Five years ago, I didn't know it, but my days as the managing editor at a magazine were almost done.
Five years ago today, I was probably sitting in my office (with a door!) in downtown Minneapolis, surfing the Web and trying to decide if it was just a little too paranoid to be thinking about buying my own personal gas mask to store under my desk. You know, just in case. I'd spent much of the Sept. 11 workday sneaking looks over my shoulder out my window (my window!) at the IDS tower, the tallest in the city, and that evening Matt and I sat outside with a pipe and watched the empty sky.
After that, even though "everything changed" and irony was dead, not too much changed for me. In fact, by November, I was more than pleased with my status in the world. Right before Thanksgiving, I got a hefty raise and some new duties. I loved my boss and my job. Matt's job was booming, too.
My first day of work after the Thanksgiving break, I was running a little late to the office. It was snowing -- the first real snow of the season, and a little Vince Gauraldi "Charlie Brown Christmas" music was on the radio. Downtown was gorgeous. I felt competent, grown up and, frankly, rich.
When I got in, I saw that everyone was in the meeting room. My boss came out and as I opened my mouth to apologize for being late, she said, "They're shutting the magazine down. They're going over severance packages right now."
In addition to our severance packages, we were also given cardboard boxes and instructions to be out of the office by noon. My reaction? Well, incredulity, obviously. And shock. But more of an amused wonder, than anything. While I'd heard all the talk about how Generation Xers wouldn't be able to find a company and stay there for the 40 years and gold watch, I generally assumed that leaving a job would by my initiative, not the company's.
I was unemployed for 3 1/2 years. Through it all ran that thread of amused wonder and shock. I understand we were luckier than many people in the same situation, and we always had people to rely on if we needed to. The publishing industry took a dive in the Cities, and Matt hit job troubles too, which is his own story. We became one of those families that had to time their bills carefully -- do we pay day care this week, or the medical bill? -- and do not a little juggling.
We always had enough to eat, and were warm. But the small luxuries we had had -- having flowers delivered for a friend's promotion, or new clothes for me (why did I need new clothes? I didn't have a job), or rare books for us, or a tune-up with the brake job instead of just the brake job, and so on -- were gone. My sense of financial scale was totally off. One day, I was depositing a few checks at the bank, and they totalled about $1,000. I was driving through the ATM line and thought, Wait a minute, a thousand dollars? Do they need to have me come in for a deposit that big? Or should I have Matt countersign the checks, or something? And then I remembered that the paycheck I got from the magazine was even bigger than that, and I had deposited them without incident twice a month at the (then) Norwest building, standing in line in my wool suit and heels.
Work on the house ceased. Projects we did do became maintenance ones instead of enterprise ones, because that's as far as the money went (and sometimes, not even). Matt did a great job accounting creatively, but it will still hard -- even in ways I don't necessarily want to blog about.
This is what is on my mind when the 9/11 anniversary comes around. I love my job now. On Saturday nights, after I am done with the Sunday front page, I drive home along the lakeshore and watch the moon rise. I feel content and competent, and I think about how people going to bed now will get up and read the paper in the morning. I think about training I want to get, and about the different jobs I want to do someday, on my schedule and initiative. I think about how my weekend is coming up, and how next week I'll do it all over again, building the newspaper. And then, every Saturday as I drive up the shore at dusk, I remember how I felt when I was handed that cardboard box.