The Trough: It Feels Like Ten Years

About ten years ago my life went into a trough, a slough, a slew, a ditch. Grossed up, it’s been a time of unemployment, creeping poverty, and physical decline. I was pumping up the tires for a couple of bicycles earlier today, and you know, I cannot raise myself from a seated position on the ground without first bracing myself with both arms on the side. I’ve developed a gut which I really feel in that position. If I try to run or even jog, even a slow jog on an uphill treadmill, my abdomen wobbles like Jello.

The physical business I can fix; I’ve done it before. Everything else seems beyond me, because being in the trough means depression, and depression means you can’t climb out of the trough.

It has not been an unbroken wasteland of unemployment and desperation. I went for almost a full year without any paid work at all (save bitsy freelance assignments), but this was during the economic slump of 2008-2009. It was very easy for me to manage on the $1700 of unemployment benefits. When I got a few weeks of “contractual” (temp) work here and there, I often didn’t even bother to notify the Unemployment Insurance office. With paychecks and UI benefits, I had some periods when I was netting $6000 per month.

Then came a couple of years of solid work at a magazine publisher (Time Inc./Amex Pub). I told myself that the Trough of being jobless was well behind me. Superficially this was one of the best jobs I’d ever had, since it was in a broad technical field that I thought I wanted to work in. What I didn’t see, or couldn’t face up to directly, was that I was often miserable at this new job. My surroundings were a sty, and my coworkers were not the jolly, witty bunch I was used to working among. They were far younger than I, most of them, and quite stupid. I let my health go and dragged myself through the day, never once looking forward to going to the office. I stopped running and working out regularly, I came to work hung over and groggy with sleeping pills every morning.

Finally it turned out that a couple people in my department were sedulously plotting against me. It wasn’t necessarily personal. Through recent org changes, I now had a Jewish homosexual and a reed-thin negro as my bosses. There were two women in the department, and the gay boy and the black boy had set themselves the goal of getting rid of us. They forced my colleague out and then set to work on me. After six months of harassment, and various lies to the obese negress at HR, I was out. This was one of the only times I’ve ever been fired or exited from a job, and the unpleasantness sticks with me still.

Thanks to savings, and a small severance package, and unemployment insurance, I was pretty comfortable for the next year. I had a couple of temp jobs in there, and spent much of my life daydreaming about what my next career would be. I would finish one of my novels. I’d get myself back into competitive shape: perhaps work as a coach.

Then unemployment benefits stopped, the occasional temp jobs dried up entirely, and I slowly began to drain my bank accounts. I hooked up with some political bloggers who paid me pittances for writing book reviews and incendiary cultural criticism. Once or twice a week I went to job interviews. Once or twice a month I was absolutely certain that I had landed a plum position. But I always got shot down. Often it turned out that the hiring managers were just jerking themselves off, setting up all-day interviews to fill a position they had no real intention of filling. There was a Condé Nast company in Jersey City that recruited me repeatedly for one of these unfillable jobs. We’d have nice chats on the phone and then I’d let it slip out that we’d spoken six or eight months before. At this point they’d cancel the face-to-face interview, because they only wanted to waste the time of people whose time they hadn’t yet wasted.

Two or three years into this new trough of unemployment—we are now at 2015—I suddenly had a great developer position with a mighty large publishing house. The office was a short walk away, the coworkers were delightful, and I was again certain this job was going to spin off into a fine, long-term position. Alas, the temp job was just temp, maybe six weeks, and the publisher wasn’t interested in me for anything else. Temp agencies found me some new slots, but the folks in those places were not comfortable with me, and the jobs folded after a week or two.

Then Robert Half Technology signed a fat contract with me and hired me as a full-time employee in a consulting division. They sent me out on one mismatched job at a loathsome pharma ad company called Truveris. Truveris was building an “app” that provided coupons that gave you a pharmacy discount on your favorite prescription drugs. The Truveris app—called, I think, OneRx—was virtually identical to two or three other apps that were being launched about the same time. All were essentially useless scams, providing no added value to the customer or vendor; they earned their keep by wheedling money from the drugstores and pharma companies.

My work was very simple; I was replacing someone who had overstayed his vacation. Then this someone came back from holiday, and I was given the bum’s rush.

It turned out I was at Truveris merely “on approval.” Robert Half Technology was trying to hard-sell me to Truveris, but Truveris wasn’t interested. I think the head developer gave me a bad review so the RHT people would shut up and go away. RHT voided or suspended my contract. Meanwhile the folks who’d hired me at RHT also got the heave-ho. It seems RHT decided this new consulting division wasn’t such a great idea.

Meantime I got more bad news. For two years and more I had been pursuing an Arbitration case against that magazine publisher, or rather Amex, which was my employer of record. I had a pretty solid case; the stinkers in my department, and the HR flunkies, broke every rule in the book. They made up lies about me, failed to pay the amount of severance due, continued to build up a case against me even when I had left the firm. Much of this came out in discovery.

The Arbitration dragged on from late 2013 to the end of 2015. Then the Arbitrator Rosemary Townley, asked for an extra month to make her judgment, which I and the opposing attorneys were happy to give. A month later she said her clerical employee had the flu, and could she have another month? Well, a few weeks after this the American Arbitration Association slapped her down, saying in effect, “Miss Townley, you’ve dragged this thing out far longer than is excusable. Write up your decision now!”

And so, very hurriedly, Arbitrator Townley scribbled off a convoluted statement of findings and her decision. She denied my claim against Amex. (She also denied Amex’s counter-claim against me. Amex’s counsel was trying to say that I had “unjustly enriched” myself by accepting a severance package which I then voided.) She based her denial of my claim on a nonexistent document that she claims I received, but which is nowhere in the evidence book.

I went back to Townley, suggesting that this was an honest mistake. She was having none of it, just straight-out refused to revise her judgment. So, essentially, she was consciously lying, and knew she was lying. There was no question of a typo or misreading. Townley did not want to find against Amex, because (my guess) she wanted to preserve her viability as an AAA Arbitrator.

So in the end I lost the case that I had fretted over for two and a half years. i pretty much took to the bottle (I’d been at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for a while) and crawled into bed for two months.

Let me add, however, that the protracted arbitration was not a complete loss. I was in the dark about what had actually gone on with my coworkers and HR back in 2012. I could see I’d been mistreated and hard done by, but I had no real evidence. The plotting and misrepresentations against me were mainly in confidential communications that were never shared with me. And never would be shared with me, short of this legal action. So I did not get my big award, but I got peace of mind. And I got the goods on some very very wicked people.

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