Tuesday, February 19, 2008


"Chris, come on in the office." No big deal. I'd been used to it. Going into the "office." Sign here. Any questions? Nope. Alright then. Get back to work. This time I have no idea, but I'm not worried, really. "Pete, are you there?" Justin says to the phone. The phone responds.... I'm on a conference call with my boss and my boss's boss! A wave of red fear flushes my face and washes down my whole being from head to toe.

With Pete on the phone, that can only mean one thing...(insert image of drawing line across neck with index finger). Deep breath. Okay. Oh, I bet I'm getting canned. It's probably because of those two arguments I got into with him last month. Two in a week's time! Pete's an authortarian. That means don't ask questions, don't play devil's advocate; just do. Just do as I say and don't do anything else. He doesn't like dissenters. That's insubordination!

I had merely asked a question of his secretary (er--uh--district sales assistant: eh-hem) via email concerning the appropriateness of competition in charity. She had stated that she didn't want her district to be in last place in the giving event. I wrote to her asking if giving is "all about competition now?" And, guess who was offended and forwarded the interchange to the world's greatest boss?

"Chris! What is your problem, bringing down my staff?" Nervous tension. Heart pounding. Flushed face. Adrenaline. Stress. Deep breath. I can do this. I hate this job and I don't need it and I can handle this man. I've always been obsequious--kissing up. Not this time. Deep breath.

"No problem Pete, really. I just uh, asked her a question, that's all. She was offended and I apologized. No big deal."

"Well, Chris it is a big deal. This is a second time in a week that I've had to talk to you about your negative behavior and insubordination!"


"Yes, insubordination! Now, we're trying to do something good by giving clothes to needy people. Are you telling me that giving isn't good?"

"No, Pete, of course giving is good."

"Well, if there's nothing wrong with that, then what is your problem?"

"Pete, my problem is that giving shouldn't be boiled down to a competition."

"What! Are you saying competition is bad?"

Sigh. "No, Pete. Competition is good. I just think giving should be done from the heart and not in order to win a contest. It cheapens it."

"Chris, your job is to get in the boat and row. It's not to ask questions about how we do things. You either row or get out of the boat. Now, this is the second time in a week that I have had to talk to you about your negativity. You said you hate this job, so why don't you quit? Chris why are you here?"

"Well, I want to sell some loans and make some money."

"I don't have to tell you that your numbers are low, do I?"

"Well, who's aren't? I mean, look at the market. And we're offering over 11% to people."

"We don't sell rate." An expected rebuttal. But wait....

"No Pete, we don't. But what do we sell? We sell debt consolidation and monthly savings. To do that, people have to have equity in their homes. But people don't have that anymore, do they?"

"Chris, I'm not having this conversation with you." He knows I'm right. No one's selling a thing. The company already shut down 260 branches 2 months ago. 10 bucks says this office is next!
"Chris. If you don't like it here, then," with emphasis, "there's the door." You must know that if I quit, I don't get severence or unemployment. Why ruin a good thing? I had been planning on going down with the ship.

Twenty minutes of this on the phone. Lots of defining of words. Lots of semantics. Pete's conviction: I'm a downer, negative and insubordinate for asking questions and not "jumping on board." My proverb of the day to Pete: we must agree to disagree.

Back in the office now, with Pete on speaker. Fear. Nervous tension. This can only mean one thing. This is it! The chickens are coming home to roost! Just on Friday at a sales meeting I didn't even greet him. Just walked right by. Well, what would you do if all you got after an hour and 45 minute dangerous trek through the snow to a useless meeting in the middle of nowhere off a back road was, "You're late!"? (We didn't even stop to help a poor sap and his little daughter as their car was slammed off the icy road high up onto an embankment. Can't be late for business!).

But then, sitting there with him on the phone, I stared at the motionless, plastic conglomeration of hi-tech pieces all gathered into one union as if it were a person. It stared back. Nothing. And then something fine, like white sugar, poured on my head. Sweet.

Sweet, or "Restrained jubulation." (You've heard that before perhaps. The doctor in the courtroom with pointed finger. Pointing at George. His fallen fiance Susan and the poisonous envelopes. Yes, Restrained jubulation. Even glee. I'm getting fired!

I had been longing for this for quite some time. Business had gotten so bad that we were calling the same people three times a day to try to "get them in" for a face-to-face meeting. The goal: get the potential customer to refinance their mortgage with cash out. Cash in hand. Do some home improvements! Pay off those pesky credit cards! Let me reduce your mortgage term by 12 months or more! (isn't that a good one?). Sounds pretty good, right? Yep, until you offer them over 11% (but hey--it's fixed!) with a 5% fee (uh, that means that if the loan is 100k the customer is paying over 5k in fees--not sure how, but my company added fees on top of the 5% fee--good trick!).

It'd been like this for about a year. Prior to that, I actually did some loans for people that were pretty good. But lately, uh--no. "Dude, put me out of my misery. Just shoot me right now. I mean, just end it right here in my cubicle," says a buddy in Another City's office. Not two minutes after this lament with my compatriot en suffering, here I am. Ah, sweet relief.

"Chris, you are being terminated for low production. This is effective immediately. You'll be getting one's month severence," the phone said. His tone is matter-of-fact. It's just another meeting. Vindictive lies beneath the waters of calm, cool, "this is just business." I'm being terminated. Last month, it was called, "optimization." But that was downsizing due to low numbers. Now, I'm being terminated due to low numbers and for aggravating an authortarian, egomaniac with my incorruptable candor and refusal to kowtow as a yes-man and lick boots. But, that's just my conjecture.

