Archive for the ‘Summer of the Layoffs’ Category

SUMMER OF THE LAYOFFS

May 17, 2009

(First printed in Riding Home, Talon Books,1995)

Supervisor – any person given small power
Andrea – 20’s, Canadian
Evelyn – around 30, Canadian
Frouida – 40’s, from Uganda
Annette – 40’s, from Fiji
Gudrun – 30’s, from Hong Kong
Alice – 20’s, Canadian
and 19 others of varying ages and colours.
One man in a suit and about three men in coveralls.

Time: 1982

Scene: Office with 25 typewriters lined up – 2 rows of 10 down, the middle at an angle and 3 on each side, one of which is larger and separated by a screen. There is a low screen between the two rows of ten desks.

desks1 

Andrea and Evelyn walk to opposite front edges of the stage.

Andrea: That summer of the layoffs, I was trying to organize us into a union…

Evelyn: And I was chasing men…

Andrea: Without much success…

Evelyn: Without much success, until….

Andrea: We work, that’s what we do; We dream, that’s what we do. In good times, we dream of better jobs, more pay, a nice boyfriend. In bad times, of any job, even this one.

Evelyn: Some of us just want the nice boyfriend.

A large clock shows 8:45. Women are drifting in, some chattering together, some coming in singly. They put their purses and other bags in their desk drawers, talking while doing so, and then gather at the three desks at the top end. They are saying things like:

…family dinner…
Bobby had a sore throat…
…got all my baking done…
…sewing a new outfit for my niece…

Andrea and Evelyn walk over and join the group. Andrea hands out union leaflets but no one reads them. They drift around talking and put the leaflets in purses, drawers or pockets. Andrea starts talking to Evelyn. Soon the background voices diminish as Evelyn and Andrea’s conversation attracts their interest.

Andrea: Well, I thought about putting an ad in the paper, but have you seen the ads lately. Ugh!

Evelyn: Dolly is bugging me to go to an agency. They’re supposed to match you with one guy a week. Dolly just wants to do it to get lots of dates. You know how she is…

Frouida: Why don’t you just go to those singles places?

Andrea and Evelyn laugh.

Frouida: Aren’t there those nightclub kind of places and pubs and that sort of thing? Sometimes when we go with my husband, there seems to be a lot of men by themselves.

Andrea and Evelyn laugh again.

Andrea: Have you ever met any of them?

Evelyn: First of all, they’re married. You can’t tell the married ones from the single ones. And they’re after one thing. Right now. Before they even tell you their name, or instead of telling you their name….

Andrea: I always ask them for their phone number when they ask for mine. They get really upset.

Annette: (shocked) Whatever would you do that for?

Andrea: That way you get some clue if they’re married, if they won’t give you their home phone number. Although one did and I called and a woman answered the call and says I’ll give my husband the message.

Evelyn: They talk about chains and things. They say they’re not ready for commitment. They’re just ready for one thing.

Andrea: And if you ask them who do they think they are anyway, they start calling you names. Or they cry. Or they cry and call you names. Have you ever met one who didn’t cry, Evelyn?

Evelyn: Then there’s AIDS. There’s still herpes. They’re all drunk.

Andrea: So what? So are you.

Evelyn: Shut up! Witch!

Frouida: I thought AIDS was only for those men, you know…

Evelyn: I don’t know, they say not. They used to say that if you slept with a person you slept with everybody he slept with in the last year. Now they’re saying five years. I heard seven years the other day.

Frouida: (patting Evelyn comfortingly) Well, it’s not something to worry about.

Evelyn: All very well for you to talk! You’re not on the front lines!

Andrea: Speaking of front lines, we should join the union before…

Annette: It’s already too late. I heard it’s starting this morning.

The clock shows 8:59. The women all sit at their desks and turn on their typewriters. Each typewriter has a pile of forms sitting beside it all lined up exactly and all exactly the same height. Each of the typists puts a form in her typewriter and exactly at 9:00, they all start typing.

The supervisor comes in, goes to her desk and surveys the room from there. The typists are all typing away, heads down, backs straight. Supervisor walks up to five women one after the other, leans over and says something quietly to them. Each stops typing, and stands up, and then they all follow the supervisor out. The remaining typists do not look up or pause in their typing.

The supervisor comes back and takes the piles that were beside the typewriters of the five women who have left and distributes them among the remaining typists.

Some men in coveralls come in and dismantle five of the desks and carry them out. The typing does not pause.

II

8:45. There are now only 20 desks and the right hand partition has been moved to make a smaller space.

desks2

Frouida walks to the centre of the stage.

