01 October 2001

All the world loves a clown.
   - Cole Porter

I am not a clown. 
See the clowns? They run Nortel. 
I am a mirror. 
   - Pseudo-haiku about Nate, now unemployed

I was out browsing the other day, and found a news item on a well-known dot-com "dead pool" site that actually made me laugh out loud, no mean feat these days. I don't think the situation is particularly funny, or the people in the situation, but the combination is made for what I felt was irresistible humor. I needed the laugh.

The item reported on yet another technology company falling apart at the seams, finding itself financially overextended and in the terrible position of having to confront several employees with loss of employment. The numbers were reviewed, the decisions were made, the date was set, and the paperwork prepared. Everything was going to be orderly, bloodless, and swift, when the Human Resources drone delivered the axe blow to the hapless victim of a faltering economy and questionable management practices.

That was the plan. The reality turned into something quite different. One young man, well connected into the company grapevine, knew he was going to receive a summons to the Human Resources processing center, and decided to turn the event into a three-ring circus.


He showed up on the final morning wearing a full clown suit, hat, and shoes, and greasepaint makeup. He was indeed summoned to the Human Resources offices, where he sat in front of the clerk assigned the task of processing him through the layoff, a risible reminder of the absurdity of the situation. Somebody was able to get a digital photograph of him during the exit interview. He's sitting opposite the HR representative, hunched forward in his chair, a bright blue plastic water pistol on the table next to the little pile of forms he had to sign, the frown on his face belied by the rubber nose and the bright colored, smeary red smile painted on his face. There is another photograph available of the clown and his friends out at the local watering hole after the termination. The clown nose is gone, but the frown remains. He grimly stares out at the lens, one hand holding a martini, the other uplifted in a one-finger salute to the world. He is surrounded by other victims of the layoff, who don't seem to be taking much notice of him.

Everyone in the photograph except the clown is smiling.

On the web site where I encountered these photos, there is a forum where people may post opinions about the stories they read. The feeling toward the clown and his actions was overwhelmingly positive, with responses varying from "this guy ROCKS," to "I should have done this when I got laid off!" There were even a few job offers posted. People were drawn to the clown, even not knowing his work ethic, the position he'd held, or his qualifications. What they knew was they wanted to be in his proximity.

That's not surprising. Clowns are anarchists, subversives, crazies. They poke fun at our misery, and they squirt us in the eye even as we weep. They make us laugh, in spite of our circumstances. I saw the photograph, and didn't feel the least bit sorry for the person in the Human Resources office who had the singular honor of processing the clown. I was thinking, Gee, I wish I could have been there for that one. What a great story to be able to tell my friends and family -- I got to lay off Bozo! I wasn't even too sorry for the clown. He showed imagination and nerve in the face of some pretty real adversity, and he followed through on his feelings with a glorious display of perspective. He brought gaiety into a sad time, and I envied him. I hope he finds work with a better company soon. I know I'd enjoy working with him.

Excuse me. It's time I stop clowning around, and get some work done.


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