I got laid off. I knew it was coming, the investment bank I work for lost money in Q1, Q2, Q3 and Q4 last year, whatever those are. People couldn’t stop talking about it, it’s coming, it’s coming, next week, for sure the week after that. And finally they did it. They called a bunch of us into the conference room on four and handed the person on the right side of the room a big stack of papers to sign and said take one and pass them to your left.
I didn’t really read the papers though I gathered from them that they said a lot of things about how wonderful it was to have us as workers and that the place was one big family and that it was pretty cool how we’d won the softball tourney three years in a row. The one thing I did notice was that we weren’t allowed to sue.
And then they told us the meeting was over and we were free to go but that we should form a line and hand our papers to H.R. Which is exactly what we did. And after we handed our papers to H.R. there was a really big surprise. It was Mr. Montgomery standing there just on the other side of the door shaking people’s hands like you might at a wedding or a funeral. I don’t need to tell you but I will anyway, he’s the CEO of the bank, the guy with the houses and the bonuses and a really soft and engaging hand shake.
But the best part about the whole experience was not the way he looked me in the eye and said, Pleasure, just like he’d said to the guy before me and the guy after me, but it was the way he pointed to his right where they had the stack of banker’s boxes that were filled with our severance packages. When I got there his assistant lifted one off the stack and handed it to me. I looked down at it and noticed that someone had taken a ball point pen and stabbed the box repeatedly. I was about to ask for a different one when I noticed that they all had been stabbed. My first assumption was that they were giving us second hand boxes, you know, hard times, but then I took the lid off my box and saw the rabbits.
“They’re Angora’s,” another one of Mr. Montgomery’s assistants said to me. “Good for sweaters.”
At first I was furious, and then I was angry, and then I was in complete denial, and then I was numb, and then I was accepting, and then I was calm. And these were the exact stages that were described in Dealing With Layoffs for Dummies, the partially chewed book that was rattling around in the bottom of the box, just underneath the rabbits. It said that I needed to assess my skills and make a Contact Tree, which is a list of people I know and the people they know with me being the trunk. I thought about performing this exercise but then I noticed that the rabbits were doing something to each other that at first I thought was fighting but then realized was almost the opposite.
The babies were born the exact day I went down to the Unemployment Office to fill out paperwork. They were little pink things with slits for eyes and the mother rabbit was tender toward them though it felt a little like she was doing it because she had to. I helped out as best I could, giving them fresh water on the hour and bringing grass home from the park for them to munch on. I gave them all names but the names didn’t really stick too well, I suppose because they’re rabbits and look pretty much the same.
More babies were born the month the checks from the government started arriving in the mail. And by the time the government stopped sending me checks there were enough rabbits that I couldn’t get an accurate count around the apartment. I remember really resenting Mr. Montgomery for a few weeks after I’d been laid off, primarily because I knew that he’d been given a bunch of money that last year and that he had a lot of stock options which he cashed in just before the company’s stock took that initial descent and that the sum total was just below a hundred thousand dollars for every single person at the company who lost a job. Dealing With Layoffs for Dummies said it was reasonable to hate your former employers but that it was important to try to see it from their perspectives, after all, they were with you in the good times as well.
And I agree with that. It’s not healthy to carry around emotional baggage, especially when things are so far out of your control. After all, a guy that punches numbers into a computer to see if orders have gone through and goes to a lot of meetings to learn the new system is hardly the guy who could phone Mr. Montgomery and say that maybe we should be making trades for things that seem a little more clear.
So, in a way, I’m quite thankful that I’ve found that clarity on my own. And there’s nothing clearer than rabbits. This is something I tried to impress upon my landlord, Manny, after I ran out of money for rent but it took him a little while to come around. That first month he poked me in the chest and told me to imagine him headed down to the dealer to trade a bunch of fucking chinchillas for a Chevy Impala, which I thought was very unfair since rabbits are much more versatile than chinchillas, I’ve read. The second month he completely changed his tune due, in part, because nobody answered his apartment listing and mainly because he got a taste of my rabbit apple sausages.
Toward the end of summer I traded wool for a spinning wheel and lessons and by the middle of fall I’d knitted my first sweater. They’re incredibly soft, come in a few easy on the eye colors and have a homemade quality that people seem to really appreciate. I say this with some degree of certainty because I set up a table on Main Avenue right across the street from my old bank and sales are pretty brisk. One of my customers told me that by turning the temperature of his house in Placeville down five degrees he would save nearly a thousand dollars a month. His wife was not so happy with this idea, he said, but that he thought having a warm sweater might take the sting out of the ‘new reality.’
I understood exactly where he was coming from, my heat and electricity have been off for a good while; the utilities don’t accept meat, skins or knitwear, only money. But sales on my corner on Main Avenue have gotten good enough that I’m getting close to being able to pay off what I owe. And being on this corner is exactly how I came to see Mr. Montgomery again.
He looked a bit different from that first and last time I shook his hand back when I worked for him. He had that same regal hairstyle and his suit and overcoat looked just as smooth as they always do in the pictures. He walked across Main Avenue from my former bank building to get a cab uptown. I suppose something about the table filled with sweaters caught his eye because he came over and touched each and every one. I told him that I had men’s and women’s, small, medium and large. I told him they were all-natural dyes and hand woven. I told him I tended the angoras myself.
And then he raised an eyebrow and looked at me. His face was much thinner than I remembered and more washed out. I told him that I took custom orders, as well, but that it took about three weeks. And then I reached into the cooler and pulled out a sausage sampler and handed it to him telling him that it was on the house, after all he was the one that gave me my start.