Frouida: And so it began, the summer of the layoffs.
Each of us hoped we wouldn’t be next.
Even when my best friend was laid off,
all I thought is I hope I won’t be next.
The trouble is, the piles of forms
block the view. And even dreams
shrink to fit onto preprinted forms.
I dream that my crippled child will walk;
I dream my other child will excel
in school or in sports.
I dream my husband will make a lot of money.
And all the time, I type the forms
and think that with no job security,
the dreams are faded and dirty
like a form with too many corrections,
and you have to tear it up,
enter the number in the book
and start again clean,
if you can.

The women come in as before, talking to each other, but they are not animated now, they move slower, and, of course, there are fewer of them. Frouida joins them.
She cried and cried….

Alice has a new job already….

…..severance pay, unemployment insurance….

Gudrun wishes she had left earlier….

Andrea and Evelyn stroll in, looking happy and relaxed in contrast to the tension and depression of the others.

Annette: All very well for them – no family to support.

Frouida: But they’re trying…they’re trying.

Everybody laughs.

Frouida: You found the one yet?

Andrea says no but Evelyn looks smug.

Evelyn: (to Andrea) Don’t tell them.

Andrea: Oh no! I wouldn’t dream of telling! After all, it’s disgusting to have gone to a dating agency. It indicates a certain level of desperation you’re never supposed to admit. I know! Tell them you met him while he was dead drunk on the pub floor. That’s respectable. (Turns to the other women) So there’s this guy, dead drunk on the barroom floor, Evelyn picks him up, hoses him down, drives him home and now she has a date for every night this week.

Frouida: What’s he like? Is he nice?

Evelyn: As nice as any drunk on the pub floor can be. Laughs) Actually, he’s very nice.

Frouida: Not married.

Evelyn: Well, he is actually. His wife doesn’t live with him though. She was really the drunk, not him.

Andrea: He left her because she was a drunk?

Evelyn: No, actually, she left him. She ran away with the next door neighbour, I gather he was a drunk too.

Frouida: Any children?

Evelyn: No, not John. The next door neighbour had children though.

Andrea: I hate to interrupt this romance here, but we should talk about layoffs and union.

She hands everyone a leaflet. The women take them but don’t read them, just stand around awkwardly holding the leaflets. The supervisor comes in, there is an immediate silence and the leaflets disappear into handbags or under piles of paper. They sit at their desks and promptly at 9:00 a.m., the typewriters all start up.

A man in a suit comes in and calls away seven of the women. The typewriters falter now and then as the remaining ones watch the typewriters being moved out and the desks dismantled. The supervisor patrols the aisles. Whenever someone turns their head to watch the desks being moved, the supervisor walks over and raps her fingers on that typist’s desk. Every minute or so she shouts: GIRLS! TALKING!

III

8:45. Partition has been moved to shrink the typing space some more. There are only 13 desks left now.

13desks

Annette goes to the front of the stage.

Annette: I would have liked to join them,
young, white and energetic,
talking union, talking men.
But each day starts too early
and ends too late.
My only goal is to stay awake.
So that’s all I do all day,
think about raising children
on a typist’s pay
and concentrate
on not falling asleep.

The women come in studying leaflets. Sighs and paper rustling.

…we should have done it earlier…
…other departments won’t join though….
…too scared…..

Andrea: We could still join. There are still thirteen of us left.

Annette: By tomorrow there won’t be.

Frouida: Union means strike.

Andrea: Strike is better than layoff. Strike means a job, more money, more job security.

Frouida: Union means strike.

Andrea: There were no strikes in Uganda, were there? No strikes, no hospitals, poor roads, no schools…and everything that goes with no union and no strike. No old age pension, not even a telephone system. That’s what goes with no strike.

Annette: Gudrun got another job. If we join, we’ll never get another job.

Andrea: Susan and Eileen and Sarah haven’t got another job yet.

Annette: They get unemployment insurance.

Andrea: How long will that last?

Frouida: Union means strike.

Andrea throws up her hands in rage and stamps her feet.

Evelyn comes in, looking so smug they all have to smile.

Annette: What love does for you!

Frouida: Getting married yet?

Evelyn just smiles smugly and puts down her purse on her desk.

Annette: Is your mother pleased?

Evelyn suddenly loses her smugness and collapses into a chair.

Evelyn: She hates me. She hates John’s mother.

Andrea: Does John mind?

Evelyn: Oh, she loves John. None of it is John’s fault. It’s me who’s going out with a married man. She goes on and on.

Andrea: Why does she hate John’s mother?

Evelyn: John’s mother lives in John’s house. Or maybe John lives in her house. Or maybe they share it. I don’t know. John’s mother has two dogs and a boyfriend named Tiger.

Frouida: She’s not married?

