Back in Moscow -- and also now in Bulgaria, as I continue to work with Russians via Skype and Zoom -- it has been my business to have close connections with Russian professionals. Because of that, I know a lot of 50-something guys who were living the good life until they lost their jobs. A lot of them were in the banking industry, some dealt in software, others were in the media, and so on. For all, the day ended with a cocktail. Then the axe fell.
Financial crisis, sanctions, downsizing, and then, to top it off, the coronavirus played their parts of course, but the real disaster that these individuals have suffered is that they now seem to be virtually unemployable.
To make matters worse, their former affluence had enabled them to acquire what Americans call "purchasing power" -- and we all know that when you increase your income so as to be "upwardly mobile" (another Americanism) you also automatically increase your spending. If it is not your own idea, you can bet that your wife and kids will supply the inspiration. (Of course the wife might be having troubles of her own, having lost her high-paying job.)
And so, when the bubble bursts and you find yourself without employment, the only legs you have stand on are the pegs holding up your ass, and even they aren’t steady. In Russia they pay you for several months after they have fired you, and a lot of Russian guys have the bad habit of waiting until Week Three of the Third Month before assiduously applying themselves to the problem of finding a new gig. It never helps to have bad habits, but there are certain Russian things that make sense only in Russia .
But the problem is bigger than that. The question is: why should a man or woman of 55 (or fewer) years be considered unemployable, when they are at the very height of what they can contribute to any company that is solvent and not run by crooks and hoodlums? (And even those that are.)
Speaking of which, in Russia -- before the pension age was changed -- women were supposed to retire at age 55 -- which ranks among the most blatant absurdities of all time. Why should anyone be forced to retire at the peak of their powers? I mean, we are not talking about boxers or football players (in boxing, for God’s sake, some of the old dinosaurs are still rolling in the cheese), but rather business people whose brains are functioning full throttle and whose work-experience is vast. To put this in perspective: How old is Vladimir Putin? How old are Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi? Angela Merkel? How far along are the Pope and the Queen of England?
So these men and women bought property with mortgages that were astronomical (but affordable at the time), raised their kids amid the usual barrage of piano, English/French/German, violin, ballet, gymnastics, and math lessons, thus incurring the parental responsibilities of maintaining the level of such standards for the future of their offspring (not to mention summer camp for the kids, family holidays, etc.).
Granted, for those who have long struggled just to make ends meet, there is probably little sympathy for the affluent whose world has suddenly crumbled. Maybe even a sneaky bit of joy, what the intellectuals call Schadenfreude. "Screw you and welcome to the real world!” may be the cry rising from the hangdog ranks of those with dirty butts and grimy fingernails -- but the fact is that many of the (now formerly) well-heeled earned their positions because of their drive and intelligence. And, perhaps naively, they built lives based on reasonable expectations of a viable, indeed profitable, future. Suddenly up in smoke.
OK, I am no big fan of those oligarch sympathizers who are used to steam rolling around in a Gleaming Black Sedan and giving the high-five finger plus the insult of a blaring horn to some poor sap that is simply trying to leg it across the road. And jabbering on their smartphones while they do it. These arrogant, puffed up slobs provoke lethal fantasies in me.
HOWEVER...the fact remains that there are many, many talented businessmen and women in Moscow whose lives are uprooted daily not only because of the so-called crisis, but due to nepotism, bad management, corruption, and the INFERNAL way that Russians have of replacing one incompetent Central Director with another one just as bad or worse who then liquidates the whole staff and replaces everybody with his own hand-picked cronies. This is why good men, as well as bad, end up jobless in mid-life. Then, after laughing it off for a few months, the foul and slowly spreading rot of depression, then fear, then desperation starts creeping in.
How do I know this? Very simple. I am an ESL tutor (English as Second Language) and I have, in my time, had extensive lessons with all members of such families. So when a man or woman with a ‘narrow’ specialty (once lucrative) is let go and set adrift, I can hear and feel the bravado gradually give way to angst.
In America, the higher ups tend to remain...higher up. Maybe a lot of them don't deserve to, but they do. In Russia, being a "top manager" means that in reality you have about as much staying power as an ice cream cone in the desert in July. It is the typical Russian reality played out again and again and again: here today, gone tomorrow. Always for reasons that remain clandestine, but are really, when you think about it for more than 10 seconds, painfully obvious. Corruption, incompetence, and absolute lack of compassion from the top down.
No wonder that the life expectancy of Russian men is so low.
And so where are these talented but suddenly irrelevant middle-aged men and women supposed to turn? All they can do is look for new jobs and/or solicit the support of old friends, most of whom happily join them for a commiserating drink or two, then just turn their backs, pretending to be there to help, but instead zipping off on a holiday in the Bahamas, no longer available when calls come that are so frantic the phone itself starts sweating.
