My Little Bump Masks Their All-Too-Real Pain

“You have been terminated …”

No, I wasn’t fired.

But technically, “terminated” happened to all of us who worked at the newspapers in DuBois, Brookville and New Bethlehem when the company that owned us was sold earlier this month.

The sale was an “asset sale,” not a “stock sale.” The old company went out of business; as part of that, it discharged all of its employees. The new company offered jobs to those old-company employees it chose to keep.

The rest of us could tell the unemployment office that we were “terminated.”

That isn’t the fault of the old owners, or of the new owners. It’s the way the system works, given the complexities of the federal and state tax codes, the mish-mash of governing laws, etc. The buyers and sellers didn’t choose to “terminate” us; they were required to do so by the system.

But still, I was “terminated,” even though, at age 70, it had long been likely that I would semi-retire, continue to write, but get out from under the parts of my job that involved managing 60 or so co-workers and directing the news content of a daily newspaper, a Sunday newspaper and two weekly newspapers.

In my case, the humor came bubbling up right away. As I said, I am 70 years old. The “new” publisher, actually an acquaintance called out of retirement by the new owners to put their system in place … he is 77 years old! Ba-da-BING! How’s that grab ya?

But the serious side stung those co-workers who weren’t offered jobs. They include people I have come to call friends, not just employees.

It has been a long time since I was out of work even briefly, 23 years or so. I had forgotten how that feels. This year, I myself should have had nothing to feel badly about. But because the done-with-that-job date wasn’t fully of my own choosing, I felt a sting, a kick in the butt. It’s a pale shadow of the deep aching pain millions of us have endured since … When?

Y2K.

Remember Y2K? That was computer talk for the year 2000, a year when most computers manufactured years earlier would no longer work properly because their built-in calendars were equipped only to deal with years that began with “19..”

So in 1998-99, we all rushed to replace our computers. We retired still-serviceable but old/slow machines and networks, and enjoyed huge gains in productivity once the newer, faster computers, and the networks that underpin them, got up to speed. Remember 10-base T? That was the network of the 1990s, replaced by 100-base T in and around 2000.

More productivity.

That’s another way of saying “don’t need as many workers.” In one sense, it’s good, even great. Sure does improve profitability. Eliminates a lot of physically hard or mind-numbing, repetitive tasks.

But in another sense, it leads to “You have been terminated….”

For me, I’m in good shape. There is a much more final meaning to “terminated,” as I enter my seventh decade. I am still on the right side of the grass. I have Social Security, a pension and a 401K plan’s proceeds to underpin retirement. And I have a delightful wife.

I’ll still write. To me, writing is like breathing.

I can sell a story here, an article there, to bring in enough extra cash to afford a trip to a ballgame, or a new “man toy,” a gun, a mower….

“What’s that? Oh. Yes, Dear. Afford a trip to the beach, too? Why, certainly, Dear!”

Excuse the interruption. Fence-mending, y’know.

Still … “Terminated,” or “fired,” or “laid off.” It’s a helluva kick.

Mine, as softened and supported as it is, still stung.

Imagine – or remember – what being terminated, or fired, or laid off, does to the self-esteem of someone trying to support a family. The self-employed go through it too, losing contracts or customers.

It’s enough to make grown men cry, and it does.

It’s also enough to induce some of us to turn to booze or drugs, just stay in bed, or sit and stare at walls. A few of us lash out, drunk or sober, breaking things – and relationships.

In the longer view, all this is merely change. Change is the one thing that is constant in our world. Nothing stays as it was, and we humans have survived for 500,000 years or so precisely because, as a species, we are supremely adaptable.

As a species.

As individual men and women, we don’t look at change in cosmic terms.

“How do I pay the heating bill?” That’s our cosmic outlook.

For me, the experience has been a cushioned transition into semi-retirement. But it conjures painful scenes of what far too many “terminated” friends, neighbors, co-workers, face: real pain, and no certain prospects of a better future.

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Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in Warren and DuBois. He lives near Brookville. Email: denny2319@windstream.net.