Post Magazine: Terminated

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T.M. Shine
Freelance Writer
Tuesday, May 27, 2008; 1:00 PM

One morning, T.M. Shine went to his job at the company where he'd worked for 18 years. At lunchtime, he was laid off, as he recounts in his Washington Post Magazine cover story, "Terminated."

He was online Tuesday, May 27 to rant about, reflect on and commiserate over joining the ranks of the unemployed.

Submit your questions and comments before or during the live discussion.


T.M. Shine: Hey, thanks for stopping by. Between WP comments, personal e-mails and posts (check out the deleted scene) the response to the unemployment story has been overwhelming, even a bit emotional. After this session feel free to e-mail me anytime or stop by the blog. Or if you need someone to hold your hand during a 20-minute teeth whitening at the mall, give me a call. I'll be around. - TMS


Bethesda: How can they not let you back to your desk? What about your personal stuff? What did they think you would do? I thought it was funny how people took their stuff out to their car when they noticed what was going on.

T.M. Shine: that was such a crazy scene. in my old building we had security so security would escort people to their desks and there was a special box you got to put your stuff in. there was one great moment where the boss had to go get jana's pocketbook and walk through the building with it.


Burke, Va.: Are you really Dave Barry?

T.M. Shine: yes.


Gaithersburg, Md.: Mr. Shine,

You are a successful author with several books published. Isn't there a way to make freelance writing a means to earn a living?

I have a couple of friends who support their families this way?

Your piece in the WP Mag says you have no education past high school. Surely that is a gross exaggeration.

I don't think I have ever laughed before reading about someone's plight of unemployment. I read every word, because I may soon be unemployed myself.

Your style is light and an easy read. Thank you for your insights.

T.M. Shine: i have 68 days of community college. for accounting.


Kensington, Md.: Very interesting article, and quite a reflection of our contemporary work culture, but it would have had a lot more punch if you'd named the company in question. Having always been self-employed I don't know much about those papers you have to sign in order to retain your termination benefits, but once those benefits run out, are you then free to start naming names?

If I had to guess, I'd say you probably worked for some subsidiary of one of those faceless corporations whose names crop up on sports arenas, who spend a million dollars in advertising to tell us about every ten thousand dollar donation they've made to some highly visible charity. Am I being too cynical here?

T.M. Shine: i worked for a small publication that is part of a large media corp. as far as those termination papers go i couldn't imagine them caring less about what former employees do once they leave the building.


Washington, D.C.: Sounds like the day of your layoff wasn't handled very smoothly by your employer. Given that layoffs do occur, I'm wondering if you were the boss overseeing HOW and WHEN people are notified, what would you do differently?

T.M. Shine: i kind of like the new chaotic way of doing things. cause i'd love to see people get rowdy or a fight break out. when you think about it, when bob was in the parking lot and the boss came yelling outside someone might have just lost it there. coulda been , 'no, you come outside, you s.o.b.' let's have a real talk.' once things reach the parking lot anything can happen. you know that.


Kudos: This piece was the perfect blend of Office Space and Then We Came to the End. It puts into print things we all feel about working and makes us chuckle, and hopefully, think a little bit.

Thanks so much!

T.M. Shine: yeah, i used to write a column called timeline that detailed all the crazy stuff that went on every day at the office so i was tuned to always observing all the 'office space' stuff.


Brookville, Pa.: Hey, Terry, Barb here. I didn't know you took my Amelie card. I'm totally free of journalism. Spending the summer in Maine cooking at a camp, then I'm going to do my internship in Germany. I always wanted to be a European-trained chef. I don't miss journalism at all, and particularly not those morale-destroying editors. There is life after journalism, but I'm so glad you exposed those heartless creeps and the way they treated us after many years of hard work. Your honesty is greatly appreciated.

Keep in touch.


T.M. Shine: barb is the movie critic who was let go just before me. i stole her amelie postcard before she could get someone to pick up her stuff. i think pretty soon there will be only one movie critic in the nation and they will be syndicated in every paper. that's where we're headed - one opinion.


