Life is Like a Box of Chocolates?

August 19, 2016

Call it the first day in the rest of my life.  Yesterday, I went to work like any other day.  Within the first hour my life had changed dramatically.  Terminated.  Fired.  At age 64, and four months, I find myself unemployed from my I guess you could call it my lifelong job.  For about 34 and a half years I’ve been employed as a Nursing Home Administrator.  I guess to be fair, I should say that there was a six month period in late 1999 when I was unemployed for about five months after a similar occurrence in my life.

As a matter of fact, a very similar occurrence.  A corporate bunch out of the Skokie Illinois area had purchased the facility I worked at, and I worked with them for as long as I could…before they finally terminated me also.  Only big difference was that I had three children to take care of…one of them in college.  It was indeed a scary time back then, and a little less so now, but scary nonetheless.

When the corporate bunch from Skokie took over this time about two and a half years ago, I think I saw the writing on the wall from square one.  I took a lot of my personal stuff home at that time, because it was such an uncertain time.  Fortunately the corporate people had some sense.  The facility was making money, and had a good survey history, and in general seemed to be doing pretty well.  They would have been crazy to fire me from the getgo.  I guess they could see that.

But still, I knew that I didn’t fit in to their long term plan.  I was too old.  Theirs was a very young culture.  They all came in hopped up on coffee and caffeine, and had their cell phones glued to their hands and made no secret of their disdain for our culture at our little facility.  They were the brains, and they knew it all, and it was just a matter of time before…I was out the door.  I was extremely fortunate to be able to get in another two and a half years before the ax finally fell.  Won’t go in to all the reasons for how and why it happened, but I had a little dream last night that seems to me, to be very telling.

I don’t always remember dreams, and don’t usually pay too much attention to them, but I woke up remembering this one, and I was even able to smile about it.

I dreamed that I was running a little general merchandise all purpose type of store that every town used to have on lots of corners.  Even in a little town I once lived in of 350 people, they had two such stores.  A little mom and pop type of this and that store like from the 60s and before.  Well, of course compared to the Chicago scene, all our real estate down state seems very cheap.  I dreamed that a bunch of young Jewish people came in to town and started buying up the property all up and down our area.  And they were giving good prices, so people were happy to sell their kind of dying businesses and take their money.  Most didn’t really care that the very fabric of our little town was going to disappear.  The people wanted to turn the town in to a strip mall type of area so they could make a bunch of money off these small town suckers.

I could feel the squeeze from the beginning.  The first places they built up were on either side of my little store.  It made my place look old and shabby compared to their sleek new buildings.  And of course, the suckers were swayed to buy from their new strip mall businesses.  they liked the shiny, fancy stuff, and of course, they had just made a lot of money from the sale of their properties.

Long story short, the locals stopped coming to my store and I couldn’t keep it afloat.  I finally knew that they would get my store as well and the old way of life in our small town would be gone forever. I had to close down and sell off my stock for whatever I could get for it. I didn’t sell my property to them, but I couldn’t pay for it any longer, and it went back to the bank.  They of course made a killing on it selling it to the Jewish people.  I had some time to get out, but they started squeezing from the moment they took over property rights.  The surveyors began, then the contractors.  They even began building before on the land in back before my time was up to clear out.  And i could do nothing to stop them, to stop the juggernaut of corporate from taking over yet another small business…and another small town.  They were almost pushing me out the door on my last day in order to get started.  There was some stock left in the building, but I just let it be.  I figured they would bulldoze the place with the stock in it as the type of things I sold had no value to them.

It was a wry smile I had when I woke up and thought about it.  I felt it had been inevitable from the start that it would happen.  It was like that with the job.  Out with the old, and in with the new…and young.

They frequently use the line from the movie where Forrest Gump says that his Momma always told him that life is like a box of chocolates.  I forget what he said after that.  Life is like a lot of things depending on how you look at it at any particular time.  I also can’t remember what the the jelly beans they ate got in the Harry Potter movies are called.  It will come to me some time.  I don’t like to make a big deal of not being able to remember things at a given period of time.  Some things just aren’t that important.  But I think, that life is more like the jelly beans from Harry Potter.  With a box of chocolates, you may not always get the one you like, but…they all are pretty tasty compared to some of Potter’s jelly beans.  Some of the Potter jelly beans are flavored, mud, or belly button lint, or snot, or any of a bunch of gross flavors among the yummy flavored ones.

