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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Ides Of March Are Come

There's really only one day per year when I can walk around saying "The Ides of March are come!" And I can usually only get away with saying "Beware the Ides of March" a few days prior to March 15th.

Of course, I have yet to have someone respond to my reference to the Shakespearean play by saying "Ay, but they have not gone!"

For some reason, this morning I was reflecting back on one of the many different series of layoffs I survived back in the days immediately following the dot com bust. I worked at Chapters Online back in the glory days when dot com companies were expanding exponentially, there were free pop machines on every floor of the building, one of those giant popcorn machines, and food regularly being ordered in from local restaurants. COL had recently purchased a "home and garden" company and expanded, hiring an additional hundred or so folks and renting an additional two floors of an adjascent building in the Peter Street offices downtown.

Then the bubble burst, the seemingly endless buckets of money stopped flowing in, reality sunk in, and the rounds of layoff after layoff began as the company that had been expanding so rapidly started contracting back down in an attempt to stay sustainable.

Then there was the takeover of Chapters by Indigo, and shortly thereafter, yet another round of layoffs as two companies merged and the duplicate roles filled by people at the home office were resolved.

That round, I distinctly remember, took place on a March 15th.

I remember, because, in the same manner that one whistles while walking past a graveyard, I posted a sign on my office door that read:  "Beware the Ides of March!"  My gut (which had already been through two major rounds of layoffs) told me that the company wide meetings that had been planned for that day were really going to be another round of layoffs.

And sure enough, that morning, people were handed colour coded sheets of paper informing them to report to a particular room at a certain time that morning.

I remember sitting in the room I was in and looking at the other folks in there with me and trying to decide if I was in the "cut and laidoff" people or the "we're safe" room. It was an agonizingly long ten minutes with most people in the room silent, save for the occasional uncomfortable shifting in seats and quiet mutterings.

It turned out I had survived yet another round of cuts. But yet again, just like previously, there had been the sense of relief for getting to keep my job, but then came the survivor's guilt I felt because friends of mine had not been so lucky and had lost their jobs. Yes, I was extremely lucky, but the guilt was really strong.

I don't want to dwell on the stress of the repeated rounds of layoffs, but just point out that, despite the fact I had been working for a "book" company, nobody seemed to pick up on my literary reference, or the significance of the day. Either that, or they had, but nobody had been in the mood to whistle past the graveyard with me.

I suppose I've long enjoyed playing upon that reference to the Shakespeare play.  I've even written a horror story about snowmen facing the terror of the arrival of spring in a tale called (yes, you guessed it): "Ides of March" (Click on the title to read a preview of it)


In any case, I'll keep tossing that cue line out and some day someone will pick up and respond. We'll smile, perhaps acknowledge the bard in some small way (perhaps one of us will be wearing one of the cheeky "Dead Author T-Shirts" designed by Margaret Atwood that feature Shakespeare), then we'll go on with our day.

1 comment:

D. Hughes said...

That saying has always left me with a vague feeling of unease. And, of course, I think about Caesar.

While I'm sorry for your troubles with Chapters, I appreciate that I now have a more modern reference to think about regarding the Ides.

Thank you, Mark.