THE BLOG
12/30/2013 02:24 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Shadowed Solitude

Vince hid the look of disbelief as he stared at the twenty-something punk who had just asked him the ridiculous question. Worse, had done it with a smirk that told him right away what he already suspected from the beginning.

He didn't have a chance at this job.

He wanted to grab the little snot by the $200 tie he proudly displayed and tighten the knot until the smirk disappeared. Marco Toler, or Teller, or whatever his name was had just made a big point of looking over Vince's resume then asking a stupid question, "Uh, tell me Vince, where do you see yourself five years from now?" It was a canned question and a give-away that told Vince the job was not his. No matter what he answered, the job would never be his. He could give the exact same, word-for-word answer as the winner of this job derby and still the job would not be his. He had a brief thought that he could call Toler a piss-ant son-of-a-bitch and it would have about the same effect as any other answer he could give.

The job still would not be his.

After looking at the resume the twerp should be begging me to take this shit job. What part of 20 some years as Vice President of warehousing and transportation for a major electronics provider would make me unqualified to be the Assistant Operations Manager of a rinky-dink, Mid-West logistics company? They should feel lucky for the chance to have me. Vince thought. He realized that he could have said what he was thinking, what difference would it make anyway? In ten or fifteen minutes, whenever Marco got tired or bored or needed a Mocha Soy Latte with a hint of raw sugar, Vince would find himself walking back to his car with a promise of a phone call that would never come.

But for now Vince knew that he would have to give the expected answer. They were all the same: minor league power brokers in human trafficking. They gloated over the fact that a former corporate executive in his fifties was forced to apply for minimal jobs. They enjoyed flashing their Conway Stewart pens, Tag Heuer watches, and Gucci neck ties. They loved showing that smile, that self righteous, toothy grin telling him every time that he didn't have the remotest chance; that even if all of the other candidates dropped dead, he would not get the call.

At that moment, he felt old. Nothing in him could see the confidence he had known only ten, fifteen, twenty short years ago. He accepted the fatalism that came with the realism of being fifty and still having to press on.

Vince checked his watch as he got in the car. Twenty-eight minutes. He thought. The whole thing, from the time he sat in Marco's leather wing back chair, had taken only twenty-eight minutes. At least it was better than the longer interviews with Marco, or whomever, droning on and on.

"I hope whomever you hire is the most incompetent ass that ever worked for you." Vince grumbled out loud as he pulled out of the parking lot. Sooner or later someone is going to jump at the chance to get me. They are going to think they got an early Christmas present. He had been telling himself that for the last two and a half years.

Twenty-seven years with the same company with twenty years as VP would pay off. Someday. Some pay off. I'll end up as an assistant to an assistant manager of some nowhere transportation supplier. At least it's something. He reasoned.

Sometimes he could hardly believe what had happened to him. Twenty-seven years with Fordham Worldwide Technologies first as a fledgling manufacturer of circuit boards struggling from week to week to make payroll, then as an international manufacturer and supplier of all manner of electronic components for everything from tanks to satellites. The company founded by a then young Eddie Fordham, not in Silicon Valley, but in the seemingly unlikely town of Jefferson, Indiana. As it turned out, a smart move; close availability to an airport not swamped with passenger flights and featuring a major FedEx facility, and easy access to three major interstates.

Not all struggles. He remembered. The years of sixty and eighty hour work weeks had started paying off and Eddie Fordham hadn't forgotten the people who put in those hours. Vince went from Warehousing and Transportation Manager to Vice President and his paycheck showed it. But, in what seemed like no time at all it was over; not just for Vince but for a lot of people. And I was the lucky first one to find out. He recalled.

Ö

As soon as he entered the room, he knew something was up.

Eddie Jr. was sitting in his father's chair at the head of the conference table. With his slicked back coal black hair, round, designer black rimmed glasses around cold blue eyes and a pained, pinched face. He looked nothing like his father.

Eddie sat beside his son looking small, gray and weak. Little Eddie's staff of flunkies sat around the table in the other seats. All men, all with slick back hair, round glasses, and pricey suits.

"Thanks for coming up Vince." Jr. said and motioned him to the only empty chair remaining. "I need to let you in on the latest news about our restructuring efforts." Eddie Jr. had one of those voices that grated in Vince's ears.

"OK. Some of my people have been a little concerned about that. Anything I can do to help." Vince had said. He knew something was up because the always in charge Eddie, Sr. was not doing the talking.

"I know there has been a lot of speculation. Some people aren't going to like what we are doing but hopefully they will see that it is necessary."

