The year’s best story about losing your job

I can’t say I’ve read many other articles this year about losing your job. I can’t even say they’ve been written. I can’t speak for other years either. Lots of people write about other people losing jobs. Those other people are anecdotes, trends or economic figures.

In tomorrow’s Washington Post magazine, T.M. Shine is a real person writing about himself. You can go to his blog after you read the story and find a scene he left out. You can google him and find his unnamed place of employment was South Florida’s City Link magazine, a Tribune pub once known as XS. You learn as much in a February item with word of his layoff. There’s also more on the publication’s rough road.

But back to happier things. Shine’s books have my attention, Fathers Aren’t Supposed to Die and — deep breath — Timeline: A Month in the Life of a Guy Who Won’t Have Money Taken Out of His Paycheck for United Way; a Guy Who Always Eats Lunch Alone; a Guy So Fascinated with Time That He Documents the Way He Spends It Every Day, Every Hour, Every Minute, Every Second (link). Then there are Shine’s stories. His old Cub Scout uniform. More recently in the Post, “Confessions of a Home Maintenance Moocher.” 24 hours at the Hard Rock Hotel. 24 hours at a porn convention. There’s Sam Zell meeting Sun-Sentinel staffers.

12:16 p.m.: He opens the forum to questions, and right away, someone asks what he thinks of the company’s recent Transformative Change plan and penguin mascot.

12:16:30 p.m.: “Fuck penguins,” he says, waddling around the stage. “When I took my motorcycle to Antarctica, I’d be speeding across the ice with only one thing in mind: penguin roadkill.”

At the top of this page, you see the byline came two weeks before Shine’s layoff. At the bottom, you see Shine used to post unedited columns to his blog, which now just notes the Post layoff-story. And these links, they’re all across Tribune properties, scattered fugitives from centralized content ops and the two-week archive wall.

We’ve run off the happier-things rail. Back to Google. More stories are scattered across six pages of “by T.M. Shine” results. Maybe the most rewarding ones let us trace Shine’s departed job back to its origins.

On that scout uniform piece in the Post last year, the magazine editor’s note talks about discovering Shine in ’86, as a Walgreens clerk winning a Sun-Sentinel essay contest. The editor’s note shares part of the lede of a commission that followed, “Why I Work at the Drugstore.”

“The kiddies — the big-eyed bombers who are watching you — will you be a jerk to them or an inspiration? And when they look at you, smelly and stubbled on Sunday morning, what will they see? That hole in time where their father disappears, where love seems to get chopped up? Will they understand that the grinder that crushes and digests us also gives us something in return–survival, food, a place to sleep. A place where we can stop dreaming?”

You truly hope another search surfaces the rest.

And it does. You find, one Web user’s fansite/monument to the long dead Tropic Magazine. The fan quotes Gene Weingarten, who writes a weekly column and has a new Pulitzer (for the violin story) for the Post Magazine, where our writing trip began today.

Tropic Magazine was the Sunday magazine of the Miami Herald. I was the editor of it from 1985 to 1990, when I arrived at The Post.

The reason it matters to you is that, basically, Tropic Magazine is The Washington Post. Its staff contained me, Tom the Butcher (who was my assistant editor and became Tropic’s editor when I left), Dave Barry, and Joel Achenbach. Frequent contributors to Tropic’s pages included David Von Drehle, Marc Fisher, Guy Gugliotta, and Jeff Leen, who is currently The Post’s investigations editor and whose back pocket is stuffed with Pulitzers. He uses them to clean the windshield of his car. We regularly ran photos by Carol Guzy and Michel DuCille, who share more Pulitzers than Leen.

Add the Post Hunt, held for the first here in town last week. You can get high on the idea this magazine existed. Back on the fansite, you can read Weingarten’s intro to the drugstore story. “The story isn’t easy reading,” it says, in part. “It’s not for everyone. It’s for people with jobs, and people with families, and people who sometimes look at themselves and ask, Is This It?”

Then there’s the story itself.

It begins: “This is for the working man whose smile says, ‘it’s too late for me.’ This is for those of you who can still remember your expectations, even if you just wanted to be a railroad conductor at 6 or a Guitar Man at 14; for those of you who shudder when you remember how old you really are.”

It continues: “That anticipation, those daydreams — have they all gone away? Or are they hidden, tucked up in your gut somewhere — trapped for good? The paycheck is our foundation. We build from that foundation, but we don’t necessarily grow from it.”

We get the kiddies next, the big-eyed bombers, and a long, beautiful narrative about what the title promises, about why he works in a drugstore. The subtitle, apparently, is “Confessions of a Company Man.” Somewhere in the middle, we find a seed.

I can be selfish. You can be selfish. But when a company takes on that characteristic, I think it is committing a crime. I know, I know, I should have known what I was getting into — retail and all. Long hours and no thanks. And, when I was on my own, I didn’t give it a second thought, but I have a family now; I have children. Tell me I’m supposed to find the situation understandable. Tell me I can’t be with my family between Thanksgiving and Christmas for the next 20 years except for a good night kiss.

What was I supposed to be? The doctor tells me I’ve only got 50, maybe 60 years to live. There are things I haven’t done, Doc. I’ve never mowed my neighbor’s lawn at 3 o’clock in the morning. I’ve never driven in a Trans Am. A Camaro, yes, but I hear, mind you, that it’s not the same. And I’ve never taken my dogs for a walk and gone to the bathroom with them. I’ve never screamed while making love. I’m working, working, working. I’ve got a stand-up routine that’s a riot. I turned the radio off on the way to work and sang a song off the top of my head. I swear I never heard it before. It’s my own personal once-in-a-lifetime hit. I could be an all-round entertainer, like Sammy. I can spin six shooters. I can do skywriting. I’m not afraid. I could run a tugboat. I could be something more than a drugstore manager. I could be a writer.

News. We get the news below the cancerous fluorescent lights. It was the souvenir salesman who told me the pope was shot. He had a large inflatable alligator in one hand and a case of Florida sunshine in the other. The salesman, that is. …

A joke and a seed. The people who carried boxes out of work last week, taking the garage elevator as I took the usual stairs, I hope they have one of the two. I can’t pretend to know them, and they don’t need to hear from me. But this week’s Timeslanguage of loss for the jobless” story is right. It’s better to say something than nothing, to make some attempt to process life and how we find it.

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