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John D'ANgelo

A long time ago I decided that when someone is good and giving and caring he will be taken advantage of, but that people still should be good and giving and caring.  I have tried to live my life this way.
People who know me well would describe me as George Bailey.  Maybe not quite so perfect--I have made mistakes and I am flawed in my humanity.  But in my heart I am very much the man who always gives of himself, who always puts himself last when others can be put first. 
Lately, life has been treating me like Al Bundy.
On July 8, presuming I survive my June 29 heart surgery; we will make our last mortgage payment.  That is, the last one we can afford.  By the end of August we will be homeless, without health insurance, and in debt to the medical community beyond what I could ever repay.
I was working literally 16 hours a day from mid-March until May 11—struggling to catch up with debts and succeeding--when I suffered a heart attack on the night of my 20th wedding anniversary.  Now, thanks to corporate America’s complete disregard for humanity, I am on the verge of losing everything.
For twenty years I have worked every day to make life better for my five children.  Most of my professional life has been spent working for people who cannot help themselves.
The following is my story of how a hard-working, honest, well-meaning family man can have everything plucked away in a heartbeat.

Two of our five children are 19-year-olds; so when I saw the County Sheriff pull into the driveway on a Friday morning, my initial reaction was fear.  What might have happened to one of them?  Car accident?  Mugging?  Worse? This is probably what most parents think in this situation.  No matter how old they get, they are still my babies, and I worry about their safety all the time.
So I hope the Deputy didn’t think I meant any disrespect when he began to tell me the reason for his visit and I laughed.  By the time he was done I assured him I was contrite and did not think his official visit was a “laughing matter.”
The local daily newspaper, he explained to me, had been “under lockdown” (whatever that means) that morning and the previous night because of a threat I had allegedly made while speaking to a mortgage company in another state.
That’s when I started to laugh, because I was relieved that neither of my twins had been injured and I quickly figured out where he was going with his story.
The mortgage company representative, who called me Thursday evening about a refinance application I had submitted, had taken my medication-induced sarcasm seriously and called the police in the city near my home.  That police department in turn called the local Sheriff’s office, which sent a deputy to my home Friday to make sure I was not actually planning a Rambo-style frontal assault on the newspaper.
Thursday had been a very bad day.
I went into the newspaper’s production facility office to pick up my vacation time buyout check, and noticed the company’s chief of security in the lobby.  Since he and I have been friends for 11 years, I was surprised that he just said hello to me from a distance and did not come over to where I was seated to chat.
Then the head of Home Delivery, who is three levels above me on the corporate food chain, met me with a blank legal pad in his hand, and I knew something was wrong.  He brought me upstairs in an elevator to a conference room off the second-floor atrium hallway where his boss and a “Human Resources Generalist” were waiting.
The introductions were brief.  The Human Resources Generalist handed me my vacation check.  Then she fired me.
For the past four years and eleven months I had been a Circulation District Supervisor for this newspaper.  I did my best to hold my tongue as this woman spent an extraordinarily long time telling me--in what I’m sure she thought was an authoritative, professional manner—about why I was fired and what my options were for paying for my own health insurance etc, etc, etc.
I had three different immediate supervisors during my nearly five years with this company.  Each of them frequently and publicly commended me for being an outstanding employee who regularly goes above and beyond to get the job done.  My performance reviews were all stellar.  At least two times I received raises that were above the usual percentages because my supervisors went to their bosses to petition for me.  That’s how good of an employee I was considered to be.
I had recently been transferred to a distribution center which was bereft with poor performance, suspected theft, and extreme managerial incompetence. The transfer increased the length of my work day; increased my commuting time; and decreased my opportunity to earn sales commissions.  I was publicly commended by several levels of supervisor for the job I did in turning that center around.  Yet I worked more and earned less.
