The first piece of free-lance writing for which I got paid was an article I sold to Grump Magazine more than forty years ago. Alas, the magazine folded shortly after the check arrived, so although I got paid — I think it was something like $60 — the piece never was published. I always felt sort of responsible: that sixty-dollar check to me might have been the magazine’s make-or-break element.
Then too, since they published people like Christopher Cerf and Jean Shepherd and Isaac Asimov — whose going rate likely was in excess of sixty bucks — I may not have been the final straw.
What made me think about Grump was recovering, from one of the cranial recesses, a typically esoteric and probably inexact quote, the tag line for the magazine. It was, I think, “For people who are fed up with all the dumb stuff that’s going on.” And that, this day in early November of 2008, is how I feel. Fed up. Too much dumb stuff going on.
And, by one of those accidents of computerification which no one can explain to me, I found on my present hard drive — not even purchased until a couple years ago, and both technically and theoretically impossible at any time when I might reasonably have been expected to have on hand a copy of that article — I found on this very computer, a copy of that Grump article. I cannot, of course, find a draft of the story I wrote last year or the registration code for one of the programs I’d like to use, but I found that Grump article. Talk about dumb stuff going on.
Anyway, since I’ve followed the idea this far, I may as well post the whole damn thing. Here it is, as sold to but unfortunately never printed in Grump.
To begin with, I didn’t much like the job. That is, I liked the work, but not the place I was doing it. So I didn’t hesitate to argue with the boss. And I wasn’t sorry when one argument drove him to fire me on the spot: the severance pay would keep my family housed and fed until I could find something better. I walked out of the building into a tonic January blizzard. I never felt a chill, until the union came to my rescue.
The shop steward had missed the final argument, but he sprang into action when he heard about it. “Come back in,” he said, when finally I returned his frantic calls. “Get in here right now, and we’ll get your job back for you.”
“Uh, no thanks,” I said.
“But you’ve got to,” he said. “The contract specifically prohibits instant dismissal. They’ve got to give you two weeks’ notice, by registered letter, then the whole thing has to go to a hearing. What’s the matter, you want your job back, don’t you?”
“No,” I said. “I don’t.”
“Well,” he said, “look. You come in on your next scheduled shift, and we’ll get the whole thing straightened out.”
My mistake lay in getting fired on a Monday. That was the last day of the work week for my shift, and I wasn’t due back in until Thursday. The union and the company had two whole days to figure out what had happened — and what would happen — without me around to add a variant point of view.
My next couple days were busy with phone calls from ex-co-workers and union functionaries. “Come back in Thursday, just as if nothing had happened,” they all said. “Your boss,” they said, “is in big trouble with his boss over the incident. Come back in, and we can really hang him.”
“Well,” I said, “I don’t want to, uh, get the old guy in trouble. What I really want is to get my severance pay and find another job.”
“But you see,” they said, “the union position is that you were unjustly fired, so you weren’t fired at all, not really. If you don’t come in Thursday, you’ll be quitting.”
“But if I, uh, do come in, they’ll probably, uh, take me back.”
“Great,” they said. “That’s just what we want.”
“That’s what you want,” I said, “but what I want is, uh, a few hundred bucks and a chance to forget about that place.”
“But you don’t understand our position,” they said. “We’ve got this really fine chance to put it to them. Just come in and go to work. They can’t do a thing to you.”
“But,” I said, “they’ve, uh, already done it to me.”
“Well of course,” they said, “If you want to quit, that’s your privilege.”
Right on cue, the mailman arrived with a special delivery letter. It was my copy of a formal notice from the manager to the shop steward. It amounted to a smooth acceptance of my resignation.
I realized I’d have to take this to the top — to the area Executive Director for the union.
“Man,” I told him, “I was, uh, fired. Get that dingaling steward on the ball about my severance pay.”
“Well you see,” said the Executive Director, “the union takes the position that you were unjustly fired, and the union wants to get your job back for you. However, if you would rather quit….”
I didn’t get any severance pay.