It's spelled S-H-I-F-T: Are you conducting this discussion on a Blackberry, or do you just not believe in capitals? If the latter, I'm beginning to get an inkling of why you were let go...

T.M. Shine: shift


Not Telling:

Did you find out what "the secret" is? I Googled it and was directed to a movie/book cultish thing. It was glorified optimism. Is that what that woman was talking about?

T.M. Shine: i love the idea of a 'secret' but you just know you don't want to know what it is. i really don't like hearing positive advice from people who make a living being positive. like, it's annoying to have a career coach when you have no career.


So...: How's that Rosalynn Carter Fellowship working out?

T.M. Shine: i just need two more letters of recommendation if anyone out there has time.


Beautiful Silver Spring, Md.: Yo, that was a good article. Do you get kind of P.O.'ed when people tell you that you have to get a "special" job, one that reflects your inimitable take on life (or something like that)? I mean, sometimes you just want the bread, and you don't care about the wrapper in which they serve it.

T.M. Shine: i do wish sometimes i could just do like jackhammer work. you put your head down. drill the hole, get decent union pay and go home.


Washington, D.C.: I love your article. One might think there was a bit of hyperbole to it, but I had a boss that was even worse than yours. Although I wasn't laid off; I retired a few months ago. My supervisor was so "verbally constipated" (as you so aptly put it), not to mention socially challenged, that he couldn't even bring himself to say "don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out." After 35 years he not only left early on my last day so he wouldn't have to confront me; he managed to not be around for the two retirement parties my co-workers and volunteers held for me. He even tried to put a few obstacles in front of my co-workers who were trying to put the party together. By the way, I worked at the National Zoo (civil service) which is not know for being a hotbed of managerial excellence - this guy, however, takes the cake. You're probably wondering - "so?, it's the government, isn't it? What were you thinking?"

T.M. Shine: and i thought it would be so much fun to work at a zoo. i always wanted to be one of the people who walks around with a strange animal on their hip and everyone says, 'hey what the hell is that?' and then i would tell them.

but now i'm taking that off my list.


Alexandria, Va.: It is funny, one of the reasons I went into accounting is that I was so afraid of a situation like the one you described. The looming and not unlikely idea of spending months on unemployment (possibly to the max) and ruining my financial life is a nightmare that I lived through with my father as a child and I never want to go through again. So I didn't do what your colleagues hope for you, I didn't go for something I have a passion for, but I know I will always be employed, at least as a bookkeeper if nothing else (I am a controller now). How do you deal with the crushing pressure of finances when job prospects seem so bleak right now? How do you look for the right fit rather than what you know will pay the bills?

T.M. Shine: i have a cushion at the moment with the severance. but once the money runs out it will only be about paying the bills. i will do whatever it takes.


Bethesda, Md.: I gather that the publication you worked for no longer exists. If it does, did they retain any of their former employees? If not, did they at least try to place them in other publications?

T.M. Shine: they still exist. running with a skeleton crew. every business you enter these days it seems like you're walking into a late night restaurant. there are no bodies around. the one waitress and the cook are having sex in the back. i don't know how anything is getting done in america. or even india.


I was that guy for a while: I had to lay off about 30 people a few years ago before taking a package and getting out too.

The main reason HR is in the room is so that the boss won't make any statements or promises to the laid-off.

So if HR isn't in there, you should try crying, or anything else, to get the boss to say anything to make you feel better. You can always claim your reward later.

T.M. Shine: yeah, i think you have to have a witness when you're fired and the boss is that witness. but i've heard you can ask for a different witness. you can say, i don't want the boss as my witness. i want carl the security guard. and they have to oblige.

i wish i had demanded a different witness. maybe a temp.


Good times: The company I used to work for went completely belly-up; everyone left on the last day was let go at the same time. We all knew it was coming and had spent the last 2 weeks finding new jobs. We still had to wait for our managers to go through the severance packets with us (which amounted to whatever we were getting paid for the rest of that day). I had my meeting at 9:30 and waited around playing Boggle with my co-workers while everyone else had their meetings. Then we all went and had Mexican food and Margaritas. What a great memory.

