Scout Nation, last we spoke was before Thanksgiving, and I halfheartedly promised to post over that holiday. I should have known it was not to be. Aside from Bosco being laid low with a cold during that time, I was pretty much paralyzed emotionally and creatively by the impending layoffs that my coworkers and I knew to expect upon our return in December.
As it turned out, my job was safe and I am still employed. I know I should feel lucky that in these economic times I didn't lose my job, but mostly I feel that I kept my position at too great a cost. You see, in addition to several other brilliant coworkers/treasured friends in my department, my boss--known on this blog as Il Duce--was also laid off.
Aside: The backstory of his nickname is this--Once Il Duce was telling me of a particularly heated discussion he had with our then-departmental director. In his retelling, he likened the scene to a tense standoff that occurred during WWII between Mussolini and Hitler over a piece of land in Italy. After his analogy, I queried for clarification--
"So, in this scenario, [Department Director] is Hitler."
"So, therefore you are Mussolini."
As the real Mussolini's nickname was Il Duce, I thereafter bestowed the nickname "Il Duce" to my boss, especially here on the blog.
Back to modern times.
This past Thursday, 12/4, my coworkers and I watched as several people were led into our now-director's office to be given the official news. In what I consider to be The Biggest Blunder Ever Made by a Corporate Entity in the History of Capitalist America (tm), Il Duce was the first called in.
Several of my coworkers and I watched in disbelief, in tears.
We considered a Quaker-type protest....a huge group of us standing silently outside the director's door, conscientiously objecting to Il Duce's passage to Human Resources for his 'outplacement counseling.' But we knew it would do no good, so we just continued to watch and cry as more and more of our dear friends were led down the hall and then to HR.
Later that day, after taking several of the finest people I've ever known out to lunch after their own 'separation from the company', I caught up with Il Duce. After a long hug, this was our conversation:
Me: I'm EXTREMELY unhappy about this.
Il Duce: I understand that, and it's okay. But please, be happy for me. I'm happy.
And then he walked off. HUMMING.
All the people laid-off in my department were kept on the payroll another week, ostensibly to take care of unfinished business and transfer things to other folks as needed.
Il Duce was back on Friday morning, wearing dress clothes with a tie, no less (we have casual Fridays, and I've been so apathetic [and fat] as of late I've not gone beyond jeans for the past couple of months). I went into his office for one final session of inappropriate questions.
Another detour: (I don't think I already mentioned this on the blog, but if I did, give me a break, ok? I had an 8-hour meeting today followed by a 2-hour Brownie Christmas party in *extremely* close quarters. My long-term memory is shot.) One of the best things about working for Il Duce is that I could ask him anything, tell him anything. I referred to this as my "inappropriate" sessions with him. Almost every day, I would go to his office, close his door, and either tell him things I shouldn't regarding office politics, etc, or I would ask him company questions that were not rightly my place to know the answer to. He always gave me an honest answer when he could, told me he didn't know when he seriously didn't know, and told me he couldn't tell me when it was OFFICIALLY none of my business. I cannot begin to express how much he taught me not just through his answers but also through his treatment of me and his serious commitment to my growth as an editor.
So last Friday, the day after Black Thursday (that's what we're calling it) , I went to his office for one more inappropriate session. I asked him, "Are you *really* happy about this? Or are you just putting on a brave face for the rest of us?" And he stopped his file-purging, looked me right in the eye, and said this: "Let me tell you something. I couldn't sleep last night. And the reason is because for the first time in many years I'm EXCITED about my future."
This gives me comfort, though I have absolutely NO idea how I, much less our department, will get along without him. Il Duce was just coming up on his 18th anniversary with the company. The monumental amount of institutional/publishing knowledge that walked out the door with him is staggering. Despite his long tenure in the industry, he had visions for the future, was still taking risks, was ready to meet the challenge of the digital age full-on.
But it was not to be. And that's a damn shame for me, my company, the publishing industry, and the children of America.
Il Duce and I met about 14 years ago...he was still a baby editor, too, with just a few years' seniority over me. We never worked on the same products at that point, so he was always just my friend (and also my chemistry consultant). Occasionally, before he became such a high-falutin' exec with the company, he would grab me as we walked past each other in the hall and start waltzing with me. (He was instructed to give those kinds of shenanigans up as he rose to the management level of our company.) He came to my wedding. I have a treasured picture of him holding an 8-wk-old Bosco at a company party. Only once I returned to the company after a 4-yr hiatus did he become my boss---and our friendship deepened as we developed the most rewarding working relationship I've ever had.
Today was his last day in the office, and he spent it cleaning out his files and turned over lots of materials to other people. He was still there this afternoon, as I was leaving. I stopped in, and he honored the two requests I made of him before he left.
1) He can affect an awfully stern, loud voice that he often used to faux-yell at me: "DAMMIT [my last name], WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?!? This never did a lot of good, because I always dissolved into hysterical laughter whenever he unleashed it. At my request, he yelled at me one more time this afternoon--after I ensured that there were still coworkers around to hear it.
2) One last time, we waltzed together in the hallway.
At the edge of tears, I broke away and told him I would miss him and that I love him. He replied in kind, but then said, "Ill be around...we'll be in touch."
And that simple sentiment will be the last line of the 2008 Science Department quote list, which those of us that remain have decided to shut down after today. I will post that quote list here soon.
Long live Il Duce--my friend, my colleague, my boss, my mentor. He will be missed...in so many ways, but most especially just as an everyday reassuring presence in my daily life.
P.S. Much to the Jr. Scouts' delight, Il Duce left me his company candy jar, which he always had filled with M&Ms. I vow to keep that jar always filled for the (dwindling) remaining editors in our department who need a sugar fix. Who knows...maybe I can even make them laugh by faux-yelling at them or answering and/or evading their inappropriate questions.
Honesty, though? I don't feel anything like fine.