The Exit Interview: A Boomer's Last Rites in Corporate America

My most recent manager at BFC (Big Freakin' Company), a woman probably about 8 years older than my daughter, had the heartbreaking responsibility of handing over my official walking papers today: the covenant not to sue for age discrimination, the agreements regarding the "bridge" to retirement benefits, and most importantly the severance check, all of it comprising the typical package American businesses are using to buyout the Boomer workforce and replace them with smart, hard-working, well-trained young adults from Mumbai, Bangalore, Singapore, São Paulo and Guadalajara.

My manager, whom we'll call Alexia in deference to her generation, was technically on a vacation that was planned far ahead of BFC's Independence Day liberation of thousands of employees, and so the exit interview was conducted via cellphone: she was in a gas mall off I-95 in Rhode Island, and I was in my home office on the coast of Northern California. The phone rang 15 minutes behind schedule at 8:45 AM PT.

"Oh hi, how are you? Sorry I'm late my friends and I are driving up to Newport and we were stuck on a bridge so there was no place to pull over!" She sounded excited, almost jubilant, like she had just walked out of a Timber Justinlake concert. "So, how're doin'?"

Like many older professionals with managers half their age, our relationship was a bit surreal. A 20-year manager myself, I usually coached her a lot more than she directed me, though she balked at any acknowledgement that my experience might be useful. Generally she wanted me to do things her way, even if my gray sidewalls knew of a better way. But the worst part of it was she was just a puppet of the big VP of the group, a guy several years younger than I and a cutthroat politician who had surrounded himself with young women that he could browbeat and downright scare. Poor Alexia was one of his "just do what I tell you and don't ask questions" minions.

"So, how are you?" she asked for the third time.

"Great." It was my last day at a corporation that I had given the majority of my waking hours to for 15 years. It would have been truer to say "Great balls of fire!" which more accurately described my condition, but I didn't feel that it was a good time for the famous corporate "straight talk." And I certainly didn't want to dampen her enthusiasm.

"So you must live in a really remote area. Do you live in a really remote area?" she asked, inappropriately perky.

"Uh..." I began, wondering where this was going.

"Mailboxes Etc. said they can't get your severance check to you until 4:30, because you live in a really remote area. Do you live in a really remote area?"

"I guess so, " I said. "Which carrier did you use? Fed Ex, DHL, USPS?"

"Oh, I don't know. I just gave it to the lady and she said it would be to you by 4:30."

Long pause as if living in a really remote area was another reason I was getting the gate. I contemplated just how inconvenient my layoff must be to poor Alexia. Then I heard sniffles. "God I got so many goodbye emails this week! It's so sad!" And sure enough, she started blubbering. "I'm so sorry," (sniff, gulp, honk, sniff) "I don't know what else to say!"

I don't know if she heard me, but I said "You don't need to say anything. I understand." I was feeling like I was sitting at my 8-year-old daughter's bedside, comforting her over the exhumation of her pet bunny by raccoons, and the indelible scene of bloody bunny parts spread across the lawn. I immediately wished that vision had not hopped into my head, since my parts were feeling a bit scattered as well.

"You remind me so much of my... of my... my father!" she blurted. I'm thinking is this what the corporate workforce has come to? Thirty-year-old MBA managers on the executive fast track thinking of their grey-haired staffers as an army of dear old dads?

"Is there anything I can do for you?" she semi-squealed. Gee. I don't know. Maybe you can call my daughter's college admissions office and plead for more gift aid, since you already got the waterworks workin'.

"No, I'm fine," I said.

"Well, it's been great to get to know you. I guess we can friend each other on Facebook now!"

Pause. I pick myself up off the floor, and tell her in my most reassuring fatherly fashion: "I'm sure our paths will cross again. We'll be in touch."

I said goodbye and hung up my accidental career in corporate America, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, celebrate or go to bed, or perhaps just head down to The Sand Dollar, our beach town bar, knowing that, back at the BFC nerve center in New York it's after 5 p.m. on a Friday, and the weekend has begun.

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Jab Harrison is a practicing father, a former corporate dweeb, the author of the novel Hack, the upcoming American Corporate and "Adventures in Limboland", a rogue's gallery of characters and events both real and imagined.

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