Saturday, April 25, 2009

A club I preferred not joining

Well, folks, I’m happy to report that I’m back – not with the newspaper I called home the past 25 years, but back to writing regularly. Thanks to my longtime friend and colleague, John Moriello, and the encouragement of my wife and scores of former readers of my column for the Democrat and Chronicle, I’m going to be writing regularly on this blog.

The length and subject matter will vary, depending how inspired I am, but I hope to ruminate on sports and life on a daily basis. Everything is fair game – from assessing Bills draft picks to the difficulty of typing on my PC when our cat’s tail is resting on the keyboard.

I hope to do a mix of human interest-type columns, which were my niche at the paper, along with shorter musings.

Of course, this will be a whole lot more fun for me if you visit often and participate. Your feedback is most welcome – please just keep it clean. And please spread the word. The more, the merrier. (By the way, Google mail users should be able to go to and sign up to receive e-mail notifications each time I write something here.)

I’m in the early stages of this project, so please bear with me. I need to shake off the rust and get back into a writing groove. I’ll also keep you updated on several other projects I have going – including three more books.

For my first offering, I have an essay on what it’s been like being laid off. I hope it’s thought-provoking and I hope it prompts you to come back for more.

Thanks again for checking me out, and don't be a stranger.



My teary-eyed supervisor hung up the phone and told me they wanted to see me in “HR.’’ I awkwardly patted him on the back and told him everything would be OK. Then I shook hands with several stunned newspaper colleagues and trudged numbly toward the elevator that would take me to the human resources department and out of the old, gray “paragraph factory’’ that had been a second home for a good portion of my life.

After 35 dedicated, award-winning years as a sports writer and columnist, the end had arrived. And it had come sans fan-fare and thank yous. There was a cold, don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out feel to the whole process. Human Resources? More like “Inhumane” Resources in this case. To them, it was all about procedure. I was no longer a person in their eyes, just a budget line item that needed to be erased from the books as soon as possible.

At age 53, I was being forced to join a club I wanted no part of; a club whose membership sadly is swelling at a pace not seen since the Great Depression. I was being laid-off, down-sized, jettisoned, eliminated, terminated – you pick the frigid description.

Nearly five months have passed since that fateful day when my company slashed 10 percent of its workforce – including many seasoned workers like moi. I’ve learned much about myself and others since walking out of that building a final time on December 3.

The death metaphor is not a stretch because you feel as if a part of you has died. A huge part. For more than three decades, my identity had been inextricably tied to my newspaper job, and then in a matter of seconds it was deleted as if it were some garbled sentence being expunged with a single key stroke.

I’ve definitely traveled through Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief.
There are moments I still feel anger toward the avaricious executives and shareholders who believe it is somehow their birthright to earn double-digit profits, even at a time when most Americans are struggling to keep their heads above water.

I occasionally find myself worrying about whether we will have to sell our home or if we’ll be able to afford medical coverage or my son’s college tuition beyond this year.

I miss the adrenaline rush I received from writing four columns a week. I miss the camaraderie of my co-workers, the entertaining, occasionally poignant conversations with readers, and the nobility that comes from the simple act of getting out of bed and going to work each day.

It pains me to see not only what happened to me, but to the industry I so loved. I still can’t believe how rapidly my beloved newspapers – once galvanizing, crusading forces in communities across the country – are traveling the road to extinction.

Strangely, some people I regarded as friends have disappeared. It’s as if you have some contagious, fatal disease. You are a leper. Like the cold-hearted corporate bastards who let you go, these false friends want no part of you. So sad.

But you also encounter true friends – people who value you for who you are, rather than for what you do or can do for them. I’ve been blessed to have friends check in on me regularly via phone calls, e-mails, text messages or lunch dates. I can’t believe the number of people who have offered emotional and financial support, as well as a steady diet of encouragement and job leads.

And I’ve derived inspiration from those who’ve been displaced before me and have gone on to reinvent themselves. There is no shortage of such role models in Rochester – droves of former Kodak, Xerox and Bausch and Lomb employees, in particular, who know what it’s like to be cast aside after a lifetime of devotion, but who have managed to carve out new careers in more humane environments.

I believe I’ve reached the fifth and final stage of Kubler-Ross’s seminal study on death and dying. It’s called acceptance. That’s not to say there aren’t times I still feel anger and depression about the unceremonious way I was dumped because I do, and that’s natural. But I’ve mostly put my past behind me. I’m looking forward, not backward. And I’m doing so optimistically, hopefully, despite the daily deluge of bad economic news.

Perspective comes with time. I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason, and I’m an ardent student of history. One thing I’ve learned while dealing with the death of loved ones, my own health issues and a divorce is that brilliant sunshine has always followed any storm I’ve encountered.

Though I don’t totally understand why this happened to me, I see a bright future. My spirits have been buoyed by family, friends and total strangers, as well as the scores of people I wrote about through the years who taught me the true meaning of courage. They are people who endured far more hellish experiences than what I’m encountering.

So, as I travel down this road to an unknown destination, I do so believing that more good things await.

This much I know: I will attempt to keep writing till my final breath, even if it’s for an audience of one, because ink continues to course through my veins, and jousting with the Mother Tongue has always given me an incredible high.