"Wow! Thank-you!" I say with glad tidings. One months severence. Just what I expected on this day I knew would eventually come to pass. I'm leaning back now. My legs are crossed. My hands are folded on my stomach. Justin smiles, puts his head down. This is supposed to be where I cry and beg. If I had just "quit" when things got tough, that means no severence, and no unemployment benefits. I decided to suffer and milk it. The suffering's over, and I'd like a bottle (of milk).

"You'll also be getting three month's insurance premiums paid."

"That's great, thanks! Hey, Pete. Uh, do you think you could do me a big favor? I'd really like to work until Thursday if I could, then I'd be able to get my full 3 years in seeing as how my hire date was the 21st. How's that sound?" My request is jovial and carefree. And unexpected.

"No, Chris, I cannot do that. You are being terminated for low production." He wants this to be serious. This is serious!

"Bummer. Are you sure?" Justin, eeks out another smile. His head slowy raises up. It's good to see him smile because like Pete, he's not known for his gleeful self--understatedly so. Well, business has been slow, and Justin wants to be Pete's boss's boss's boss someday. Someone real big.

"Does this surprise you?"

Indirect answer. And I'm excited. "Well, Pete, thanks for everything man, I really appreciate it. "You know," as I lean back further and gaze fondly in the distance, "our family has worked real hard over the last 2 1/2 years to achieve our goals of getting Monica into pharmacy school. Man, she deserves so much credit: she's been working part-time, going to school part-time, being a full-time mom and a full-time wife, and we've finally made it. She made it. Monica got accepted last week Monday, and I got a job offer in North Carolina at a classical Christian Academy teaching Literature, Bible and History. And..."

"Chris, the reason for your termination is because of low production and you mention the teaching thing and it makes me feel bad that we hired you and you weren't able to meet production goals. So maybe sales just wasn't the thing for you."

He cut me off. I bet I sound too happy, too relaxed. How would you feel when saying goodbye forever to a profit-only driven, authortarian egomaniac?

"Well, Pete, shoot. You really shouldn't feel bad. I mean, I was the number one salesman in the office in 2006, and I'm a very good salesman, it's just not the right time for me [or anyone] to be selling subprime loans." Really, that's all true! Anyone want an 11% mortgage with 5% fees (don't forget the added fees--there, there mister customer, just a little more castor oil. Big spoon, big gulp! Good boy! Now, go run and play.)?

"Chris, I take it from the tone in your voice and in your responses that this comes as no surprise to you. Was this expected? I mean, does this come as a surprise to you that you're being terminated for low production?" Hey buddy, I can take a hint. (Doesn't anyone say, 'fired' anymore?)

"Well, Pete, yes and no. I mean, no one's really selling anything right now, and I'm certainly not alone. But, that's the way it goes. Like I said, our family has some really good things lined up and we're so thankful..."

"Chris. I'm sure you understand that you have to clean out your desk. And Justin must oversee the process so that you don't take any customer information with you."

"Oh no. For sure."

"And I'm sure you understand that I need you to keep the utmost of professionalism as you leave the office immediately after this conversation. You can say goodbye to any potential friends you may have made in your office, but I'm sure you won't interfere with evening call time, so the other account exectutives can give absolute 100% focus to bringing in business." (That means making a ton of cold calls, getting rejected for our high rates right over the phone with subsequent yellings, mimickings, mockings and other ings from our immediate and their immediate superiors. How I'll miss it!!)

"Sure. Say, Pete--are you sure you can't let me work until Thursday so I can get exactly three years in? I mean, my hire date was the 21st. I'd really like to get that full three years in."

"And I wish you had met your production numbers so this didn't have to happen," he snaps. The conversation is now over. Justin wraps it up, and we both get up to leave. I have reached the door. My back is to the phone, to Pete himself. My arm raised high in the air in a fond farewell, I adios the phone as Pete finishes his thought about my low production numbers and their not being up to par. I'm on a pedestal. I wave victorious.

"All right then. G'bye Pete. Thanks!"


Emily said...

Hilarious! I'm glad you've got other things going now.

Jonathan Erdman said...

You are teaching???!!!

chris van allsburg said...

not yet. but i've been offered a job. is that okay?

Barbara said...

Er... congratulations! You got fired with severance!


chris van allsburg said...

Yeah. The funny thing is, my boss's boss aka "Pat," asked me last month why I didn't just quit if I hated the job so much (yes, I told him that).

Well, the reason is...if you quit...no severence!!!!

who's laughin' now, babeh!

Jonathan Erdman said...

Nice choice on the name of your blog.

I'll look forward to shooting holes in your Reformed theological musings!

chris van allsburg said...

yikes. shooting holes, huh?
well, as hillary sez, let conversation begin.

your question regarding my teaching offer? what do you think? you seem shocked.

Shannan said...

Getting "terminated" is definately a sure sign of God "closing a door". The good news is that you have a lot of options right now. We all need to pray for each others house to sell now!!!
Tell Monica "Congratulations!", she has worked very hard and I don't know how she did it.
Hope you are having a good visit with Mikey this afternoon!

Melody said...

Love it.

Don't you think being "terminated" sounds scarier than being "fired"?
I mean, the first one implies death...although I suppose the last one could mean getting shot?

Glad you have stuff lined up. That's always handy.

chris van allsburg said...

Terminated is the word of choice. And who's to tangnle with Corporate World?

2 months ago, the company used the word


Many people were. And now I join the ranks. thank-you God!