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Layoffs (Good to See You)

Huge lay-offs today at work. I walked across the park midday, firstly just to walk, but also to see some people I figured I needed to see, or at least touch on the shoulder in consolation. I saw some of my favorite co-workers on the way—the Vet team, the Photographer, my friend Kylene—and it was the kind of day where you’d make eye-contact and brighten slightly.
“Hey! Good to see you!” ‘Good to see you’ meaning: glad you weren’t cut. Glad you’re still here. At the back of our minds we harbor some survivor’s guilt, but glad is glad.
I had to work closing shift today, and closing shift is the shift you don’t want on the worst of days. But, as the brilliant people let go today know (their hall of fame pictures to soon be hung), passion for the animals–the job–demands you clock in and straighten up. Your bosses don’t always wear suits and ties; for those of us with twenty-plus years in the profession, fuck the suits. Our bosses wear feathers and fur and most likely don’t have the opposable thumbs needed to manage a double-Windsor.
You take care of the animals. You think about them when you wake up, you worry about them when you go to bed.
“You have to work holidays?”
“Well—yeah. The penguins still need to be fed.”
Come 6 p.m. tonight, I was last man standing in the Bird Dept., everyone gone for the day, everyone rightly drained. There were still penguin chicks to be fed, though, and a few hours left on my shift. I texted my wife: ‘So done, but gotta push through.’
I sat for a time in an empty plaza just outside the Penguin Encounter, just getting away from the building for a second before closing the exhibit out. All the Christmas lights were still on and in full display. Music was cut for the night, save for Burl Ives still randomly playing from within just one cavernous restroom.
Christmas arrives on the coattails of third financial quarter decisions. Ho-ho-ho. The weather outside is frightful.
I returned inside to pass out the evening medications, syringe-feed the new chicks. You look at the clock, but take the proper time. Stupid me: I always check on eggs I know are hatching. Penguins have this amazing biological imperative to protect their eggs, but sometimes too excitedly, and I know things can go wrong. I coaxed a brooding sire to stand and—dammit, Maraschino to the day—I found a crushed egg.
You need some stability to push out of any situation—right?—and chicks need an intact egg to plant their feet and cap their egg with all the neck muscle they can muster. The egg was crushed. Think of how the glaze can crack on a piece of porcelain—you get this mosaic of fractures and a bunch of broken fragments while all still remains counter-intuitively intact. That was the egg, broken but intact.
The chick was still alive, just wrapped in membrane. Her beak was already begging for food, not sure of her situation and whether she was outside the egg just yet or not. One flipper flapped dumbly, free of its confines.
“Shit.”
I pulled the egg downstairs and laid out a towel on the counter. I dumped a canister of instruments looking for a pair of tweezers. Chick was vocalizing, pumping its legs against a broken shell, searching for footing. Piece by piece, I parsed away the shell, held my breath and started peeling off the membrane.
“Please don’t bleed, please don’t bleed, please don’t bleed.”
I freed the chick into my cupped hand, curled and still embryonic, wet and in the shape of its shell. There would have to be hours before it stretched out and lifted its head. You can’t greet the world right away with open eyes and at salute, not always.
The chick bled, but I stopped the bleeding and tucked her into an incubator for the night. In a few hours she was dry and resting peacefully. She was the last thing I checked on tonight before leaving.
I did what all the brilliant people that were let go at SeaWorld today have done, what I learned from them. I checked my animals, I checked my locks, I checked my temps. I closed the door and began worrying.
On the way out, there were all these flashing lights and trucks parked around manholes. Workmen with reels of galvanized cables and blueprints spread out on tables. They’re working on the pipes, I guess, construction vehicles up and down Mission Bay. A SeaWorld truck pulls up, and this guy I thought of randomly—I don’t know his name, but I thought of him randomly because I figure there are night-shift guys being laid off, too, and how is it I’ve worked alongside them for 21 years but don’t know their names—he stopped as I was walking out. He leaned his head out the window.
“Good to see you,” he said.
I stopped and smiled, waved.
“Hey—good to see you, too.”

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