A Recent Morning at The Phoenix Consultancy, an Outplacement Firm in Washington, D.C.

Leader: Good morning, everyone. We will be getting started soon. Refill your coffee, grab a donut, and find your seat.

 [Murmuring, rustling of chairs, one faint curse can be heard from someone spilling coffee on their last clean shirt.]

 Leader: Great. Thank you all for coming. Looks like we have a full house this morning, which is good and bad. We know no one wishes they had to be here, but I am glad that all of you picked yourself up off the floors, dusted yourself off, and are ready to take the next step toward the new you, the best you. We like to call that new person “You 2.0.”  We are glad that you have chosen us, the Phoenix Consultancy, to guide you on that journey by creating a map to your future. When you reach that “X” on the map, the treasure you find will be You 2.0, having rising from the ashes your old life. Over the next three days through our ground-breaking interdisciplinary approach we will get you through this difficult time.

You have all been laid off, downsized, had your job offshored or taken over by a robot, or had your industry or product rendered obsolete by new technology. Along with some cursing, maybe some crying, and a period of despondency, you likely asked yourself one or all or the following seemingly unanswerable questions. Raise your hand if you thought any one of these:

  • “Why me?” [a few hands go up sheepishly]
  • “What to do I do now – I’ve done x all my life? I don’t know how to do anything else?” [More hands are raised.]
  • “How am I supposed to compete in this fast-pace, technology-driven, global work force?” [All but a few hands are up.]
  • “Can I get another donut?” [All hands are now up.]

Thank you for raising your hands and participating. Keep them up for a moment. Look around. I hope you all can take just a small bit of solace from knowing you are not alone in your struggles. As for the questions, the first three questions we will answer them together over the course of our time together. However, I can answer the fourth question for you now: Yes, you can get another donut. Those are were some tasty donuts, right? I wish I had a hump to store more.

[Murmuring of agreement throughout and donut taking.]

Before I walk this path with you, allow me to tell you my story. It may sound very similar to yours, maybe not in the specifics, but a least in broad strokes. My official name is Old Joe. However, you may know me as “Camel Joe.” For ten years I was the face of Camel brand of cigarettes. From 1987 to 1997 in the U.S. you could not pick up any printed publication without seeing my handsome mug somewhere in there.  But after the Mangini v. R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company  and settlement, my days in the limelight came to an abrupt end. My glory days were over. No more jets, no more parties with starlets, no more hanging out with the Marlborough Man on his ranch, with all the cigarettes we can smoke or sell on the black market in Eastern Europe.

I was at loss of what to do next when R. J. Reynolds let me go. As you can tell, I was not – and still am not – a normal looking camel: I have no tail, no hump, and was used to wearing tuxedos. How could I go to normal camel activities like trudging through the Sahara Desert with a bunch of Bedouins? My manicured hooves could never handle the desert.  My trimmed eyelashes would not protect these baby-blues from abrasive sandstorms. And I’d knew I’d die of thirst right away without a hump to store extra water. How embarrassing would it be for me, a camel, to have to wear a Camelbak hydration pack?!  Me – the most famous camel in the world!  I couldn’t find any work I was even remotely qualified. Let’s face it – my only qualification was dressing well and looking cool while smoking unfiltered cigarettes.  Swallowing what was left of my pride, I approached Camelbak to see if I could be their mascot, but they said I was too toxic and reeked of smoke. Woe is me, I thought.

After a few years of “couch surfing” and a brief stint with low-rent travelling carnivals, I saw an ad for The Phoenix Consultancy and it called to me like a lighthouse in a storm. I begged, borrowed, and stole enough my money from the carnies I was with, hitched a ride to the nearest Phoenix Consultancy office, and took the first step on the path to creating Joe Camel 2.0, the camel you see in front of you right now. Heck, I feel so good, you could call me “Joe Camel 2.5” (got that pesky case of crabs taken care of.) Today, I am proud to be a Life Transition Consultant. I have been at Phoenix for close to ten years now, helping people like all of you. And I haven’t had a smoke in eight years.

 [Smattering of applause.]

Joe Camel:  Thank you, thank you.  So that I can stop talking about myself and refill my coffee up [holds up a coffee cup that says “Camels do it through the eye of a needle”], let’s go around the room and have each person introduce themselves and say a few words about what brought you here. After that I’ll go over the agenda for the rest of our time together. Why don’t we start over here to my right? [Points to his right.]