T.M. Shine: man, i do like the idea of having a group party. i love that image - 'playing boggle while waiting to be fired.' can i steal that?


Be prepared: I'm a firm believer in always keeping a box of exit stuff close at hand for the time I hear that phrase "(the boss) would like to speak to you". My box contains the various vendor coffee mugs (although who can afford coffee after being 'laid off'...) a ball made of rubber bands, highlighters of each color (yellow, blue, green, pink), a paper-clip chain and a candy bar. What would be in your exit box?

T.M. Shine: i'm not big on the personal items. i want supplies. i really wish i had taken more stuff from the stock closet. i had no idea how expensive post-its are.


been there, Md.: Enjoyed the article - When I went through a similar experience I did the "between jobs" facial hair experiment phase. You too?

T.M. Shine: i already have facial hair so i'm thinking of shaving it off.

is that cool?


Woodbridge, Va.: Just wanted to say I really, REALLY enjoyed the article and would like to read more of his work. Where to find it? MUST HAVE MORE...

T.M. Shine: i've published a couple of books. i saw one on amazon for 1 cent. it might still be there.

you know, what i'll do is print some excerpts on the blog for people (everybody) who aren't familiar with my work.


Somewhere in the South: I really relate. The "20 years in the same job"? That's me. Then, suddenly, WHAM. Gone. It's coming up on 18 months now. Yes, the time when health insurance is gone.

I read through the whole thing, waiting for the happy ending. Only it didn't come. Did you ever find the perfect job? Give me some hope here, man.

T.M. Shine: no happy ending. i purposely started writing it as soon as i was terminated to capture those first weeks.


Not for nothing...: but few laid off writers -- or working writers -- have two published books and can land a piece in the WaPo mag.

T.M. Shine: published books are like souvenirs for writers like me. 'oh, this is nice. all bound up and whatnot. i can show this to my uncle.' i've never made any 'marley and me' money off them.


Davie, Fla.: I told my mom to read your story, and she said, "It's so sad!" But I don't see it that way. Sure, it has sad elements, but ... What do you think?

T.M. Shine: on the whole, it's sad that the entire country is in this state but, you know, we use humor to survive. the best cracks come out at funerals. and hope always comes with the laughs. that's what is important to me.

the humor in this story is really just honesty, isn't it?


Coconut Creek, Fla.: What is the significance of the number 4700?

T.M. Shine: i think that's how many flexi-straws come in a box.

funny, i now use 4700 as my password on the unemployment web site.

it lives on.


Indianapolis: Terrific article. I'm sorry your misery had to be our entertainment.

If I'd been in your shoes, I would have been listening to Fred Jones Part 2 by Ben Folds over and over again.

T.M. Shine: for the first time in awhile i've been wanting to lay in the dark and listen to music like when i was in high school. i don't know if that's good or bad but i have trouble getting my room dark in the day time. they say tin foil works.

try some nick cave. 'the boatman's call.'


the last day: Once when I left a job voluntarily, I had to see the dentist for an emergency situation on my last day. When my boss asked me to be sure to return to the office after the appointment, I thought "Hey! He's going to throw some kind of 'good luck' party" Not so. He just wanted to make sure I worked to the very end of my last day.

T.M. Shine: yeah, it used to be the bosses would wait until a particularly big project was done before letting people go. but they don't even care about that anymore. they know their projects are going to suck any way now.


Warrenton, Va.: How 'bout getting a gig with a gov't contractor. They can always use Tech Writers.

T.M. Shine: after obviously reading my work several people have mentioned tech writing to me. i assume that means it really doesn't involve anything technical.


Rockville, Md.:"but once the money runs out it will only be about paying the bills. i will do whatever it takes. "

As long as it's legal and honest, right?

T.M. Shine: i go by the belief that no one is really paying any attention to what i'm doing - illegal or otherwise. i sometimes wish i was under surveillance. i could use the attention.


