Unemployed? Old? There's a place to talk about it ...
Bobby took the Talking Stick after Stacey turned it down. No one wanted to go first. Maybe that's why we're all unemployed and sitting there in Camp Reinvention, hoping to get our careers back on track. It was still warm enough to gather outside and Tom, that day's Fire-Keeper had it roaring.
"I dunno," Bobby said. "I worked I.T. for a long time – "
"Excuse me, what is I.T.?" Eugenia asked. She was the oldest, possibly the smartest, definitely had worked the longest and seemed more than any of us to want to get off the government rolls.
"Don't interrupt, please. Robert has the Talking Stick," said Mr. Sidwell, the Life Coach. Sidwell – "Nat" – was a former gym teacher who had played semi-pro football, got badly injured and "reinvented himself" as a Life Coach. He was a sharp-looking black dude and at 56 was in better shape than the youngest, a former security guard named Harris, 42. None of us knew how he got into the camp because the government requirement was a minimum age of 50. Because Harris looked ethnic, though, and I'm sure all the other whites thought he got a break because of it.
"Please continue, Robert."
"It's okay. Everyone calls me Bobby," Bobby said.
"Bobby is a young man's name. We're going to call you Robert from now on. I think the group agrees?"
We hadn't discussed it but we all nodded our heads. I started thinking about Bobby Kennedy. Would he ever have wanted people to call him Robert if he hadn't gotten assassinated? That thought alone crowded out whatever first words Bobby had spoken and I started to weep. I have a wicked allergy to wood smoke and my eyes burn and itch if I get near the stuff. The evening was still, but by some aerodynamic whim, smoke was streaming right into my face.
"It's okay to cry Duncan," said Sidwell and gestured to the tissue box. "Grown men, cry."
I didn't say anything. How do you explain an allergy to wood smoke? I'd Tweet Sidwell later about it.
I got up and took the tissue box and went back to my seat. No one was allowed to hand you the tissue box. You had to get it yourself.
Bobby – Robert – started talking again. He was a tech guru for some outfit that grew and grew and Robert learned all the new stuff as fast as he could but it all got away from him. "I was working 12, 16 hour days ... It was a lot. And I wasn't getting the kind of salary the new people were getting ... Maybe I got grumpy. I dunno. I lost my edge, you know? I was 45 and suddenly I was fat for the first time in my life and I had two kids and one day I come in and I hear there are gonna be all these layoffs. I was one of the first cuts."
A few people groaned. We'd all heard that one. I moved back and ducked my head, trying to get out of the smoke.
"Duncan," Sidwell said to me, "please stay in the circle ..."
Two remarks from Sidwell to me. It all got recorded and that pissed me off. I'd have my moment to express during "Anger-Out" circle at 10:30 p.m. Bed time was 11:30. No computers. No TV.
Bobby – Robert, that is – was spluttering. He didn't know what else to say. This wasn't the "Mean Reinvention Machine" circle. This was "Opine-Up" circle and it was okay to just complain. We waited. According to the rules – five deep breaths by the speaker's own count – and the holder of the stick selected the next person. Robert was a slow breather.
He stood, gestured to me. I stood. He turned the Talking Stick twice – some kinda Indian shit Sidwell "reinvented" – and on the third turn, I accepted the Talking Stick and sat back on my camp chair and started to opine.
– Duncan H., unemployed since 2008