. This doesn’t seem right to me. To me, that is sort of like coitus interruptus. The climax was never reached. Years ago, I had a temp job working in a warehouse in Edison, New Jersey. I was doing inventory with some other guys. It was a Lowe’s warehouse. We were going through some boxes, and I found this box with gold-plated toothbrushes in it. This struck me as the most pretentious yuppie thing I had ever seen in my life. I started laughing, and I pointed it out to the guys I was working with. “Hey, look at this,” I said. “Gold-plated toothbrushes.” I thought they would find it funny just like me. But that’s not what happened. Instead, their eyes lit up. They threw themselves upon the box, and they began grabbing fistfuls of toothbrushes and stuffing them inside their shirts and pants. Well, it was Friday, and at the end of the day, we had to go to the personnel office to have our time cards signed. So, all these guys go into the office with toothbrushes stuffed inside their shirts and pants. This one guy had so many toothbrushes stuffed inside his pants, that he was walking like this. (Imitate walk stiff-legged walk.) And there was this one manager there who kept staring intently at this guy. He looked as though he was about to say something. And I was thinking, “Oh God, this is my fate in life, to be arrested for stealing toothbrushes in Edison, New Jersey.” We were in that office for what seemed to me to be an eternity, as one of the managers signed our time cards. And during that whole time, this one manager kept staring at that guy. And when the guy had gotten his time card signed and turned to walk out, I thought, “Oh boy, this is it.” The manager watched him go out the door, and he didn’t say anything. And although I’m glad that manager didn’t say anything, I have to admit that I actually felt a little disappointed. There was no completion to this story, no dramatic confrontation. I found it aesthetically unsatisfying.

When I was working at Coca-Cola, I was in the human resources department. Now, working in human resources is an exercise in cognitive dissonance. You’re supposed to make the employees feel that the company cares about them, but at the same time, you’re supposed to make it clear to these same employees that the company doesn’t really care about them. It’s a very nuanced message that you’re sending to people. But when you fire someone, the nuance is gone. The pretense is over. The company really doesn’t care about this person, and it doesn’t care about you either.

And so it was that I was eventually fired from Coca-Cola. It didn’t happen all at once. I was told that my services would no longer be required after the end of the year. They said that I was being “laid off”. Over the next several months, they gave me less and less to do. At the end, they gave me a going away party. None of my bosses attended. I got a cake and a nice severance package. I didn’t feel like looking for another job, so I went back to school, finished my art degree, then I came back to LA, met some really cool people, and now I’m doing shows like this. So, getting fired is not the end of the world, it is a beginning.

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