I think life is more like that.  You’re eating along a bunch of jelly beans, cherry, chocolate, peppermint, orange, cotton candy, and then you you throw one in to your mouth…and its a snot flavored one.  Yuck!  You can spit it out, but it still leaves a bad taste in your mouth…and you remember the taste of that yucky flavor long after the cherry and peppermint flavors are long gone.

Several of the people who worked with me at the facility in 1999, also worked with me at this place.  They too saw and felt the similarities…right down to my termination.  I think they see the future of this facility in what happened to the last one as well.  The corporate people did all the things that made it no longer a friendly, small town facility…before they finally closed it down.

I’m sad for the people who still work there, because I know they will all be going through the same kind of thing…of seeing that their life will be changed…sooner or later…and the uncertainty of not knowing when.

I suppose there is always the possibility that the new people can turn it around and make it a better place in the long run…but I just can’t see it.  And quite honestly, I’m a little selfish in hoping that they crash and burn, so I feel like I…know what I’m talking about for the most part.  I know that I’m not always right about everything.  Sometimes I can even paint a pretty depressing picture of things the way things are even though they may not be quite so bad as I visualize.

I like to think that I am a pretty objective person, and a pretty perceptive person.  And sometimes that perception and objectiveness can be downright depressing…but that is the way I see it, so it doesn’t catch me too much by surprise.

The regional person…the fourth one we had had in the two and a half years…had changed her schedule a bit this week.  She was supposed to come on Wednesday but said she had to change it because of a meeting in Skokie she was called to.  I found nothing unusual in that.  She said she would be stopping by for awhile on Thursday morning, and that didn’t seem to unusual either.  What did seem a little unusual was that she came in hard and fast. She was running around for a bit before she got to me.  She said something like, can I see you in your office for a minute?  I still didn’t think too much about it…except there was a little bit of something odd about it.  I became clear within seconds that…this was it…the moment I’d been expecting for two and a half years.

It was short and bittersweet.  After she told me, she asked if i had anything to say.  “Nothing much to say, is there?”  I replied.  I waited a minute and then said,  “Well, I’ll have to get my personal things out of the office.”  A little later, “You collect a lot of stuff in 16 years.”  She said I’m sorry a couple of times, and to be fair, maybe she was in some light.  But is was just business to her.  Nothing personal to…really…be sorry about.

I was…I guess…a little unbelieving that it was happening at the moment she told me, but I was not surprised.  I was kind of relieved in some ways.  The only thing that was really bothering me…was how to tell my wife.  I just wasn’t sure how hard she would take it.

I drove home slowly, and I needed some time…to…I don’t know…to breathe…to take it in…to figure out how I would tell my wife.  I went to a local park and sat at a picnic table in a shelter for awhile…probably about an hour.  And then she called.

I figured she had called the facility and found I wasn’t there.  She said she had and talked to one of the girls…who couldn’t tell her anything except that I was on my way home and i would have to tell her.  Turned out that that was how I told her.  “What’s going on?” she asked.  “I was fired.” I told her.  And that was that.  Also turned out that she had expected worse…possibly bad news about the kids…so she was even “relieved” to hear it was ONLY that I was fired.  On some level, she had been expecting it also.

As I look back on things in this last eight months or so, I think I had been seeing…”the writing on the wall”…even if I wasn’t consciously digesting it.  I feel like I’ve been thinking more and more about, for instance, why they would not give me a raise at raise time, and why they would not even respond to me about it.  And of course, the financials reflecting more and more poorly with each passing month as our census slipped from respectable…to not good at all.  Maybe I was even preparing myself, thinking about it more and more as the days and weeks and months passed.  And now, its finally here.

I think of all the things I don’t have to worry about any longer.  I still placed my phone close last night so I could reach it if I got one of those calls in the night.  They weren’t going to come to me anymore.  Lots of other things I won’t have to worry about.  Of course, now I will be worrying about other things that will be a problem for us.  Such is life.  Got a hold of one of those snot flavored jelly beans, and I’ll just have to deal with it.  we’ll just have to deal with it.

Today is the first day in the rest of our lives…or so they say.  At this age, we have different challenges than we had when the kids were still with us.  On the positive side, there is just the two of us to be affected now.  Lots of good and bad to everything.  But I don’t think that life is so much like a box of chocolates as it is like a bag of Potter Jelly Beans.


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