Attendee 1: Before we start, can we put our hands down?

Attendee from the back of the room:  Thank you!

Joe Camel: Yes yes yes! Sorry about that. Please go ahead and put your hands down now.

 [The whole room sighs and hands flop loudly on to the tables.]

Attendee 1: Hi, everyone, as you can see I am an elephant. My name is Mr. Brute. I am a former performer for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. As you may have read in the papers, rising costs, falling attendance, and pressure from animal rights groups eventually took their toll on the company and the venerable circus is no more. I’m here to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I don’t want to retire down in Florida with all the old timers. We elephants can live a long time. I’m young – I have a lot of life left in me.

Joe Camel: Thank you, Mr. Brute. You’re at the right place. Next. Oh, I see another elephant with us – this is a first. Two elephants. Please go ahead.

Attendee 2: Yes. I’m an elephant, too. However, I never performed in a circus.  I am the Republican Party elephant logo. My name is simply “The Elephant,” but some people call me “Tommy” after my “father,” the political cartoonist Thomas Nast, who drew me in 1874 for Harper’s Weekly.

Joe Camel: Thank you for coming to Phoenix, Tommy. I have a question for you if you don’t mind.

Tommy: Sure. Go ahead.

Joe Camel: Most of our clients come here after being involuntarily let go from their job – fired, offshore, downsized, or laid off from a making a product no longer relevant in today. I keep up with the news.  Trump may be losing folks left and right and firing those who are still there, but the base is reportedly still strong. I have not seen anything in the papers, on-line news, or blogs about you being let go . . .

Tommy: [firmly and with pride] I quit!

Joe Camel: Oh. I see. Do you mind telling us a little more?

Tommy:  I couldn’t take it anymore!  I had to get out to save my soul. I’ve had enough of the Republican’s bullshit, excuse my language, both before the 2016 election and after even more so afterward. Before the election I tried to tell the RNC that they needed to run a more mainstream populist candidate to counter the racism, xenophobia, and lunacy that was the Trump campaign. I’ve been around a long time – 233 years! I’ve seen a lot through the years and I remember a lot, too. But the RNC refused to listen.

I was not around during Lincoln’s presidency but I’ve read a lot and heard the stories. I was proud to represent that party, the party that freed the slaves. And I was proud to represent the Republican Party of Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy busted up the trusts and gave us the national parks. And the party of Eisenhower. Who didn’t like Ike (except the Germans, maybe)? Who did not prosper during those times? And Reagan! Ah, those were the days. [A pause with a dreamy, faraway look. Then reality sets in.]  But starting with Bush the Younger, I’ve had a growing unease about direction the party was going in.  They were still driven by some principles, maybe misguided principles, but at least there was something of a moral compass in most of them.

But now, Good Lord and WTF?! Trump is NOT a Republican. He’s a perverted amalgam of an America First-er from WWII, a Stalin-wanna be, and the rich bully in junior high school. And the so-called “Republicans” that control congress now? Ugh!  I can’t stand to be near them, much less represent them in any way. I want drop an elephant-sized turd down the gullet of Ryan and McConnell for wanting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. [Smattering of applause.] But thankfully their proposals have all been even bigger pieces of turd than I can produce after an all-you-can-eat buffet.

As Mr. Brute above mentioned, elephants live a long time. And I certainly have. I’m going to need that Medicare for sure.  And I have a pre-existing condition, as I’m sure Mr. Brute does too from all of those circus acts. For me, standing in that one position for over 200 years really took a toll on my knees. I’m worthless now down in the low post during pick-up basketball games between Congressional staffers. I pray I’ll be able to pick up my grandchildren one day.

So I had to quit. While I have remained “strong and dignified,” as Tom Nash envisioned, I cannot in good conscience lend my image to the current crop of Republicans that are now spineless, heartless pricks. [Various muffled snickers and sounds of agreement and disagreement are heard from the group.]

Joe Camel:  Thank you, Tommy. We appreciate you sharing with us, but please watch the language.

Tommy: Sorry about that. I get really riled up. I mean, how many millions off Medicare . . .

Joe Camel:   No problem, Tommy. We all understand. These are trying times for a lot people. I do have a couple of questions, if you don’t mind. One, I don’t see the Democratic Donkey in here. Do you know how he is faring? And, two, do you know who the Republicans will replace you with?

