Even the word sounded ugly, as if you’d been put in front of a firing squad and shot.
May as well have been, Paul Abler thought as he stuffed his hands into the pockets of his black greatcoat and hurried down Madison Avenue. The noises and smells of New York drifted by him as if they didn’t exist, he was so absorbed in the memory of ten minutes earlier, in a skyscraper fifty floors above the street, the Managing Editor’s corner office of one of the city’s daily tabloid newspapers. The office that he’d planned to occupy within five years.
A sharp rectangle of light drew his attention to a storefront window, where he caught a glimpse of himself. At almost six feet tall, he reached the end of the reflection. His dark hair almost black hair just touched his collar, with a few rebellious hairs curling over it. deep brown eyes pierced the glow, adding an intensity that more than a few fellow workers had recently commented on. He was glad he’d decided to walk a couple of miles each day. It gave him a firmness that felt natural, rather than the bulging muscles that some of his co-workers had worked so hard at producing in all the so-called “right” places.
Although the phrase used was “laid off,” Paul — in the interests of journalistic integrity and knowing what it meant for his career — preferred to use and think of it as what it was: fired.
Paul had stood opposite the massive, paper-strewn desk of Mack Kessler, managing editor of The New York Daily Tribune. Another desk, perpendicular to the first, held the computers that linked the M.E. into the newspaper’s intranet. Mack liked to pretend he lived in the days when newspapers were about news and editors smoked cigars and snarled a lot. In fact, he was a tall, Yale-educated, 36-year-old yuppie who wore two-hundred-dollar ties, surfed the ’net, and worked out three days a week at The Reebok Sports Club, where the membership cost more than Paul’s last car.
Still, Mack was older that Paul’s 29 years. Paul had finished his MA in Journalism five years earlier, spent a year in the “intern” slave-labor camps, a year as an editorial assistant, two years ago got a job as a real reporter for a real local daily newspaper in upstate New York, and eleven months ago landed this position in the Big Apple at the Tribune. Finally, a reporter for a New York City newspaper. Maybe in another few years – if he could break some really big stories – he could even get a job with the Times. He’d planned a great future in journalism, and he’d kept on track.
I expect many of us have found our plans brought to a similarly abrupt halt, and for some, like Paul Abler, it heralded the start of a path along life's journey that we had never dreamt of taking.
Read the rest of the first two chapters here.