Nor is the process for rehiring any more advanced. I have no idea how the format works in the USA these days, and even when I lived there, the highest ‘corporate’ level job I was ever offered was swabbing the floors and running the sweeper at night as an office cleaner. My ‘team’ was a husband-wife duet of Mormons (former missionaries) in the Chase Manhattan Bank. Actually, they were the bosses and I was the ‘team’. (I got to see what a really expensive corporate carpet looks like.) But in Russia, everything is done through an HR of unpredictable quality whose job it is to set up ‘next stage’ interviews, of which there can be as many as six, stretched out over an interminable length of time while the chief decision makers are off on vacation, scratching their balls in Barbados. It routinely takes so long to fill the position that you wonder (1) why they advertised in the first place, since they obviously don’t need anyone; and (2) maybe by the time the interview stage is completed, the fucking job will have been downsized out of existence, so that the hapless applicant gets hired and fired the same day.
Of course the main reason for this ‘epidemic’ of unemployed professionals is the ‘Digital Age’ we have entered, wherein many jobs at all levels are being phased out in favor of robots. On top of that, customer service is a tasteless joke. Try talking to a human being sometime when your goal is to solve a simple problem with the various ‘apps’ and ‘Support’ and ‘Help’....’services’ that just keep sending you round and round in mind-numbing mechanical circles until you feel yourself caught in a Kaftan maze or simply bubbling with desire to blow somebody’s brains out, perhaps even your own.
The other despicable trend is in the field of Education, where real life teaching staffs are either being reduced or its members forced to adopt some algorithm-based, cyber space-directed platform and to leave behind their lifelong devotion to the ‘sacred trust’ that was once the admired method and which embraced the Mentor-Student relationship as the classic way to pass knowledge on from one generation to the next.
This is especially true in places like the USA and UK. In Russia, where the government does not invest heavily in ‘innovative’ education techniques -- preferring instead to stock the hallowed halls of its schools with underpaid curmudgeons and fossils for whom ideas are most properly made of stone -- more traditional teaching methods are still largely in force.
In America, the inmates run the asylum (every child is ‘gifted’ and the teacher is there to turn on the lights, pass out the lollipops and get the fuck out of the way so the little geniuses can create a new gender-free -- or is it gender specific? -- cosmos), and the gadgets are winning.
I have a dear friend in Maine -- multi-talented author of non-best sellers and devoted TEACHER of many years, who is being forced to swallow such a system. Mandated by the arch-angels of officialdom, he will become a button pusher instead of a caring tutor, and he justifiably hates it. But the school system has presented him with two options: do it our way or quit. He has a family. What would you do? Well, naturally he will accept the new terms, but if I were him I would try to sabotage it at every opportunity. And the school system will now have, instead of a devoted teacher, one more disgruntled employee -- assuming that ‘lackey’ is too strong a word, and I am not sure that it is.
The best decision I ever made was when I said “Screw the system” and started freelancing. I soon realized that I had all the right instincts and that I could outwork anyone without having to kiss ass or shine the boss’s shoes. I had been a good employee only when I liked and respected the boss, and there had been a few. In those cases I was a very good employee indeed. But never a ‘company man,’ and most of the time I flaunted the rules and regs.
I also tended to speak my mind, and that is an excellent way to be labeled ‘unprofessional’. You can bet that a lot of the time I was one unprofessional son of a bitch. This was extremely true in graduate school, to which I returned as an older man (in Florida) and found myself in a hotbed of angry Feminists and Gay sympathizers. They would never believe that, in truth, I supported their cause; they were too busy being offended by my tattoos, Big Macs and discussion of the weekend’s football games. At first I tried to blend. At first.
I consider myself a lucky guy because I am good as long as people want to learn English. That is, I have a marketable skill. All the time I spent jacking off in American colleges and universities, finally earning me a PhD, was worthless except for giving me the chance to develop my teaching skills (assistantship) and the right to be called DOCTOR Le Roy instead of “Hey motherfucker, dinner’s ready !” - which is what I prefer.
But the day that Chinese becomes the World Language will be the day I’m out of luck. Just like Dmitri, Sergey, and my other friends who are in the position they are in -- and slowly dying of stress and self-hatred for not being able to do better, when in fact it isn't their fault.
It is the fault of an out-moded mentality that says you are old when you are not old. It is the same mentality that causes provincial Russian mothers to try to force their business-oriented 26-year-old daughters into marriage and child-rearing when these young women desire to build their careers. The message is clear: soon you will be TOO OLD.
The truth is that these TOO OLDS need to be RETAINED in the positions they have earned -- or else retrained and/or given the opportunity to upgrade their competencies,but always recycled back into society -- not put out to pasture before their time.
In most developed nations, growing old means -- provided you have worked for it -- a livable pension and even the possibility to make yourself useful if you so desire. And I mean professionally, not by baby-sitting or taking out the garbage. In Russia, getting old means We Hope You Die Soon. At least that is what the Authorities wish on you. They demonstrate this by the indifference they display. Just Die, old man.
Anyway, the young squirts who take your job will work for less. Unless a robot beats them to it.
===Eric Richard Le Roy===