Back from the grave, the first post from The Indicator series by Guy Horton, published in 2010 at AD.
This town, is coming like a ghost town. This town, is coming like a ghost town. This town, is coming like a ghost town. This town, is coming like a ghost town.
- The Specials, “Ghost Town”
When I look back at the events leading up to being laid off, I think of zombies. Of course zombies aren’t real so what I’m really thinking of are movies about zombies. I haven’t seen them all—there are hundreds—so the zombies I’m most familiar with are the pop-locking ones from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” or the funny ones from “Shaun of the Dead”. I never thought that that part of my subconscious that identifies with zombies would get triggered. But, then again, I never thought I would get laid off. There is a first for everything.
So, how does one identify zombies? As I learned from “Shaun of the Dead”, by the time you know, it’s too late. Remarkable as it seems, the people you least expect to become zombies are suddenly shuffling along shedding limbs and trying to eat you. They are, as it turns out, usually your close friends and colleagues.
When the economy began to falter back in 2007, architecture was one of those fields that began to experience a steady increase in zombie population. There were many rumors about which firms they worked for, whose softball teams they were playing on, whether they were more likely to be associates or principals. What about that Arch II with the mysterious limp and the foreign accent? Then there was the designer who always looked like he had had too many late nights out. Maybe those strange interns.
In my office, there were definite indications. My big Middle East project was finishing up and there was nothing definite for me to move onto. This was a bad sign, I thought. I kept enquiring but responses were always vague. It was being worked on, I was told. Then, by chance, I happened to get a peek at the new seating chart over my PM’s shoulder—it was a pdf stamped, “CONFIDENTIAL.” I zeroed in on my future cubicle: a former dumping ground for carpet samples with a flat file sticking into it. Distinct feelings of unease and paranoia followed. I think this was when zombie movies began to provide answers for me. It provided a context for the new psychological limbo I was entering.
I did filing. I made coffee. I took lots of breaks. Were those co-workers who moved out of my way uneasy in my presence, I wondered? On occasion, small groups would look in my direction when I was in my carpet cubicle. When I returned their gaze they would look away and shuffle off in different directions. Zombies.
I soon discovered there were a few of us wandering around, lost, like a bunch of school kids who couldn’t find their classrooms. We gave each other knowing looks. Where are you sitting? Near the copy machine? What are you working on? Nothing? It was disconcerting and uncomfortable. I kept myself busy by maintaining the model shop. I even volunteered to help separate trash for some firm-wide Green initiative. This felt like a new low because now I was going around and chatting with people about their trash. I was a rising star in the firm, I thought. I was being groomed for bigger things. They had plans for me. This was all just temporary.
All of these things were true, in a sense. And it was temporary, because one Friday morning, after a couple weeks of this, I received The Phone Call. It was the head of staffing, one of the nicest guys in the office, the kind of guy you can’t say no to. Would I mind coming up to the conference room? I’ll be right there, I said. I put the receiver down, looked over at my neighbor and said, “This is it.” Not hearing me because of her i-pod, she continued staring at her monitor, sipping her coffee. Everyone else around me did the same. Now it dawned on me that I was the zombie. Had I not, in fact, been behaving like the undead these past few weeks?
In light of on-going economic issues, we regrettably have to let all zombies go, said the Managing Principle. At least, this is how I had heard it.