Tommy: Donkey’s name, by the way, is Andy. He gets his name from Democrat Andrew Jackson who in the 1828 presidential campaign co-opted the animals as his image after his opponents called him a “jack-ass.” Jackson flipped it around said the donkey stood for “stubborn.” Pretty slick, don’t you think? Who wouldn’t want someone stubborn to fight for what you believe in?

Nevertheless, Andrew Jackson was both – stubborn and a jack-ass. On the other hand, Andy the Donkey is neither. He’s really a swell and chill guy. We have drinks often, send each other holiday cards, and stuff like that. We may have different political views but that does to mean we can’t be friends.

Anyway, how is he doing? I haven’t read anything in the blogosphere that would lead me to believe he is in trouble. But the Democratic Party on the other hand . . . does anyone really know? Perhaps they need a donkey without legs as their image.

[Some lite laughter.]

As for my replacement, not that I care, but let’s see . . . Hmmm . . . I’m thinking a rhino – for the Republicans In Name Only, which is certainly what Trump is. [Now with a little more anger] If the RNC doesn’t like the rhino, then they can go with the next most suitable image: the rectum of a rhino. [Audience chuckles.] But I don’t really care. I didn’t even give the RNC a two-week notice. I just walked away one day without any warning. I’m now a registered Independent and need a new line of work.

Mr. Brute:  How about a do-do bird? [All attendees laugh.]

Joe Camel: [Laughing] Thank you, Mr. Brute. Looks like you might have second career in comedy. Thank you, too, Tommy. We all feel your pain. But we’ll get through this together. Let’s see who’s next . . . ? OK, you, sir, behind Tommy.

Attendee 3: [Cough, clears throat.] Excuse me. My name is . . . [cough, cough]. . . Rufus.  I . . . [ahem] . . . used to . . . [cough, cough] . . . worked. . . [cough, cough]. . . in the coal . . .[restrained cough] . . . coal mines of West . . . [cough, cough, unintelligible] . . . thought Trump wou . . . [cough, cough, cough] . . . America great . . . [violent hacking with black dust coming out of mouth, nose, and ears] . . . jobs again [more coughing with unhealthy amounts of gurgling and hacking] . . . but . . .

Joe Camel: Thank you, Rufus. That’s good. That’s enough. [With some alarm] Talk about a pre-existing condition. Can someone please get him some water?

[Mr. Brute and Tommy each spray water from their trunks onto Rufus.]

 Joe Camel: Thanks, fellas, but a glass of water would have been sufficient. Should anyone spontaneously burst into flames, we will be sure to call upon your . . . talents. Who knew elephants were such jokers?

 Mr. Brute and Tommy: Sorry. Natural instinct.

 Joe Camel: Does anyone have a towel now for Rufus? Maybe some paper towels from the bathroom? [A person goes to the bathroom.] Thank you. And thank you, Rufus. [Rufus coughs in recognition.]We know how difficult these uncertain times can be, especially with health problems.  While Rufus dries off, let’s move on.  Okay, you, behind Rufus, in the overalls.

Attendee 4: Hello. My name is Carl. But I’m not sure if I am in the right place. I still have a job.  I’m a farmer, but I am running out of workers! With Trump’s threat of the wall and the increased activities of ICE spreading fear and confusion, I cannot find enough workers for harvest time.  All my crops are going to rot in place, if I cannot find workers!

 Joe Camel: Sorry to hear about your plight, Carl, but you are in the wrong room. You need our Employer Services group. They are down the hall to the right after about four doors.  You can work with them to post help wanted ads. But I have to warn you: there might be a long line. I’ve heard that restaurant associations, landscaping crews, nanny and housekeeping placement firms, and general contractors are having the same problems you are.  I’ve heard of lawns not being mowed in some places for months and houses just getting dirtier and dirtier. [Sarcastically] It’s tough out there for the One Percent.

Carl: Thank you. [Said dishearteningly] I’ll go get in line. [Carl exits.]

Joe Camel: [Looks at watch.] It looks like we are running out of time for lengthy introductions, but I don’t want you all to leave this room strangers. Let’s finish as quickly as we can. Just say your name and briefly what you used to do.

Attendee 5: [Stands to his full 6’7”] Hi. My name is Jim Comey. I used to be the director of the FBI. [With G-Man seriousness] I have contemporaneous memos to prove it if you don’t believe me. Just don’t call me directly. That gets awkward real fast. [Long uncomfortable silence as Comey continues to stand.] Just kidding. [Comey cracks a smile and the room laughs]. Bet you didn’t expect that. [Comey sits down.]