They knew all this and they were still firing me.  So I just stared at the Human Resources Generalist while she was spouting corporate-speak that George Orwell couldn’t have imagined, and wondered how “man’s inhumanity to man,” or in this case “little-twit-representing-big-corporation’s inhumanity to man,” could be happening to me, at this time, in this manner.
I started to leave while she was talking but was persuaded to stay a little longer by the Home Delivery Manager who had met me in the lobby.  He has always been honest and straightforward with me, and I wanted to give him the proper respect.
The gist of my termination was that I had filled in a blank line on a Family and Medical Leave Act Application that was supposed to be filled in by my physician.  The line was left blank by my cardiologist, and this Human Resources Generalist had been harassing me to get the form completed properly and turned in to her.
I spoke to her three times between the day I had my heart attack and the day she fired me, and every time I had heart palpitations after I hung up.  She was pushy, rude, unsympathetic and generally a jerk.  She had no remorse about promising me money and then reneging when she claimed that what she had promised was against company policy.  Her word meant nothing.
But everything she demanded had to be done, immediately, as spelled out in very lengthy e-mails she sent me.  Always the phone call accompanying the e-mail threatened me with not receiving any benefits if I didn’t do exactly as she said immediately.
When some of the forms she sent me were insufficient for the number of physicians involved, she said I should just go ahead and make copies, implying that the important thing was to get the paperwork turned in, regardless of whether she or the company had made an error.
So I just filled in the line myself.  I had a lot of forms to file and I was on a lot of medication and under a lot of stress, so I really didn’t remember what she was even talking about when she had decided—several weeks earlier—to use this as an excuse to fire me and save the company the potential expense of holding a job open for me and accommodating whatever special needs I might have when I returned from medical leave.
Of course I have no proof, no glove in the bushes, no DNA, no tape recordings, to prove that I was fired to save the company money.  But I also have no doubt.
She actually tipped her hand, in retrospect, that she intended to have me fired very early in the filing process.  She had asked me if I filled in a line on a particular form myself, and I told her that in all honesty I did not know exactly which form she was speaking of and that I just didn’t remember.  Her response was “Then I can’t do anything for you.”
I told her that if she thought something looked wrong I would be happy to bring it to my physician again and have it done over.  She told me it was “too late for that.”
She never said another word about it, for the entire month from then until firing day, until she told me that this particular form was the reason for my termination, and that her department had conducted an extensive investigation into it.
This was a set-up from day one.
I’m sure she was very proud of herself.  “Hey, we can fire him for writing in the dates his doctor told him he may be out of work,” is what I imagine she proclaimed while jumping up and down and giving high fives to her coworkers.
But on this Thursday, that was the reason I was being terminated.  Because I allegedly falsified an official company document.
Every day managers in this company falsify documents.  They lie about who received papers that third-parties pay them to print and deliver (many of these papers are never delivered).  They lie about how many hours their district supervisors work.  They lie about what time papers arrived at their distribution centers and what time the last carrier left the building.
Stealing from newspaper carriers; approving bogus new subscription orders; and inflating paid circulation with undelivered newspapers is a daily routine, and it’s common knowledge throughout the company.
But my filling in a line—with accurate information—that was supposed to be filled in by my physician was cause for my immediate termination.
Yeah, sure.
There was good news, however.  My health insurance would not be terminated until the end of the current pay period, and that meant that I would be covered for my heart surgery and up to four days recuperation time in the hospital.  If I died during surgery my life insurance would still be I effect, too!
They knew I was having a bypass operation. They knew I had no source of income outside of their newspaper. They knew I was having trouble paying my bills after I had my heart attack six weeks earlier, on the night of my 20th wedding anniversary.  And they still fired me and claimed it was because I wrote on a line that was designated for the physician.
So yes, I was a little angry.  And yes, I thought about tossing this Human Resources Generalist over the atrium balcony.  And no, I didn’t do or say anything that could possibly have been construed as threatening or disrespectful.
