Chapter 3: One Fateful Monday Morning

His alarm clock blared its wake up call. Jim Getner reached out and clumsily pawed it to snooze. He never got out of bed until the second or third try.

Two alarms later he sat up and swung his feet over the side of the bed. He stretched his arms then slapped his face a few times, stood up and got dressed.

He lived in a three-bedroom house in North Oakland’s Bushrod neighborhood. Since he worked out in the suburbs he was often the first of his roommates to leave and the last to return. He wasn’t especially close with any of them, so he didn’t mind his solitary morning routine. Sometimes the three of them stayed up drinking, playing video games or watching TV, but Jim didn’t always have the energy for socializing after work. As a copywriter for a social media advertising company he performed an endless series of mind numbing word and editing tasks, but it put to work his degree and paid eighteen dollars an hour. Over the course of the last five months, as long as he’d been working there, he’d found himself a place in the lower middle class and had begun paying off his studen loans. He thought he’d impressed Laura with this, but then again she was a hard girl to read. They’d spoken on the phone since he’d met her at Cara’s Café. Back in the days of the Fantastic Four she’d had a big personality, humorous and self-affacing; on the phone, however, she’d sounded unhappy, and had told him, unprovoked, that she didn’t like her job. These days though, who did? In the beginning of what promised to be a hard, deep, and erratic Recession, beggars couldn’t be choosers. Jim felt he had reason to be proud of himself. There was a kind of stultifying urgency in the air; people’s positions relative to each other were under heightened scrutiny, and many were being left behind in the ranks of the less-than-desirables. Laura, at least, had a job, and was only too aware that so many others could not say the same.

He ate toast and scrambled eggs, and made himself a cup of coffee, most of which would follow him into his car, contained in a coffee tumbler he could sip through the slow traffic.

He left the house at about eight o’clock, took Shattuck Ave. through North Oakland to I-980, which would connect him to the rickety, far busier I-880, which would take him nearly all the way to Dublin. Each day was different, rush hour bearing with it routinely unique animalistic challenges: the interplay between speed and safety, patience and anger, and the necessity of vehicular impersonality. Jim was not one to overuse his horn or drive aggressively. He did neither this morning. Road rage was a game for the idiots.

He arrived at his office complex at almost nine, exited his car and locked the doors behind him.

The sky was slate gray and it was a bit chilly, even though it was still late summer. He passed no one he knew on the way to his company’s front office.

A co-worker, arriving first, opened the door for him, and Jim nodded and said “Thank you.” He followed another familiar route down the hallway to his desk, inside an office he shared with his supevisor, a dumpy, quiet woman named Karen. She wasn’t there when he came in. But, strangely enough, neither was his computer. Jim found himself staring at an empty desk.

“What the?” he let out.

He dropped his briefcase into his chair and struck off down the hallway to his manager’s office, where he also found Karen. They both looked at Jim when he appeared in the doorway, and the expression on both of their faces was, after some consideration, apologeic.

“Jim, you’re here,” said Karen.

“What’s going on?” he asked, making eye contact with both of them sequentially.

“Our investors pulled out,” said Daniel, Karen and Jim’s manager. “I’m sorry, we’ve got to let you go.”

Jim stood still a moment as the world came crashing down around him. So simply stated. The impact of those words, unavoidable, to the point, Jim realized over the course of several seconds was like taking a gut punch. It was a development he, perhaps naively, had not yet even considered a possibility.

“You’re letting me go?” he murmured.

“We have to,” said Daniel. “Karen’s gonna do your job now as well as she can.”

More thunderous silence.

“But… is there anything I can say?” Jim asked.

“You can ask me to remember you if we ever get back on our feet.”

“I’m sorry, Jim,” said Karen. “You were very good at what you did.”

“At what I did. Past tense?”

“Here, let me show you out,” said Daniel, standing up.

“No thank you, I think I can do that myself.”

“Don’t take it personally. We just can’t afford you any more.”

“Well what am I supposed to do?”

“Apply for unemployment I suppose.”

“Oh man, that’s no help at all.”

“Don’t say something we’ll all regret.”

Jim put up his hand in a stop motion at Daniel, who was coming towards him: “No thank you, I’ll show myself out.”

Jim turned to leave, then, realizing that he was giving up without a fight, turned around and faced them again:

“Please call me if you change your mind,” he said. “If you need anything. I’ll type. I’ll make phone calls. I’ll do anything, just please don’t forget about me.

Daniel smiled. “Deal,” he said.

They stood there, stiffly, for a moment. Karen, turning away, seemed to resort to her cold, fortunate, don’t-blame-me office politics persona.

Jim groaned and rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand. What was he going to do now? He had few friends. How would he spend his days? Trapped alone, bored, in that house.

He left Daniel standing there and stormed back down the hallway, out of the office complex and back to his car. He gunned the engine, then realized he’d forgotten his briefcase.

In a growing panic he twisted the keys in the ignition and put his car back in park. He stormed back into the office complex, down the same route, through the doors and back to his office, where he grabbed his briefcase and left with his eyes aimed at the ground so he wouldn’t have to talk to anyone.

Driving home he found that he’d become a part of the growing cliché: a statistic, on the dole, on the hunt, yet another. At least it was normal these days. He had a degree from UC Berkeley, so he was certainly marketable, but he also had a good chunk of student debt. More statistics. He wondered what his parents would have to say about it. Then, irrationally, he thought of Laura. No longer could he impress her the traditional way.

Maybe he’d find something else. Maybe freedom would be liberating, as a part of him had hated the mundanity of his job anyway. That too, he’d thought, was normal. But one thing, most likely, was certain: tomorrow would be the first day in a long line of many like them. The prospect of a new, more miserable life stretched before him. A new era was thusly begun, the only question being how he would handle it.

Upon returning to his home, to his room, he found that, terribly, the quiet wasn’t so bad after all.

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