David Sedaris Can Fire Everyone (and So Can You)

Humorist David Sedaris tried to be funny writing about firing, but he fell flat. He begins:

During this difficult time when so many Americas are looking for work, I’d like introduce an idea for something I’m calling the “citizen’s dismissal.”

It’s like a citizen’s arrest, but instead of detaining someone, you get to fire them!

Take this lifeguard at a WMCA I went to: I bought a guest pass so that I could swim laps, and ten minutes after I’d started, the young woman blew her whistle, calling, “You all have to leave now!”

“How come?” I asked.

“I have to go to my parent’s house,” she said.

I thought I hadn’t heard her correctly. “I’m going there to do some laundry,” she told me. “And then I’m going home.”

“Oh, you’re going home, all right,” I wanted to say. “Because you are fired!” 

Okay, David, you want to fire people who don’t perform the way you want them to. (And, I suspect, that since this was the YMCA, swim time was scheduled to end, and he hadn’t paid any attention.) He also complained about wanting to fire a cashier who didn’t have bubble wrap. The cashier doesn’t choose if there is bubble wrap available.

Guess what, David? You can.

How? Well, when you have someone working for you, but is not directly your employee, you truly have an at-will situation. But, the key part here is you’re at will as well. You can “fire” them by refusing to work with them again, or they can fire you by refusing to work with you again.

So, David, you don’t like the employee who closed the pool (probably as scheduled)? Fire her by never going back when she’s working.

You don’t like the cashier who didn’t have any bubble wrap? Never come back through her line.

You don’t like the way the restaurant down the street makes burritos? Fire them by never returning.

See? It’s easy.

What you don’t do (and what you should not do) is try to get the person to lose their job because you didn’t like it. You can complain to that person’s boss, but chances are, the employee will be following the boss’s instructions in the first place.

But, here’s the deal: You may get fired as well. See, your relationship is also at-will. If you’re an obnoxious jerk, you may find yourself unable to use both the pool and the store. You can “fire” the cashier for any reason you’d like. There’s no prohibition even against racism, sexism, or disability discrimination when you’re the customer terminating your relationship with someone else’s employee.

But, if you ever say it outloud, hopefully the business will fire you as a customer.

So, David, you’re free to no longer work with anyone you wouldn’t like to work with. But, you aren’t free to stop all forms of their income. You aren’t free to demand their employer act on your whims. You can control your relationship with this employee, and that’s where it ends.

Also, why didn’t anyone tell him this piece wasn’t funny at all?

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11 thoughts on “David Sedaris Can Fire Everyone (and So Can You)

  1. Speaking of firing people who make mistakes … is anyone noticing this: “Take this lifeguard at a WMCA I went to”?

    Either David got it wrong in his original piece, or a copywriter or editor messed it up along the way, but I don’t think there is a group or network of WMCAs where one can go swimming.

    Somebody needs to be fired (and it could even be me if I’m wrong thinking it should be YMCA).

  2. David Sedaris used to be so funny. Not sure what happened, but I couldn’t even make it all the way through the last book of his that I picked up. He just sounded like a grumpy, narrow-minded snob.

  3. Kind of ironic given his experiences working at Macy’s as one of Santa’s Elves and being on the receiving end of this kind of bs.

  4. Sadly, there are plenty of companies who will side with the customer over their own employee no matter how obviously and egregiously wrong (and *in* the wrong*) the customer is.

    In the long run, it’s a favor to the employee to get them out of such a toxic environment, but the long run doesn’t pay the rent today.

    But this guy’s certainly not funny other than in the “I’m an asshole, isn’t that funny? Cuz if it’s not, I’ll have to be a bigger asshole until it is” sort of way.

  5. Thanks for a refreshing version of the never-ending tale of firing, this time from the perspective of the customer who is a major complainer, who is never satisfied with the service received. The act of firing as described in this article can go both ways, as sometimes the business can decide to eliminate service to a customer who overly abuses their right to complain as they are not always right. You know who I am talking about.

  6. I think it’s easy to read into the text and see your point of view – initially I thought the same. I believe the humor is dark, and I get it.

    But, I think there’s another message here – agency.

    Perhaps David is making a case for customer service people to be given agency to make things better – to take people from (as Seth Godin puts it) the quantum state of being angry with your brand to being raving brand ambassadors.

    Thanks for your thoughts – I see your point.

  7. I assume this column was meant to be humorous. Certainly, what Sedaris wrote was. It doesn’t come across as clearly about this blog post, but I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt.

  8. I saw that piece yesterday and my take was the same as yours. But then again, I’ve never seen anything funny with David SEdaris….I took his advice and “fired” him long before I heard this piece. (Fired in your sense, not his.)

    Your piece was MUCH better,more entertaining, and more logical than his was.

  9. Also, why didn’t anyone tell him this piece wasn’t funny at all?

    He’s David Sedaris, so of course he’s funny. Big name authors tend to intimidate editors, which is why J.K. Rowling and Stephen King write such long books. No editor wants to say, “Mr. King, you can get all the scares in half the words,” for the same reason that no editor wants to say, “Mr. Sedaris, you’ve become the kind of customer you once ridiculed in The Santaland Diaries.”

    But note that the piece was published not at The New Yorker or NPR, but at CBS.

    1. If this was published 2 years ago, we would be sharing tales of the worst customer service we received and gleefully speculating how those employees keep their jobs.
      But today is a very different world. And someone should have said, “Publish a different piece and save this for November 2021.” In 2020, it’s not a joke to talk about harassing front line workers whether they are in a hospital, grocery store, or a Pottery Barn.

  10. Can you be any more of a snowflake, people?
    I’m firing this blog…never coming back again. For realz.

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