At last, The Smoking Nun's first top 10 list of the year... and it's the biggest. Been writing and polishing this here post for more than a month. Cheerio.
1) Layoff: Being one of 50 canned by Nielsen in February 2009 and losing my job at Billboard was the most profound personal event of the year—if not among the biggest of the decade—altering every iota of my existence in a single moment. As I was called into a corner office, my boss sat there, rigidly, looking like he was going to spit up, reciting the corporate script: “This is no reflection on your performance, but blah blah… tough economic times… blah… downsize,” and I stared at some human resources rep I didn’t know, and said, “I hope everything you’re saying to me is in writing, because I’m not hearing a word of it.”
Fifteen minutes later, watching one foot somehow proceed in front of the other, I ambled six blocks from the office to Union Square, sat down and rested my head against a tree (why, yes, of course I had the camera with me), figuring that even as a grown man, I was supposed to at least cry or something. The tears didn’t come. I was too god-damned numb.
Ironically, I was one of more than 100 employees that would be dumped by Nielsen by the end of this year. In April, the company unceremoniously pulled the plug on 30+-year-old brand Radio & Records, and in December, the corporation sold all of its high-profile titles—Billboard, Hollywood Reporter, Adweek/Brandweek/Mediaweek and Backstage—to an equity group, and shuttered Editor & Publisher and Kirkus Reviews, “to focus on its core business,” whatever in god’s name that might be, leaving many of my former co-workers either standing with me in the unemployment line, or at the least, in a state of flux. That is—those with a modicum of experience. The dark and dirty little secret that I discovered when I stopped by the office last fall is that Billboard didn’t really downsize at all; it merely replaced its veteran writers with two-for-one 20-something college grads who have never heard so much as heard of Tommy Mottola. So the economy was merely a ready-made excuse.
Meanwhile, after 14 years thriving in my dream job, I was faced with loss of income, routine, purpose, career direction, work acquaintances and connection with the world at large… emotional upheaval, from despair to anger to relief to frustration to never wanting to return to a cubicle again, and finally starting down the road to reinvention… though nine months later, not only do I not have a fulltime job, but I recognize that being a journalist by trade—particularly one with 25 years’ experience—is akin to working for the ferry after the railroad has come to town.
On the plus side, what more could I possibly hope for after 14 glorious years at Billboard? I had truly done it all, fulfilled my life-long dream, interviewed almost every living artist that I could have hoped to, and lived a decidedly glamorous New York life. Whether or not it was ultimately my decision, perhaps it was the right time to turn the page, after all. It took a while, but I have made good peace with the transition.
2) Poor Boy: The adjustment of existing on unemployment—a whopping $405 a week, thank you, tight-ass New York state—instantly forced a spanking new lifestyle. Gone were the days of helicopters and limos… oh, wait, I’m confusing my life with the Hamptons… What I meant: Money became a means to buy groceries on sale and spend for nothing else. I joined Quicken, check my bank balance every day and juggle funds with the mastery of a CPA. At year-end, somehow, I’ve managed to stay out of debt, still living a life that is rich, if awfully frugal. The new sofa and living room renovation can wait. Walking leisurely over the Brooklyn Bridge and connecting with a cavalcade of friends don’t have to.
3) Ayhan’s Green Card: He gets to stay. Permanent residency. After eight years of never knowing if there might come a day where the backward purview of the U.S. immigration system sent him packing for Turkey, this is monumental. We are mighty blessed.
4) The Book: Had I not been laid off, I never would have had the most creative experience in my career as a writer. Spending the summer of 2009 in Southampton with Liz D., working on our memoir of her adventurous life in Greenwich Village throughout the 1970s, was not only lush, passionate and simply fabulous—“I heard lawnmowers instead of car horns”—but it also launched what I hope will be a new calling card (author), as well as the addition of Liz D. to my forever family. Unforgettable. A magical time.
5) Facebook: The ridiculous online application has reunited me with high school friends from nearly 30 years ago, kept me connected with those I care about, allowed a peak into lives I’m curious about and, it is more addictive than a wallop of gin and club soda. It’s stupefying to remember someone from the past, friend them and suddenly renew active conversation. It’s even more fun when I see that all the hot guys from high school lost their hair… On the other hand, as I said to my 17-year-old nephew, “Do you realize you will never lose touch with everyone you’ve ever known in your life?” What a horrifying notion. I prefer my way… Revisiting the past should be a choice. Much of it deserves to lay in permanent hiding.