When Eddie Jr. stopped he asked "What does that mean for my division?"

Eddie Jr. looked at him squarely with his unflinching blue eyes. "The company is being divided into three parts. Manufacturing, Engineering Technology, and just about everything else as the third part. Manufacturing is about 95% sure to go in a sale we are working on. Overseas company. Engineering Technology will become Fordham Worldwide. The third and smaller part, the logistics and everything else division, will be sold also. We don't have a solid buyer at this time. You have an option to stay on and supervise the restructuring of that part. Could be three or four months or maybe longer. But you would go with the new company. And you know they would want their own man or woman in sooner or later. But if you would rather you can receive two year's pay in one lump sum and your pension will reflect thirty years of service."

I'm out? Just like that? Vince thought and looked at Eddie, Sr. in disbelief. He had known that Eddie, Sr. was in poor health and likely to step down at some time. He had known that Eddie Jr. would certainly take over. And he had known that he was part of the old regime that Eddie Jr. would most likely be happy when they retired and got out of his way. But he had never thought he would be ousted.

Eddie, Sr. finally spoke up. "I wanted you to be the first to hear about any of this Vince. You are one of my original crew. Against the recommendations of others," at this point he looked around the table at the flunkies then stopped at his son, who never flinched. "I insisted on these accommodations for you and some others. Don't feel all alone, I'm out too. I'm no longer majority stock owner. I can't take the strain of running a company any longer. I have to get a grip on these health issues before they get the better of me. It's time to hand things over to the younger crowd."

"So just like that I'm done? Twenty-seven years of hard work and you decide to go with a youth movement?"

Eddie Jr. spoke again. "It isn't about you Vince, it's about survival of the company. We appreciate your work and dedication but things have to change. Like what was said, you can stay on if you wish and take your chances with a new company. But the buy-out is a good one and very generous."

"We always said we would retire from this company. I'm too young for that and too old for job hunting," Vince said.

"A man with your qualifications will find something. You've turned down plenty of opportunities. We've had a good run here. Now it's over for us. Time to move on," Eddie, Sr. said.

"You and me and some others built this from almost nothing. You recruited us right out of college. You were in a place no bigger than my garage. Your mother put up money she shouldn't have to hire us."

Eddie, Sr. smiled and nodded. "Your garage is better than what we started with. And you can thank all of our hard work for your garage and the house, your automobiles, your kid's college, and your retirement plan."

"We always planned to leave it all to our kids or someone's kids. Whoever was willing to do what we did and put their best into this company. Who would take it places we never even thought of," Vince said. "Remember that?"

"And we are." Eddie, Sr. said. "It's all Internet, and tablets, and texting, and cell phones now. Less people and more technology. China can make the components we make at much lower cost. And in case you haven't been watching the news, China holds a huge piece of our national debt. Our government is letting them flood our markets with their cheaper products. We are becoming a dinosaur, losing our little contracts left and right. And all of our big contracts, Stearns, Bidell, Lauderwell, and the Federal Government. They all come up in the next few years. Why are they going with us when they can get the same product for less? Maybe the Feds don't care about cost, but it isn't their money they're playing with," Eddie, Sr. paused and coughed raggedly. "We are set to lose two thirds of our component business. We want to avoid that now. Get out with a profit right now. The component and manufacturing will go to some company you never heard of in China. They don't care about our stock, we can sell it off as part of the deal. What they want most is the contracts and the chance to renegotiate them."

Vince countered. "Fordham Tech has always fought through these things before. We will find new products. New markets. Things change, I know that. We can change with it."

"And Fordham Tech will fight through again. But it you and I, and some others won't be leading the fight. We aren't equipped to. If what these guys tell me they want to do comes to pass, in two years Fordham Tech won't need this building. Fordham Tech won't have a physical product to sell. Fordham Tech will be selling things you and I never heard of. Engineering Technology is weeks away from landing a major NASA contract to write and monitor code and programs. Whatever the hell that means. And they are on the line for presentations all over the aviation and aerospace industry for similar contracts. And they are negotiating with Homeland Security to design some high security programming that I can't say anymore about. Now, tell me Vince, do you know how to warehouse and ship code?"

Eddie, Sr. paused. His point was made. "Thought not." He leaned back in his chair. His face was suddenly much grayer and he tugged at his collar for a second. A flunky jumped up and brought him a glass of water which he waived away. He motioned to a cabinet behind him and a flunky hesitated then brought back a bottle of bourbon. "Couple of glasses please, Spence," Eddie, Sr. put generous amounts of amber liquid in the glasses and slid one to Vince.

