*Fired Up

As soon as I first read about the movie The Company Men, I was dying to see it (although what I would be most dying to see is The Company Men on a double bill with In the Company of Men, the sour balancing the sweet, as per Lennon and McCartney’s respective contributions on the tune ‘Getting Better’). As I’ve explained previously, there’s nothing I enjoy more than a dramatic piece that focuses intently on work difficulties, unless it’s a dramatic piece that focuses intently on rich people sniping at each other, to the accompaniment of ice clinking in highball glasses. So, off I trotted, and saw this men-getting-laid-off flick in a cinema that was about the size of one of those old-time venues intended for the showing of newsreels, indicating that the multiplex’s management lacked confidence that the public at large would share my enthusiasm for the subject matter.

The Company Men, of course, centres on the manly Affleck as Bobby Walker, a sales department head at a firm that appears to have something to do with shipbuilding, who, thanks to the economic climate, loses the job he had held for twelve years. He has a very attractive wife, Gail, with a Boston accent so strong that she sounds like Martin Sheen when he played John F Kennedy, and who wears incredibly tight jeans. The Walkers live in one of those unfeasibly enormous white houses to which Hollywood always portrays the middle classes as having the deeds; one very like the pile that is in the possession of Tom Hanks’s family in Big. Older and more powerful company gentlemen Gene and Phil (Tommy Lee Jones, looking eerily like Rupert Murdoch; and Chris Cooper, respectively) live in, I am happy to say, even bigger houses than Bobby does. Furthermore, Gene and his wife are unhappy together and get a divorce, which, thrillingly, gave me the unexpected bonus of getting to watch rich people sniping at each other.

One thing that always impresses me when I see films about people getting fired, all the way back to Melanie Griffith in Working Girl and pretty much everyone except for Holly Hunter and William Hurt in Broadcast News, is the way in which the firee is always able to contain all his or her possessions in just the one box. This is especially notable in Bobby’s case, given that he’s been with the company for over a decade. The last time I left a job, I practically had to hire a moving van to get all my Hello Kitty stationery, unopened reference books, and magazine clippings about mail-order caftans and transsexuals marrying each other out of the place. As unsurprising as the one-box scenario in a getting-fired film, though, is the degree to which it will turn out that getting fired was actually the best goddamn thing that ever happened to this person. I don’t think I’m going to be ruining any Crying Game-level shocks when I tell you that, while Phil, unfortunately, gasses himself, Bobby eventually finds that his dismissal was a blessing in disguise. He begins once more indulging in wholesome pastimes, such as marital sex and building tree houses, not to mention following in the footsteps of one Jesus Christ and becoming a carpenter, which helps him to reconnect with the common man, similarly to when Charlie Sheen again starts eating pizza in Wall Street.

‘Getting canned is the best thing that ever happened to me’ is, of course, also a popular message in art forms reliant on the written word. One recent example is Nigel Marsh’s Fat, 40 and Fired, which is a memoir by a man who was, I presume, fat and forty, and who lost his job at an advertising agency and then took a year off to reconnect with his family (though I know that had I been a member of his family, I would have regretted losing the status quo of his hefty paycheque and lack of interference). Another recent example is Michael Gates Gill’s How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else. This is the memoir of a fellow who, again, worked in advertising (things have obviously changed since the days of McMann and Tate, when Darrin Stephens never lost his job, despite the endless problems caused by his wife being a witch) and got fired. Gill then took a lowly position at Starbucks and discovered he was happier than he’d ever been.

Well, I say good luck to him, even while I marvel at any person finding working in hospitality or retail to be some kind of stress-free alternative to working in an office. I don’t know that I’ve ever been as close to a nervous breakdown as I was when I was a waitress at low-class Sydney restaurant the Old Spaghetti Factory, and had to worry about tripping up the steps of the authentic Bondi tram when delivering huge trays of prawn cocktails and heaping plates of pasta with improbable-looking sauces, not to mention achieving the right facial expression when, for the tenth time in a month, a ‘buck’ staggered in with a ball and chain around his ankle and an air of awaiting a hearty round of applause.

The first time I was fired, I was seventeen, and it was from a job as an office assistant at a firm of architects. At that time, I existed in a fog of self-absorption even more absolute than the one in which I exist now, and bitterly resented doing anything that interfered with my schedule of eating big pieces of carrot cake and drinking cappuccino while talking about myself. Unfortunately for me, the person I followed into the job was as greatly beloved as though it were 1952, she was Eva Peron and everyone else was the Argentine peasantry. Furthermore, the only reason she was leaving the job was that she needed time off to get her anorexia nervosa under control, while there I was, stretching my tube skirt to its natural limits.

My life in this job was a giddy whirl of ordering unsatisfactory sandwiches for meetings and, when relieving the receptionist, cutting off any caller who needed to be transferred. One of my duties was to keep the stationery supplies in good order and the day came that a salesman, via telephone, charmed me into ordering something like 100 reams of photocopying paper; I still recall the deliveryman staggering up the stairs with pallet after pallet of it, which all had to be returned immediately. As the photocopying-paper incident was the final nail in my already pretty firmly sealed coffin, out came the old marching papers.

Yes, in one way, this firing was a blessing, specifically in that I no longer had to go to that office and carry out, even minimally, a job that I loathed, while, unlike my predecessor, growing more portly every day because my only enjoyment was going to North Sydney at lunchtime and buying a gourmet sandwich, laden with camembert cheese, that I could ill afford. On the other hand, if I’d made a success out of this post, I might have carved out a career as a high-level personal assistant, meaning that I would have ended up making more money than I do now, not to mention perhaps having become the will-challenging mistress of a wealthy man. As it is, though, I can’t say that getting fired even led to me managing to rustle up a viable tree house.

Leave a Reply