Joe Camel: Thanks, Jim. We promise not collude with the Russians this week. And I can promise your there are no hidden recording devices here.

Comey: [Confidently] Wouldn’t worry me if there were.

Joe Camel: Next, to the left our former G-Man.

Attendee 6: Hi my name is Nate Silver. I’m a statistician and former editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight.com. Why am I here? 2016. Trump. What else is there to say? At least I gave Hillary a lower probability of winning than all the other prognosticators.

Joe Camel:  Welcome, Nate. Thank you. And to your left?

Attendee 7: [Sits silently, shell shocked and mute.]

Nate Silver:  That’s Conventional Wisdom. We came here together. Though he’s less scientifically minded than me, he kinda goes along with the crowd too much, he’s my friend. He probably won’t say anything. He’s still in shock. I think he has PTSD. It took all I had to get him to come here today. He might perk up after a few more donuts. [Nate waves a donut at Conventional Wisdom, to no effect.]

Joe Camel: Welcome, Conventional Wisdom. We are here to help you. [Joe Camel and Tommy place a hand and trunk on Conventional Wisdom’s shoulders for encouragement.]

[The other attendees introduce themselves: The Last White Man in Newport Beach, CA that Does His Own Landscaping; a former pager salesmen; the CEO of Radio Shack; and Walter Shaub (former director of U.S. Office of Government Ethics.)]

Joe Camel: Thank you, everyone. If you look inside the packets you were provided you will see the next event you are scheduled for. The room number is on the sheet.  Some of you will be going to “Computers 101” and others to personality testing to see what kind of job best suits you.  One of the tests you’ll be taking is the Meyers-Briggs. I’m an ESFP, in case you are wondering.

[As everyone is getting up to leave for their next session, one late attendee sticks his head into the room.]

 Late Attendee: A thousand pardons, my good fellow. Might this be [looks at paper] Ye Olde Three Day Outplacement/Life Transition Workshop?

 Joe Camel: Yes, yes. Do come in. You arrived in the nick of time. We were just about to break, but we still have to for you to introduce yourself.

 Last Attendee:  Very well. Thank you, sir. [Turning to those behind him in the hall] We may enter, my friends. A kind camel-like gentleman confirms this is the correct location.

 [27 more attendees, each bearing a number of 1 through 27 on their breast, enter and spread out at the back of the room.]

 First Unidentified Member of the 27: [en sotto voice and snickering] The leader looks like John Hancock.

Second Unidentified Member of the 27: [With a louder snicker] I’d say more like Mrs. Hancock.

Third Unidentified Member of the 27: Sssshhh! Don’t be rude to the man. I’m sure he comes from good patriotic stock.

Second Unidentified Member of the 27: (Turning to the First Unidentified Member) Well, isn’t that rich coming from her. [Then to Third Member, mockingly] What happened to all that free speech you won’t shut up about?

 [The Third Unidentified Member is about to huffily reply but stops when Joe Camel begins to speak.]

 Joe Camel: Welcome, welcome. Come it. Find some place to stand in the back. Thanks for making it. We just finished introducing ourselves, but we can squeeze you all in.  Why don’t you go first? [Pointing to the Late Attendee] What is your name – and why do you have all that tape all over you?  Oh, I see all of you have it.

Last Attendee: [In an old but strong voice.] Good day, Free Citizens. I am the Constitution of the United States. And the 27 companions I bring with me are my amendments. We just extricated ourselves from the basement of the new [flashes air quotes] “White House” from the mostly ghastly contraption that shredded us into tiny strips of paper. I think Ben Franklin would be interested in that. But back to our plight: A kindly negro – he was a freeman, yes? – helped put us back together with strips of this magical paper called “tape.” We then learnt from the kind negro that the bag we had landed in was called a “burn bag.” We did not need Paul Revere to tell us what that meant, so we hastened our escape and now throw our tattered selves at your mercy.

 [A collective gasp arises from the room. Tommy drops an elephant-sized turd. Walter Schaub vomits into the chest of a weeping Jim Comey. Rufus coughs violently and faints.]

All Attendees: [Slowly, with eyes widening and with the knowledge of what the presence of the new attendees means spreading through their bodies] OOOOH FUUUU@K!

Joe Camel:  Anybody got a cigarette?


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