September 14, 2006
The ‘revenge of the fired’ could fill a book—and does
Because I've been fired from nearly every job I've ever held, I always thought nobody in the world understands what I've been through. Boo-hoo, right?
But along comes Annabelle Gurwitch and her book, "Fired!: Tales of the Canned, Canceled, Downsized, and Dismissed," which includes the pink-slipped memories of folks like Robert Reich, Felicity Huffman and Bill Maher. So when Gurwitch hosted an event for the book not long ago -- in a lovely, long, willowy slip-of-a-thing of her own -- I immediately quit what I was doing (pretending to work) and attended.
Gurwitch first planned her literary revenge after being fired off a film set by Woody Allen.
"You look retarded," he told her.
Now, she seems to have found fortune in the awful feelings that follow getting shown the door. Along with her anthology, there's a CD and DVD. And she's been taking her show on the road, including the performance I attended at the Skirball Cultural Center, which also included 10 funny fellow "firees." She'll lead a panel at this weekend's West Hollywood Book Fair, with guests Jeff Garlin, Jeff Kahn, Glenn Rosenbloom and Cathryn Michon (for more information, see page 43).
"Have you ever been fired?" I ask the woman sitting next to me at the Skirball. "No," she says. "Unless you count my kids washing their hands of me."
Not really. One time, I tell her, I was selling ice cream to kids and got fired right in the middle of my Good Humor route because they attacked my truck. Skirball gal shushes me as the show starts.
The adorable Gurwitch recounts some of the aftermath of losing a job:
For example, while most of his high school friends in Evanston, Ill., worked at the Banana Republic, actor Matt Price spent one summer as a knife company salesman.
"Top-level cutlery?" he says. "That was a sign of becoming a man." His clientele: "Forty-five-year-old Jewish women and 70-year-old Jewish women." Poor Price could cut a penny with the company's scissors, but by July he had to "hang up the knit tie" when he discoveredthe company was a pyramid scheme.
Gurwitch hears stories from people who are canned for "not trimming the nose hairs of the boss" and for "not nesting" correctly. Like Jessica Van Der Valk, who found herself having to confront her boss one day with: "You're firing me for not having any knickknacks in my cubicle?"
"Yep," said the boss.
Actor Kahn, Gurwitch's husband, calls his contribution to the book, "The World's Worst Waiter." At D.B. Kaplan's Deli in Chicago, they require waiters to memorize the contents of hundreds of sandwiches. But Kahn says he really only knew three: "The Ditka," "The Oprah" and "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow."
Unable to total up checks correctly, Kahn had to take another job just to support the deli gig. Finally losing it after scorching his hand on a pile of hot cheese, he pulled a knife on an unsympathetic cook and ... see ya!
Back at Skirball, Jonathan Goff described the dynamic between "the firer and the firee." One of his first jobs was in Rhode Island announcing morning traffic reports from a Chevette. Just before being let go, he realized he was "driving a tiny car in the wee hours in a miniscule state with no traffic."
Still, no matter what job you lose, "you feel small," Groff said. "And they are tall."
Speaking of self-worth, Gurwitch saved the strong and sensitive for last: Jane Edith Wilson, a striking redheaded comedian. Sure, she said, who isn't happy to be "released from an astounding, soul-sucking job." However, she added, any firing doesn't feel good. "There's something heavy in the air ... once you have that stink on you."
"You charm people," one boss told her. "It's disgusting." Waitressing at the Greenwich Village V&G café, Wilson became known for her hilarious antics, like the dance she did with the plastic honey bears. (I remember; I used to enjoy her!)
She always exacted "a look of murder" at a customer, she says. "I wanted him to know I was deeply aware of my own self-worth."
Wilson gave people lip, was "often hung-over" and always late. But after 12 years at V&G, "to this day," says Wilson, "whenever I hear 'Crazy for You' by Madonna, I have an urge to put a plate of fries in front of a drunk person." In the moment of being fired, Wilson says she "felt an odd resignation."
And I think I know what she means. I felt awful being fired from my job at a Westside car wash last summer. But I was resigned. They had to can me. I accidentally smashed a cherry Chevy Tahoe into a pole driving it to the drying area.
And when I got fired as deejay on "The Voice of Peace" pirate radio ship in Israel, peace ship owner Abie Natan sent an Arab dinghy out from Jaffa to yank me off the air. Now that was an interesting way to get thrown over.
Hank Rosenfeld has been fired from every radio announcing and car-washing job he's ever had. "Fired!" books, CDs, and DVDs are available at www.firedbyannabellegurwitch.com.