Gaithersburg, Md.: I, too, am a journalist who is facing the prospect of losing my position at a small publication after 10+ years of employment and having just turned 48. Are you finding any suitable openings in terms of pay and status that are comparable to your former job? Or is the publishing industry, as I suspect, becoming more stingy and demanding of writers/reporters than it already is? I fear what awaits me when my job terminates on December 31 since I haven't done anything so far about finding another.

T.M. Shine: like i said in the story, i started looking for writing jobs based on locations that sounded fun or adventurous. some sounded great. they all paid $25,000.


D.C.: Hey, Terry. Weingarten here. That was one hell of a story. I just wanted to share with readers that Tom Shroder has always been your editor; you are a brilliant, creative writer, so Tom's job usually comes down to adding a few words here and there for transition; to cover the rare but occasional synaptic disconnect,etc. These are minor but important little bits he adds to TM Shine pieces. We've always had a word for this added stuff: Shinola.

T.M. Shine: liquid shine.


Davie, Fla.: Not to be morbid, but speaking of funerals, what would you want your tombstone to read? I'm thinking you're a hard guy to sum up.

T.M. Shine: shinola


Chambersburg, Pa.: I loved your piece. About two months the exact same thing happened to me. Including the 4:45 phone call, "would you please join me in my office?", the fear that runs though the office the next day, and then ultimately, "the shun." I think I'll take the summer off and and try to figure out what's next. It is not like a vacation though, there is always this nagging thought that unemployment has an end.

T.M. Shine: when i get uptight about it my brother says, 'geeze, at least take the summer off and enjoy yourself.' but you're right, there's always that nagging worry in the distance. you can't truly enjoy yourself.


Arlington: If you could do it all over again, what would you do? Thank you very much for the story. Sorry that you're in a tough time now.

T.M. Shine: i had a wonderful opportunity to write 'with benefits,' which is a great thing. so many creative people never get the chance. as a journalist you meet so many interesting characters but it races so I am enjoying reflecting on that and would not give it up.

you have to realize too that i also, thanks to people like tom shroder, get a venue to write about these personal things. there are few venues for honesty these days. i have been lucky to find a few.


Been There: A couple of things you might want to know:

The lying-down-listening-to-music thing? It's a sign of clinical depression. Seriously. And depression is as natural a reaction to this situation as anything else.

I was "bought out" about five years ago and am still struggling a little. The main regret I have is that I didn't do anything fun and foolish when I still had severance coming in.

T.M. Shine: i don't know about fun but i'm still capable of doing a lot of foolish things. thank god.

is it still clinical depression if i don't use the tin foil? because i kept seeing my shiny reflection in it anyway. sometimes i look like a cool knight but other times it's just creepy.


Washington, D.C.: Things could be worse. You could be trying to sell real estate right now.

T.M. Shine: my house is for sale.


Loved your story: I read your home-maintenance story in the Washington Post Sunday magazine in April and enjoyed that, too. Do you have anything else in the works? I Am the Wayward Neighbor (Washington Post Magazine, April 20)

T.M. Shine: just a shower nozzle i have to fix.


Deep in the Heart of D.C.: I read Mary Higgins Clark's autobiography - she, too, was laid off and wasn't allowed back to her desk to collect her personal items. The security guard was sitting at her desk after the 'minute talk' - she said she lost photos of her kids and personal items that she'd kept at her desk for years. One day (for years) you are fantastic, great! and the next you are a security threat? And now it's rampant in our country - I applaud your sense of humor and riveting writing style.

T.M. Shine: it is so weird when suddenly you're the enemy in an office where you've all known each other for ten years. one employee didn't flee to the pizza place because she had so many family photos she was worried about. the scene turns into an unemployment fire sale.


Out West: This happened to me last summer. I was lucky enough, however, to find out ahead of time I was getting fired. The morons I worked for locked me out of our online HR system by changing my pswd so I asked a guy in IT to fix it. That's when I saw there was an extra paystub I was getting in 2 days for "severance". I found this out on a Weds and they were going to make me work until Fri afternoon and then can me. So I called in sick the next day. ha! At least this gave me time to clean out my desk and get all of my personal files and cookies off my computer. I did have the last laugh, though, because I had a new job offer w/in 2 days and was able to take a month off in between. I still can't shake the bitterness sometimes though - are you still bitter?

