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The Lay-Off

The woman standing in front of me at Port Authority Bus Terminal was dressed elegantly in a black suit with a long jacket. She was very tall and thin and could see over the heads of all the people waiting to buy Trailways tickets. The line was very long, there were only two cashiers; I had already missed my bus. There would be another and one after that. Still, I didn’t relish hanging out at the station, Kindle2 notwithstanding.

The woman was carrying a piece of paper but did not have any bags. She looked at the paper now and again, shifted from foot to foot, and then she turned around and looked at me. I noticed that she was wearing pumps and that these pumps were more like slippers than protective city shoes.

“I’m here to get my ticket for a 5 a.m. departure tomorrow morning,” she said. "I didn’t want to take a chance that I would miss my bus. My aunt is expecting me. She insisted I come up. I haven’t been feeling well since I got laid off.”

“I’ve already missed mine,” I said, not responding to news of her bad luck, ignoring this news, in fact, which is so very easy to do. Then I felt bad—the woman was reaching out, trying to connect, so I continued on a more personal note. “I usually take my car but my husband needs to use it today and I couldn’t wait to get upstate. I’m going to be dog-sitting this weekend.”

“Oh, please, go in front of me,” she said. “It’s ridiculous. I got this “ticket” online but I still have to stand on line here to get the real ticket. They don’t scan e tickets on embarkation though they sell them on their site. I don’t get it.”

She looked distraught. Her face was drawn, almost emaciated, with bright amber eyes free floating over high, lightly blushed cheekbones. Neither her gaunt face nor the intense angry timbre of her voice matched the hauteur of her elegant suit and posture.

I had the impression she was relieved to have found a kindred spirit in me, someone with equally deep and persistent laments. She had misread me—I had no laments at that moment—but the journalist in me remained mostly silent and the Buddha in me remained attentive, kind and calm. In the end, I forced myself to hear her story.

Like so many these days, it wasn’t a happy one: The lay-off from the cosmetic company she’d worked for for twenty years was sudden, though expected. Good severance package but she was over fifty and worried that she’d never get a comparable job again. And she’d left so many friends behind, a daily routine, purpose.

“Beyond the general economic down-turn, what led to the cut backs?” I asked.

“Well it was that, of course, but also a change in women. Nowadays they aren’t so interested in cosmetics. A bit of lip gloss and that’s it. The company didn’t keep pace with those changes. We’ve been around too long and had some old-fashioned ideas.”

“Beauty from within these days,” I said. “Exercise, diet.”

“That’s it. I follow the regime myself. I should have known the company would fall apart on old ideas."

“You don’t wear a lot of make-up,” I ventured.

“No, no I don’t.”

The line inched forward. A couple of children were restive and squawking. I was certain that everyone would have preferred to be traveling some other way. The station had been swept clean of homeless people under Guiliani’s zero tolerance administration but it was still sooty and it smelled.

“It’s a hard time,” I said. “I wish you all the best.”

“Thank you,” she said, and smiled.

“Maybe you’ll be able to write your story one day,” I suggested. It sounded lame in the circumstances but was an offering nonetheless.

“Well, as a matter of fact I’ve started,” she said. “I even have a title.”

I confess I was a bit surprised. For some reason I didn’t think this successful business woman was particularly self-reflective. I was wrong. She had figured out for herself that writing may help her transition from one phase of her life to another, not therapy but therapeutic, and perhaps even marketable.

I gave her my card and we agreed to keep in touch. I told her about my workshops and invited her to attend.

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