Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I love the smell of cinnamon toast in the morning...smells like destiny

The smell of cinnamon toast coming from the breakroom was Simone's olfactory clue that all was not well. We have come to associate cinnamon toast with doom.

The messages started flying: "sup?", "who died?", "is it layoff season again?". Lately, all news has been bad news and today's would be no different except maybe worse. Pretty soon Simone's summons arrived via an "all_dept" message: "Stand-up meeting. 10:30 - no temps."

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers (and sisters) milled around Simone's office waiting for her to get off the phone. Her assistant, Brenda, showed up, breathless, with a stack of papers, still warm from the copier. This was not good.

Simone put the phone down and visibly composed herself. Her brown hair, normally a mess, had been pulled back into a tight bun showing off the widow's peak she usually tried to hide. She put her jacket on - this was going to be official.

"Well, people, it's come down from corporate - I just got off the phone with Jules and he confirmed it." (Jules was the official corporate hatchet person). "We've been sold."

This shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone. Corporate had taken great pains to let us know it was coming but nobody expected it would happen so fast. Who buys this kind of business anymore?

Doris did her gasping thing and everyone turned to look at her. She did it again and everyone turned back to Simone waiting for details.

"I don't have any details yet," said Simone "but I've been asked to collect, from you, your latest personal data - contact info, phones, that sort of thing...next of kin (she lamely joked)"

We all politely tittered. Brenda started passing out forms. Her hands were shaking.

"I need them back by one. Jules is coming down this afternoon. I'm trying to get the conference room sorted out (United Way was having it's annual kickoff meeting there) so stick around or be back by 4. I'm supposed to tell you to keep this to yourselves for the moment, but that's up to you. Cyrus, Becks, Michael, I need you for a minute." She pointed us out.

Everybody else shuffled away and the three of us trooped into Simone's office. She closed the door. Nobody made a move to sit down.

I broke the silence. "Who's the buyer, MaGhee, Watkins?"

"Neither," she said. "Anybody ever heard of AAlaxis?"

Cyrus ventured a guess. "Isn't that some shipping conglomerate, India or near there?"

She made a sour face. "Try the UAE."

We all must have looked stunned.

"Apparently, they're diversifying, getting into news services. They already own an Al Jezeera clone, a handful of Far East pubs - mostly financial ones, a couple of cable systems, Australia and Indonesia, I think. We're their first American acquisition."

"What in God's name do they want with this rag?" Becks blurted out. "Can they do that? Buy an American newspaper?"

"Nothing says they can't," Simone said "but the answer to your question, 'why this rag', is as much a mystery to me -- and I gather to corporate too -- as it is to you. But Jules did say one thing that might be a bit of a silver lining."

We waited.

"They've got deep, and I do mean deep, pockets. The fact that we haven't turned a profit for 4 years doesn't seem to have fazed them in the least and they are paying corporate cash for us. If we stay in the print business we might get to upgrade the pagination system..."

Becks wasn't getting it. "There's a chance we won't stay a print business? But if we don't what's left?" "OH," it finally dawned on her "the fucking online."

None of us had ever heard Becks use the "F" word before and it broke the tension like a brick through a plate glass window. We all started laughing. Becks turned a brilliant shade of crimson but even she started laughing. The sound coming out of the office must have startled the hell out of the peons trying to eavesdrop outside the door.

Coming soon: The Conference Room


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