T.M. Shine: i'm not so much bitter about being terminated. sign of the times, right? but i am bitter about how i saw good employees- the best of us- treated badly as business went downhill. if we're all going down, fine. but let's respect one another as we slide down the deck into the icy waters.


8 months: Have now been unemployed for 8 months. What I find most interesting is that people now DEMAND to know what you do all day. Like it's an affront to them that you don't have a job. I usually start reciting my day -- get up, log onto and start searching for jobs, watch the news, eat a tuna sandwich, walk the dog, run through, eat an orange, shower (like around 1pm), etc. Eventually they stop listening...

T.M. Shine: yeah, someone told me 'being unemployed is a full time job.' no it's not. unless king of queens reruns, teaching the cats how to dust with their tails and unraveling 250 ft. of tin foil are part of the job too.


D.C.: Your article made me cry. Maybe it's because I'm not funny myself, but I guess I couldn't see the humor in it.

Not to be a total debbie downer; we all have our fair share of burdens. I wish you and Jana and Bob the best.

Also, can we hear from some HR person? How horrible is this situation, or should I pack my box too?

T.M. Shine: i think we should have drills at work now like the old air raid drills, only now you see how many seconds it takes to throw all your photos, snow globes and holiday tequila into a box.


Been There: I was fired from a job when we lost a big client. I was told the Monday before Thanksgiving, but they gave me 2 weeks to help them "wrap everything up".

Hello? Did I really want to be there those 2 weeks? It was jut weird. I ended up not working most of that first week, as I went home early on Monday and had already planned to take off Wednesday. I slogged through the second week, but it was like being a walking ghost. Sometimes the fast yank departure may be better.

T.M. Shine: the fast yank is definitely better.


Boston, Mass.: My giant non-profit employer has used the following tactics for layoffs:

shut off employee access badges without warning, so they have had to call for help to get into the building. Once in, they were asked to come to a conference room -- en masse. One room held retained employees, the other, those being let go. Same organization cut off computer access so that employees were calling the IT help desk when their bosses eventually peeked over their cubicles to ask them to come for a 15 minute meeting and "please bring your purse". The latter is now used all through the company --"I've got a meeting with HR, and they want me to bring my purse". Your article has made it to the women's room mirror, a place of honor. Great writing. Thanks!

T.M. Shine: i've never written much sports so i was always jealous when i saw the sports pages over urinals in bars. so to have a story in the ladies room is about as glorious as it gets. maybe we should end this discussion right now while i have something to celebrate!

p.s. can you send me a photo of it? your reflection optional.


D.C.: Clamato and Bud gets a bad rap in your story. I find the combo delicious. Please explain your inflammatory comment.

T.M. Shine: maybe it was just my mood that day.

check my blog for a deleted scene that has more on the chelada...


Del Boca Vista, Fla.: Before you sell your house, I think you should do a "Shine reality tour" a la Kramer. I know several people who would pay to see your pantry full of tuna kits.

T.M. Shine: you know, i've stopped even putting the tuna kits together. it just got too complicated.


Freising, Germany: I'd once heard the story of a guy, who after over thirty years at his company, was given the "Golden Handshake" by the boss. Then the boss asked him to leave quietly without telling any of his employees so as not to disrupt them, and that he could clean out his desk on the weekend when no one was around. Oh yes, the boss also thanked him for his help and cooperation over the years.

In Germany, work relationships are often considered to be Zweckgemeinschaften (partnerships of convenience), but its still despicable to tell employees not to talk to a recently fired employee or tell a recently fired manager not to talk to his former colleagues and employees, don't you think?

T.M. Shine: lets end with a "golden handshake." thanks everybody. the flexi-straws are in the mail. be sure to e-mail me any questions i haven't answered. peace, tms


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