Twenty years ago today, around 9:15, I turned in my badge and walked out the door. I said goodbye to EMC, my employer for three and a half years.
Walking Out the Door
I can’t recall if I was actually escorted out the door, but I do remember it being a warm, sunny Spring day. As I was escorted out, I do have a memory of walking out of the front entrance and through the center parking lot. I never had a reason to walk in the front entrance. The main, grand entrance was largely ceremonial, reserved for EMC executives and their guests. The rest of, the blue and white color workers sitting in cubes and installing memory boards and disk drives into giant, complex computers, all used the unmarked doors on the sides of the building.
Meeting with HR
My meeting with HR was uneventful. It was more of a formality of going over my layoff package (ten weeks of pay and unused vacation time!). I signed a few documents and answered a few innocuous questions about my time at EMC. There was a warm rigidity from the HR woman. She probably has done this hundreds of times, often with distraught people getting fired or laid off without ever seeing it coming. I cheerfully volunteered for my layoff. Excited and not nervous in the least, I was more than happy to see this chapter come to a close. I was implored to go register at the Unemployment Office. It seemed very important to them that I start drawing unemployment as soon as possible. I obliged.
Double or Nothing
It was a few weeks earlier I had to tell my boss that I volunteered to take the layoff. I knocked on his open door, asked if he had a second, then closed the door behind me. I would rarely close the door behind me whenever I would talk to him. After telling him, he took off his glasses, put his head in his hands and told me he was afraid I was about to tell him that. I tried to comfort him a bit – not that he was emotionally distraught but I wasn’t expecting that degree of a reaction.
I started to pontificate about the possibilities of the future and pursue art full time, he interrupted. He offered to double my salary to stay. The number flashed in my head – even in 2002 $90,000 was a large salary, especially to a 26 year old. I smiled, shook my head and knew my departure date was now looming on the calendar (Ed. Note: It would take over five years to earn $90,000 in my early years as an artist)
It was only a few months after I arrived back from my year long stint at the company’s plant in Cork, Ireland. I had long pestered my boss to take me on a quarterly visits to Ireland with the other managers and a few select employees. I promised to be a model employee, while drowning in and drinking up the Irish culture every night. Instead of a week visit, I was sent over on a three month sojourn. My mission was to train our Cork cohorts on the reports being run in America. Three months got stretched to a year. I survived a foot and mouth outbreak, a full season of hurling matches, and watching September 11th happen live right after lunch. Through it all, I lived up to my pledge to drink up and drown in Irish culture on a nightly basis.
Everybody Needs Options
At one point I received stock options from EMC, Wall Street’s favorite company of the 90s! I drove to my parent’s house and showed my dad. They were already proud I had found a way to balance my ‘art’ with a comfortable, reliable salary. My dad, who always tried his best to better our family’s financial situation, constantly looked for a better job with a higher salary and a more secure future. Unfortunately for him, the 1950s ended 40 years earlier. “You did it!” he exclaimed, proudly holding the ‘golden ticket’ of my life. There was a sense of Willy Loman in his pride as he saw his first born son roll the dice at the capitalist wheel and strike it big! I laughed when he said this, and confidently reassured him of three things:
- The stock price will never rise high enough to make the options valuable
- I would not be around at the company long enough to cash in the options
- The options are worth exactly as much as the piece of paper they were printed on.
My dad couldn’t fathom any of those things being true. I was correct on all three things.
The Daily Grind
My job grew from data entry temp to interviewing people with actual degrees for jobs. I also endured yearly performance reviews, bitched about raises over breakfast with co-workers, and received an occasional bonus. My closet filled up with free polo shirts emblazoned with the EMC logo. Sometimes my group even got to vote on the type of EMC branded polo shirt!
My boss would ask for an urgent report before 2. I would have it done by 10, and give it to him early at 12. I was then thanked for just how fast I got it done. Literally hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue were closed on meetings that used my reliability reports that I produced. Back in 1999, my coworker kept begging me to buy an unknown stock named ‘google’ when it went public. It all seemed so normal for this bizarre aspect of my life at the time.
The Half Windsor
I eschewed khakis as part of my office attire. Instead, I wore shoes with a nice pair of dress pants. To simplify things, I rotated through three white dress shirts. I married the shirts with a plethora of thrift stores and hand me down ties from the 50s and 60s, courtesy my dad and grandfather. It was a simple uniform to wear. I got to flaunt ugly orange patterned ties one day, heavily embroidered maroon and yellow ties the next.
My outfits always felt like an afterthought, until one day in a project meeting when I refuted three points from an Indian coworker. Logistically, his ‘asks for new reports’ were impossible. I calmly explained what data was and more importantly, was not and could not be collected. He didn’t let on during the meeting, but he took things the wrong way. Infuriated, he visited my cube and told me that I had a big head because I wore ties. I was confused by the sudden outburst from this otherwise gentle, softspoken man. I didn’t know if there was a reside from English imperialism in the subcontinent, but we continued to get along fine after the one time blowup.
Personal and Personnel Relations
As I started to grow comfortable with my life as a temp, I continued to paint and drink each night, finally succumbing to sleep somewhere between 3:30 and 5 each night. I spent my weekends seeing bands and drinking in Boston and Cambridge. EMC wanted more from me, and I became a full time employee, employee number 8199.
My personal pledge when I started my job was a strict pledge to ‘Never fuck up a real person’s career’. This pledge didn’t deter me from going out on a limb and making improvements in the Quality Group that I saw fit. There were three managers in my section of Quality, all with a workload that simultaneously overlapped and kept intentionally segregated. Each manager built up their own fiefdom, built on jealousy, paranoia and general insecurities.
Frustrated by the inability of people to be able to communicate and share ideas, I befriended every manager and made regular visits to each of their offices. I would share a tidbit of news I knew other managers would refuse to share. In return would receive other, juicier tidbits. As I spread news of the operations to other managers and co-workers, a weird bond of trust and progress started to develop. I learned the inability to share ideas, accept criticism and have basic communication skills is the undoing of small minded people. This fearfulness and insecurity can be seen in almost every American institution, from Congress to police to Q people to ‘concerned parents’, and is a really awful characteristic of modern American life.
Walking in the Door
When my student loans kicked in, I looked for a higher paying job. I ended up as a temp at EMC, a local Fortune 500 computer company that was making peak pre-internet money. I arrived at my first day in one of my more professional looking ties. Greeted by the secretary, I was led to my cube, and it was hard not to feel like Matthew from NewsRadio. My first task was to take a pile of papers and enter some data into an excel spreadsheet. Hence, my first problem arose within an hour of my arrival.
I had to figure out how to turn on my computer and open excel. During my art school years I was used to using apples, and hadn’t used a PC since high school. Looking around my cube, I scanned the area for help. I needed to find someone cool that wouldn’t tell my new boss that I had no idea literally how to turn on my computer. I chose right. Mike was a saint – and somebody I would work closely with during my tenure there. I explained my situation and tried to express that I wasn’t a complete moron, and he gladly helped me out. I entered all my work and was well on my way, my boss having no idea.