I just left, quietly, escorted by the Home Delivery Manager. He insisted to his boss and the Human Resources Generalist that additional escorting by the chief of security was not necessary. I walked to the parking lot and drove away.
By the time I arrived home I was furious and frightened.  Furious for the obvious reasons and frightened because I had no idea how I was going to pay my mortgage and other bills.  My heart was pounding like I had just run a mile; I was sweating and shaking and trying to get all of this under control before I walked into the house.
I did my best to maintain some composure, but when my wife asked me what took me so long (she thought, as did I, that I was just going to pick up a check) I just let it all out in one run-on sentence.
We talked about it for the next couple of hours, interrupting ourselves every time one of our younger teenage daughters (ages 15 and 14) came within earshot.  And we also had to stop talking when our two-year-old son needed us or did something cute or made a beeline for the refrigerator.
I thought I was going to have another heart attack right then and there.  I decided I would just let it happen, so I could die while I still have ample life insurance to take care of my family.
Having been married for 20 years, however, my wife knows me very, very well.  She gave me a pill to relax me from an assortment of old prescriptions we keep in the medicine cabinet.
It worked, sort of.
I was still angry, frustrated, scared and upset an hour later, but my heart was no longer racing and I was trying to focus on the future.
And then the phone rang.
I had recently applied online for a refinance or home equity loan to help us get through the period I expected to be out of work.  My 60% disability pay was not going to be enough to pay the bills, and there is no disability pay for my part time jobs as a baseball umpire and hockey referee.
This call happened to be from a mortgage company following up on my loan application. I told the woman that I had just been fired and I doubted her company would be interested in loaning me any money.
All she had to say was “I’m sorry, good luck to you and your family,” or something like that.  But for some reason she decided to pursue a conversation.
With all that had happened to me that day, and with a prescription drug knocking out my inhibitions and some of my common sense, I speculated to this woman that it’s treatment like I received this day from the newspaper company that causes some people to arm themselves and go into corporate offices and shoot everyone in sight.
The inhumanity of corporate America does bring such tragedy upon itself; but I would never do such a thing nor would I deliberately lead anyone to believe that I would.
I had my share of fistfights as a youth, mostly in hockey games and when I worked as a bouncer in a rowdy bar.  I don’t recall ever telling the other guy, “Hey, I’m going to hit you now, so get ready.”
But that was many, many years ago and my only experience with physical violence since the Reagan Administration has been breaking up hockey fights.
So if I was going to seek revenge it would be through the courts, not by strapping assault rifles and grenades to my body, tying on a headband and marching into a corporate office.  And I wouldn’t warn the newspaper company to expect a lawsuit.
Anyone who knows me well knows that when I get very angry I blow off steam, yell a little, and get on with life.
But this woman on the phone didn’t know me well.  She didn’t know me at all.  She took me seriously.
I shouldn’t have said what I did.  I wish I hadn’t.  I never meant it to be a threat.  I was out of patience, fortitude, hospitality and Christianity, and something she said provoked me.
But I never, never thought she would think I was serious.
The next morning, Friday, the Deputy Sheriff came to my door.  He told me how the newspaper company had been on high alert.  He told me that they get a lot of threats, so “heightened readiness” is not uncommon for this company.
He questioned me for a while and I told him what had happened; retold my conversation with the mortgage lady; and assured him I do not own any firearms. My dad was a police officer. I come from a background that is very respectful of the law; and I was so sorry that the newspaper company had been incorrectly led to draw the misguided conclusion that it had to circle the wagons.
He explained to me that he believed me and that he was confident the newspaper company would let the situation go away once he spoke to their chief of security.  He did say that I should remember that if I set foot on company property I could be arrested for trespassing.
As he left I thought to myself that my wife works part time for another newspaper owned by the same corporation.  I wonder how long it will be before they figure this out and fire her?


(note: this should explain why the D'Angelo family chose to leave out one place of employment in Johns obituary and not run his obituary in a particular daily newspaper)

In  John's Words