CAPE CANAVERAL – Identifying labels apparently matter, at least to unemployed former aerospace engineer Fred Hackford, who is among the thousands of NASA workers being laid off by the space agency following its retirement of the space shuttle and its announced plans to cancel the development of new rockets and spacecraft.
“Hey, wait a minute,” Mr. Hackford objected. “Why did you just write that I’m an unemployed former aerospace engineer? I’m still an aerospace engineer, for God’s sake. It’s just that I lost my job.”
When asked whether “unemployed former aerospace industry worker” would be acceptable to him as an identifying label, Mr. Hackford replied, “Well, yeah, I guess that’s at least correct. But why do you have to keep using that word ‘former’? It sounds like my career is over. Why can’t you just call me an ‘unemployed aerospace engineer’? Besides, calling me a ‘former aerospace industry worker’ makes it sound as if I could have been just an equipment operator or a janitor.”
Unemployed former NASA janitor Neil Williams took issue with Mr. Hackford’s view, asking, “What do you mean that it sounds like you ‘could have been’ just a janitor, Fred? Shouldn’t you say that it sounds like you ‘could be’ just a janitor? I mean, okay, if you think that you’re still an aerospace engineer even though you lost your job, I’m cool with that. But doesn’t that mean that I’m still a janitor even though I lost mine?”
Others disagree with both men’s assessments, however, including unemployed former shop assistant Deborah Myers, whose retail position was among the 14,000 jobs at hotels, restaurants, stores and other Florida businesses impacted by NASA’s cuts.
“I don’t care whether you’re a rocket scientist or the guy who emptied the space shuttle’s toilets,” Ms. Myers said. “If you’re not doing it now, then you’re a ‘former’ whatever it was that you were doing.”
“Actually, you’re a former whoever it is that does whatever it was that you were doing,” said Rick Massey, Ms. Myers’ unemployed former boss.
“Sorry, but I have to disagree with that,” said unemployed former newspaper editor turned part-time freelance dog walker Andy Nelson. “I mean, there’s no way that I could still call myself an ‘editor’ now, even though it’s a very specialized profession that requires a lot of training. But a doctor is still a doctor, even if he or she loses a job in a hospital. That’s the same in Fred’s case, I think, as an aerospace engineer.”
“Thanks, Andy,” said Mr. Hackford. “Hey, which one of us is walking the Dobermans this week?”
Finally, also weighing in on the discussion was disgraced former New York governor and failed CNN host Eliot Spitzer, who commented, “Jeez. What is these people’s problem?”