Recap: When we last saw Lyle, he had lost his job and had effectively broken up with his girlfriend after catching her in bed with another man.
Lyle’s grandparents invited him to Sunday-night dinner. He drove to their house, which was an hour out of town.
“I was sorry to hear about your job, Lyle,” his grandfather said, passing the mashed potatoes.
Lyle nodded. “Thank you.”
“I know how much you loved it.”
“He didn’t love that job,” his grandmother said. “He detested it. Didn’t you, Lyle?”
“I didn’t detest it, exactly,” Lyle said.
“But you didn’t like it,” his grandmother said.
“No,” Lyle said. “I definitely didn’t like it.”
“Well, a job’s a job,” Lyle’s grandfather said. “Lots of people have jobs they don’t like. Just because you don’t like a job doesn’t mean you should quit.”
“He didn’t quit,” Lyle’s grandmother said. “He was fired. Right, Lyle?”
“Actually, I was laid off, Grandma,” Lyle said. “It’s not the same thing as being fired.”
“So you might go to work for them again,” Lyle’s grandfather said.
“What’s that?” Lyle asked.
“You might go back to work for them again. You know, when they call you back.”
Lyle frowned. “They’re not going to call me back. They let me go.”
Lyle’s grandfather frowned. “I thought you said you were laid off?”
“I did say I was laid off. That doesn’t mean they’re going to call me back.”
“Why wouldn’t they call you back? If you were laid off, then maybe someday they’ll call you back.”
“No,” Lyle said. “These days, ‘laid off’ means you were fired, except it wasn’t your fault. It doesn’t mean you were laid off and subject to recall.”
“So you’re saying you were fired?” Lyle’s grandfather asked.
“No, he was laid off,” Lyle’s grandmother said. “That’s what he just said. Listen to what he’s saying, for pete’s sake!”
“I am listening to what he’s saying,” Lyle’s grandfather said. “And what he’s saying is that he was fired. He just said he was fired!”
“No,” Lyle said. “I didn’t say I was fired; I said I was laid off. There’s a difference.”
“What’s the difference?” Lyle’s grandfather asked. “You said they’re not going to call you back. If they’re not going to call you back, then that doesn’t mean you were laid off. That means you were fired.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Lyle said. “The difference is that it wasn’t my fault.”
“It wasn’t your fault?”
“No, it wasn’t my fault.”
Lyle’s grandfather frowned. “Then who’s fault was it, if it wasn’t your fault?”
“It was nobody’s fault, Grandpa. It was the economy.”
“That’s right,” Lyle said. “The economy.”
“OK,” Lyle’s grandfather said. “So when the economy improves, they’ll hire you back?”
“No.” Lyle shook his head. “They’re not going to hire me back.”
“Why not?” Lyle’s grandfather asked. “The economy’s getting better, right?”
“The economy’s not getting better, Grandpa.”
“Well,” Lyle’s grandfather said, “that’s what they said on the news. The news said the economy’s getting better. Isn’t that what they said on the news, honey?”
“That’s what they said on the news,” Lyle’s grandmother said.
“Yeah, well, the news is wrong,” Lyle said. “Trust me, the economy is not getting better. Take it from somebody who’s unemployed and looking for a job.”
“So what are you saying?” Lyle’s grandfather asked. “Are you saying the news is lying? Or are you saying the news has its facts wrong? You should know; you used to work for the news.”
“I haven’t been in the media for almost two years,” Lyle said. “The newspaper laid me off, remember?”
“Did they call you back?” Lyle’s grandfather asked.
“No, Grandpa,” Lyle said. “They didn’t call me back.”
“But you just said they laid you off. How come they didn’t call you back? They should have called you back! You were a good fit there.”
“They didn’t call me back because my position was eliminated. And my position was eliminated because they don’t have any money.”
“Why don’t they have any money?” Lyle’s grandmother asked.
“They don’t have any money because the newspaper industry is imploding from the print-to-digital transition. Nobody’s buying newspapers because they get their news for free from the Internet and TV. And all this is in addition to a miserable economy. Newspapers are broke because all their readers are canceling their subscriptions.”
“We had to cancel our subscription,” Lyle’s grandmother said. “They paperboy kept throwing our paper into the petinuas.”
Lyle stared. “You canceled your subscription because of your petinuas?”
“Those are your grandmother’s prizewinning petunias!” Lyle’s grandfather said, wagging his finger at Lyle.
“Yeah, but isn’t it a little extreme to cancel your subscription? Couldn’t you have just called the newspaper office and complained? People canceling their subscriptions is the reason I lost my job.”
“Who reads the newspaper anymore, anyway?” Lyle’s grandmother asked. “Your grandfather and I don’t. We watch all our news on the TV. It’s free.”
“That’s right,” Lyle’s grandfather said. “The news on the TV is free. And the news on the TV is saying the economy is getting better.”
“Well, clearly, that’s not true,” Lyle said. “If the economy was getting better, then I never would have lost my executive-assistant job. In fact, if the economy was getting better, I never would have had to get that executive-assistant job to begin with, because I would still have my job at the newspaper.”
Lyle’s grandfather wagged his finger at him. “That newspaper never should have laid you off. You were a good fit there. What they should have done is hire you back and give you a promotion.”
“Being laid off doesn’t mean you get hired back,” Lyle said. “We’ve been through that already. Being laid off means your position was eliminated. And when your position’s eliminated, it means you don’t get hired back. It means you get fired without it being your fault.”
Lyle’s grandfather frowned. “I don’t get it. How can you get fired without it being your fault? That’s what being fired means: it means it was your fault!”
“Being fired still means being fired,” Lyle said. “That part hasn’t changed. But being laid off means something totally different today than it did when you were in the workforce.”
“When I was in the workforce, being laid off meant you could be called back,” Lyle’s grandfather said.
“Yeah, well, it doesn’t mean that anymore. Being laid off means your position was eliminated. And when your position’s eliminated, you don’t get hired back. Take it from someone who’s been laid off from two jobs in the past two years.”
“You shouldn’t go around telling people you were laid off,” Lyle’s grandmother said. “Especially potential employers. It sounds bad.”
“But that’s the truth, Grandma. I was laid off.”
“Then find a way to make the truth sound better.”
“How am I supposed to make the truth sound better? The truth’s the truth. You can’t bend the truth.”
“You used to be in newspapers,” Lyle’s grandpa said. “Isn’t that your area of expertise?”