MY LAST WEEK as a writer-editor at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency begins with a feeling of elation and gloom. Along with 200 other EPA employes, I am being "RIFed." My two-year "term" position, scheduled to end in April 1982, is being eliminated due to a reduction-in-force.
Actually, I have had few duties since February, when Walt Barber, acting administrator of EPA, placed a hold on EPA publications and grants, pending review by the new administration. Hence, my elation over no longer having to look busy in an agency beset by hourly rumors of new RIFs and program reductions. The gloom is tied to the fact that, after months of persistent job searching, by the end of the week I will be unemployed.
I begin by updating my resume to refer to my current job in the past tense. I then answer five classified ads from Sunday's Post. I add the five to my recorded list of job applications, some dating back to before Inauguration Day. Total score: 40 applications, three interviews, 13 polite letters of rejection, and from the rest no response at all.
I talk to the administrative officer to begin the checkout procedures with EPA personnel office. If all papers are not cleared, the final paycheck will be delayed. Everything will be in order by Friday, I'm assured.
A phone call. Could I come for a job interview on Thursday? My colleague and job coach, Steve, has advised me to answer all ads and accept all interviews. I recall the ad for this job and its incredibly low salary, but enthusiastically accept a 3:30 interview.
I remember, glumly, that I had taken Metro this morning. Since a Metro cutback in April, getting home to Northern Virginia requires the waiting for and boarding of three buses, instead of two.
In my mailbox is a note from the minister of my Unitarian church offering his concern at this turn of events. I am touched and grateful, but having a job fold under me is getting to be a familiar experience since I moved to Washington two years ago. Last year, a similar temporary job ended.
My recently formed women's group meets on Monday nights at our Church. Several of the women are looking for jobs, including one who worked for a recently defeated senator. We compare our job hunting experiences of the past week, what we did wrong, what we did right. Marilyn had refused on principle to take a typing test. Kathy had been overcome with nervousness and shaking hands. I had mishandled a salary negotiation. We encouraged each other, laughed together, and, revitalized, left in good spirits. Tuesday
I decide to drive today instead of taking Metro, rationalizing that I need to bring home a coffee pot and other belongings.
A more permanent employe has expressed a wish for my wooden desk, and the movers will be here at 4:30. I unpack the desk, remembering the eight months I worked at a small table, holding papers in my lap, waiting for this desk.
A former office mate stops by to invite me to lunch. I am pleased but suddenly my leaving is made more real. It will be a shock to leave these people and surroundings.
Back at the office, I decide to go through the Sunday ads again. An ad for engineers and scientists gives me an idea. I call to inquire if an editor might be needed also. The surprised advertiser concedes that he might need an editor. I send him a resume. I leave early to make room for the crew of movers.
My evening is enlivened by a call from a brother who lives in Atlanta. Like me, he has a PhD in the humanities and has spent the last year looking for a teaching job. We reflect on our post-doctorate job insecurity compared to that of our younger brother, a college dropout, who has worked steadily as a street department employe in the Midwest. Wednesday
I resign myself to taking Metro to Waterside Mall one last time. Tonight I will usher at the Arena Stage's production of "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater."
Arriving at my office, I look for messages from potential employers who may have called late yesterday. There are none.
I begin gathering up writing samples and a resume for tomorrow's interview. Some writing samples are yellow with age, dating back to the early 1960s from my first writing job with an encyclopedia. Since then I've worked seven years as a writer, six years as a college teacher, and earned three graduate degrees. Another group of coworkers come by to take me to lunch. I am told I have a $5 limit.
As I plan to take a leave day tomorrow, I begin my goodbyes to colleagues. Several expect to be let go by Sept. 30.
At 5:30, I meet Barbara, my ushering partner at the Arena, for dinner. We make plans for a trip to Chincoteague. Back at the theater, to my great excitement, I see Kurt Vonnegut, tickets in hand, headed toward my door. I am so thrilled, I become disoriented, forgetting directions.
After the play, Barbara and I dash down to the Yacht Club to help set up food for the partygoers. Later, when Vonnegut and his wife arrive, I introduce myself as a onetime fellow resident of Indiana and we chat about Indiana people, the subjects of his play. Later, I find I can't remember exactly what he said. Barbara and I leave at midnight. Thursday
I sleep late, which is unusual, but today I am on leave. I decide to add oil to the car, my one car maintenance skill. Walking across the grassy courtyard, I step on a long thorn which penetrates my shoe and is embedded in the ball of my foot. I pull off the shoe and the thorn, and, in pain, remember my 3:30 job interview. I call for medical advice and am told to elevate the foot.
By 2, the foot is red and swollen. I decide that I can limp to the interview. After painfully driving a car with a cluth, I finally arrive downtown early. I decide to treat myself to a hot fudge sundae.
The interview confirms my information about this job. It is set for one year at a salary one-half of my current government salary. The interviewer is sympathetic. She, too, must live on one income.
I spend the evening with my foot elevated, wondering whether I will be able to appear for my final day at EPA. Also, will my health insurance be in effect next week? Friday
Since I cannot put my weight on my left foot, there is no question but that I will drive today. I wait until the rush hour is over.
Arriving at work on my last day, I stop by the administrative officer's room for final instructions on the checkout procedure. A note on the door warns visitors not to interrupt an urgent project under way and to come back later. This office is seriously understaffed due to the freeze on hiring.
Back to my office, now missing one desk, where I take down the posters and anti-Reagan cartoons that have personalized my working space.
Someone has suggested that I call Ron, an EPA writer-editor in another division, and ask if he knows of any job leads. This could be touchy, for the number of writers at EPA is being reduced drastically over the next few months (from 70 to 14 in EPA's office of public awareness and the press office alone). Since many of us have similar background and skills, there might not be much eagerness to share job leads. Ron, who expects his job to end in September, surprises me with generous tips and names of people to call.
By 2, the administrative officer is ready to get me started on the checking out procedures. She hands me a list of 24 checkout points located on three floors of three buildings housing EPA.
I soon develop a plan: try to locate all stops on the third floor, second floor, building by building. As I move from office to office, people, at first cheerful, then surprised, check me out. I become convinced that I am the first RIFed person they have processed.
In my last stop before personnel, I drop off my government ID card. I am relieved to be rid of such an unflattering photograph, but I still feel stripped of a badge, or stripes.
Impulsively, I stop at the special personnel office set up to assist RIFed employes. Could I speed up my retirement refund? I was given an answer familiar to all who have dealt with government officials: It can't be done. I'll have to wait the usual six to eight weeks. A handshake and wish for good luck.
Now it is 4, and with all my papers initialed, I head for personnel. I have been walking for two hours. I am stopped by a clerk who challenges one of my papers for being a copy, not an original. After calling my administrative officer with a warning, he proceeds, much to my relief. Suddenly, a secretary from my office appears with a forgotten form. It is 4:15 and employes are packing up for the weekend.
Where is my Form 50 that was promised to me last Monday? I must present it to the unemployment office if I am to collect benefits. At 4:16, I learn that it is not ready and, in fact, has not been typed. Could I come back Monday morning when the office opens at 7 a.m.? No, I say firmly, and mean it.
There is a flurry of activity as several personnel workers go through code books and question each other on the proper procedure for a RIF. At last a typist agrees to complete the form, after cancelling a dinner arrangement. A final check of her spelling, and the form is handed to me at last.
I return to my office, now with a visitor's pass, pick up my belongings, and am soon heading away from Washington with the other commuters.
Impulsively, I pull into a shopping center with a Chinese restaurant. The rain which has been falling off and on all day has let up. It has been a burdensome week, a burdensome year, but I am now free!