Evelyn: No, and in fact she’s trying to get rid of Tiger. But she can’t because she co-signed a loan for him. So it must be her house, I just realized, otherwise, how could she co-sign a loan? So if she throws Tiger out and he doesn’t pay the loan, she’s out about $15,000.

Annette: This Tiger sounds delightful.

Evelyn: So she has to buy him food and clothing and liquor – and how that man puts away liquor! – just to safeguard her investment.

Frouida: Hm. $15,000 to throw him out. How much to keep him?

Evelyn: She’d lose the house, you see. I know she doesn’t have that kind of money.

Andrea: What about John?

They look at the clock and sit down at their desks and start typing. After a while, a man in a suit comes in and calls seven of them away again. The remaining ones keep typing. Men come in and start dismantling and rearranging desks.

IV

8:45. The desks have been rearranged to fit the smaller space. There are only six desks left now. The other side of the partition is being used for storage and is full of boxes.

desks4

Andrea walks to the front of the stage.

Andrea: And I saw that the job was over
and I thought maybe
the next one would be better,
if there was a next one at all.
And I thought of all the years
and all the jobs
and of the years and jobs
yet to come.
If we don’t make a stand,
they will all slip away like this.
We will always be going away like this,
one by one,
with only tears
to light the way.

The women walk in silently and silently deposit purses and coats as appropriate. Evelyn comes in. They all turn to look at her hopefully but she is just as depressed as they are.

Evelyn: He’s gone quiet. He watches and waits.

No one says anything. They stare at the floor or out the window.

Evelyn: He’ll find something wrong with me, won’t he? He’s sure to find something. He’ll say it’s this or that, won’t he? I’ll believe him, won’t I? There’s always something.

Annette: Are you being nice to him?

Evelyn: Does it matter what I do? He’ll find something, won’t he?

Evelyn sits down and stares at her typewriter. Looks around, seems confused that there are so few desks.

Evelyn: Where did everybody go?

Andrea: We’ve got to plan our lives. Are we just going to let it happen? Are we going to drift along, let our jobs disappear and not lift one little finger?

Frouida: Union means strike.

Andrea: Non-union means layoff.

Evelyn: John says they lay off at union places too.

Andrea: There it’s an orderly layoff with orderly recall.

Evelyn: That would be nice. To know… (She trails off and stares into space.)

Andrea: Why won’t you consider it then?

Annette: You have to sign up everyone, not just the typists.

Andrea: (grimly) I’m working on it.

Annette: You can’t do it though.

Andrea: I could if you helped.

Evelyn: You don’t understand. I don’t give a shit about this job. This one or any other one. They’re all the same. Those people who got laid off get a rest, while we get more and more work piled on us. No more coffee breaks now. Now the supervisor says we can’t leave at 5 if there’s still some typing left.

Andrea: Those issues can be covered in a union contract.

Evelyn: I don’t care about this job!

Andrea: (stung) What about of those of us who do care? And what about John? I suppose you don’t care about him either.

Evelyn: Don’t be a creep!

Nine o’clock and they all start typing.

V

Another 8:45 but the office is still empty. The six typists come in about 8:56. They exchange brief good mornings but do not talk, going straight to their typewriters and to work.

Evelyn comes in last, defeated and depressed, goes to her typewriter.

Andrea: Gone, eh?

Evelyn nods, chokes. Andrea reaches to pat Evelyn but just then the supervisor strides in and seeing Andrea reaching towards Evelyn, veers to stride menacingly towards them. Andrea’s hand drops from patting Evelyn, back to her typewriter. Evelyn has apparently not even noticed Andrea’s small attempt at a comforting gesture.
Evelyn: So it was gone,
my time for summer dreams.
I hadn’t been laid off then yet.
Hundreds, no, more likely thousands by then
but not yet me.
I was special.
Aren’t we all special?
I fell in love.
Don’t we all fall in love?

At 9:05 a man in a suit comes in and Andrea is called out. The others don’t even look up. Other men come in and remove Andrea’s desk. The others keep typing without a pause.

Evelyn turns towards the front of the stage and walks forward.

What I wanted was so ordinary.
How did ordinary desire for love and home
become an impossible dream
that summer of the layoffs?

Eventually, of course,
they came for my desk, too.
I guess I’ll be reading the papers now –
want ads, the ones for jobs,
the ones for men,
the ones for cheap rooms.

I guess I’ll get by somehow.
Don’t we all get by somehow?
Dreaming of the past and future,
never of the present.

Never once did we,
do we,
look at each other,
talk about important things,
that summer of the layoffs.

 

 

Copyright 2009, Helen Potrebenko. For permissions please visit http://helenpotrebenko.icopyright.com