Vince saw the ice cold demeanor of Eddie, Jr. crack as he laid a gentle hand on his father's arm. "Come on Pop."

"One won't hurt. Don't tell your mother," Eddie, Sr. smiled.

Eddie, Sr. leaned forward again. "Go find some mindless management job in a warehouse for the next five years then retire early and enjoy what you've worked hard for. Better yet, open a damned fruit stand for five hours and day and enjoy things right now. Maybe you will start to realize what a favor my son has done you."

The room was deathly silent and all eyes were on him. Vince eyed the glass in front of him and picked it up. He studied the golden liquid for a moment. He picked up the bottle and looked it over, then smiled to himself and shook his head. "Pappy Van Winkle? Where did you find it?" Eddie Sr. Smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

"OK then." He looked around the room at the flunkies who studied the table. He looked at the concerned Eddie, Jr. who studied his father. At last he looked at his long time employer and friend and raised the glass. "I'll be a son-of-a-bitch," Vince said.

"I already am." Eddie, Sr. smiled and took one sip.

Vince took the buy-out.

Ö

After taking the buy-out he tried to put a positive spin on things. He was still relatively young, highly qualified, and lived near Indianapolis, the fourteenth largest city in the country. A job should be a breeze to find. Eddie, Sr. was right. Anything would do, and then retirement in a few short years.

Two plus years later and he could no longer find a positive spin. How many interviews now? Twenty? Twenty-five?

On impulse Vince drove to a nearby mall and parked. He wandered around looking at nothing in particular and stopped at the Starbucks where he ordered their strongest black coffee and sat in one of the armchairs at the front. He drank and watched the shadowed solitude of the early afternoon foot traffic in the mall.

What if I never looked for another job? He thought. What if I did something on my own? Christina wouldn't care what I did as long as it doesn't run us broke. Wonder what it takes to run a corner fruit and vegetable stand.

He chuckled to himself. Fruit stand.

Vince watched the shoppers and sipped his coffee. And then he saw the insufferable jackass and another man walking toward the Starbucks. He knew that they would be coming in. What was his name, Aldo, Mario, Marco? He asked himself.

Marco, the interviewer he had left only moments ago, came in laughing and joking with a shorter man about the same age. They ordered their drinks and sat down a little ways from Vince. He could hear every word they said because they took no pains to keep their conversation private.

Marco and his friend talked and laughed. With Marco all the while demonstrating his designer watch and his GQ endorsed suit and tie to anyone who wanted to look.

"I ran into Shirl last week." Marco's friend informed him.

"Shirl who?" Marco asked. They entered into a long discussion about Shirl that Vince couldn't help hearing.

Vince continued watching the shoppers until he finished his coffee. He ignored Marco and friend but their laughing grew louder at one point and he looked around. One of them had made a mess on the table with his drink and was trying to mop it up with napkins.

"Seriously man what about the job?" Marco's friend asked.

"No competition dude, only one old guy," Marco said. "It's a starter job. I can send them anybody I want to. They don't care who it is. Give me a week or so to work on it."

"So, I'm in?" The friend asked.

"Sure, Yeah, you're in. This is the interview." Marco told him.

Even though he had known the truth, it still hit Vince. He stared a hole in the back of the arrogant Marco. After a moment he slowly gathered his briefcase, stood and walked to the trash can by Marco's table. He noticed the silence. Marco and friend were quiet now.

Marco was looking at him with the smirk Vince knew so well. He was straightening out his perfect tie and jacket and adjusting his watch.

Vince returned Marco's arrogant grin with one of his own then he laughed out loud and raised his empty cup in a toast. Does he have what it takes when his time comes? Vince wondered. He hoped that Marco did. "Well, I'll be a son-of-a-bitch!" Vince threw the cup in the trash.

"Who's the old guy?" Marco's friend asked.

"I have no idea. Some nut I guess." Marco said loudly.

Vince turned away and dismissed them from his mind.

He dismissed it all, the job, and the interview, Eddie Jr. and Sr., Fordham Worldwide Technologies, transportation, and even retirement. He dismissed it all and it was surprisingly easy.

Work would happen one day.

But today was here now. Christina would be coming home soon. His youngest would be back from college for spring break and his oldest was getting married this year.

Vince hesitated for a few seconds in front of the Starbucks. He quietly walked to the nearest trash can and wedged his briefcase in then made his way to the parking lot.