The guy who fired me was an asshole, but that’s only partly why he let me go. The other half of the equation was me: I’m the easiest guy in the world to work with but the hardest person in the world to manage. This is because I don’t like being told what to do, which is, you know, one of the most basic prerequisites for holding down a job, or life.
There were other reasons, of course. My boss was a cheapskate and he was paying me a lot of money, and once he’d profited from the changes I had brought to his shop, there was no reason to keep me on. Use ’em and kick ’em out the door because, ‘Murica. So there I was, unemployed a month before Christmas, one kid in college, two at home, and a wife who didn’t work. I was also living in one of the most expensive places in Southern California and the housing crash and Great Recession were just starting to peak.
The last thing anyone anywhere was hiring was another plaintiff’s lawyer.
When things are grim I have found that it is usually best to ride my bike. This is a proven way of avoiding the nasty consequences of whatever’s bugging you, and no matter how dire your circumstances are, they’ll feel less dire when you go pedal around for a few hours. It’s also a guaranteed way to run into other bikers, and when you’re down and out, no one cheers you up like a fellow parishioner at the Church of the Spinning Wheel.
One Saturday in the middle of this mess I ran into Michael. I knew who he was from the Donut Ride but had never introduced myself.
“Hi, I’m Seth,” I said.
“Michael.” He stuck out his hand and when I shook it, it was firm and solid. And although I don’t put too much stock in these kinds of things, he looked me straight in the eye, a look of kindness and friendship. The corners of his mouth turned up slightly, not a grin but a pleasant smile. With a few physical nuances he had convinced me to trust him in the first five seconds.
“You’re a lawyer, right?”
“Yes.” He didn’t add any of those fake comments like “don’t hold it against me” or “unfortunately.”
“What kind of law do you practice?”
“I’m a lawyer, too, but I just got laid off. Any chance I might come by your office and chat for a few minutes later this week?”
“Sure. You have kids, don’t you?”
This seemed like a strange question, rather out of the blue. “Yes. Three.”
“No.” I couldn’t help wondering why he was asking about my family. Surely it was obvious I was going to ask him for help finding a job.
“Why don’t you swing by Monday around five? I’m usually back from court by then.”
“Will do. Thanks.”
I went to his office at the appointed time and he graciously welcomed me. I told him my situation and wondered if he might be able to help my job search. “I will certainly try,” he said. At the time I didn’t know that when Michael said he would do something he always did it, and that there were no exceptions.
After an hour or so he changed the subject. “I understand you’re pretty familiar with Internet marketing.”
“Yes,” I said.
He asked me some questions and I answered them. They were simple and straightforward. That part of our exchange took about five minutes. “Well,” he said, “thank you for your help.”
“My help? I’m the one who should thank you. I really appreciate your making time for me and asking around on my behalf.”
“No,” he said. “Not at all, I’m happy to do it. And thank you for your professional advice regarding online marketing.” He stood up and lifted an envelope off his desk. It had my name printed on it. As he handed it to me, he said “Thanks again for your consultation.”
“Whoa,” I said, pushing his hand away. “I came here to ask for help and you have generously given it. I can’t accept anything from you. Five minutes of Internet marketing advice is nothing. I’m honored to be able to do it, and it’s nothing you couldn’t have found after a quick search on Google.”
Michael looked at me with kindness, but it was unyielding kindness. “You’ve given me the benefit of your professional expertise,” he said. He held out the envelope again.
I was humbled, and hungry, and desperate. So I took it.
When I got home I opened the envelope and couldn’t believe what I saw: a check that ensured that I, my wife, and kids would be provided for through year’s end, and then some.
I’m pretty sure that Michael hasn’t thought about it since then, but I think about it almost every single day.
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