HOUSTON – Five days after getting their layoff notices, former Enron employees gathered at a Houston bar Friday for what was billed as a "Pink Slip Party" to vent frustrations, mingle with potential employers and prove their entrepreneurial spirit wasn't dead.
"There are a lot of idle unemployed people here who come from very good MBA schools," said John Allario, who stood outside the packed sports bar selling for $10 white T-shirts carrying condescending slogans about his former employer.
"You've got to do what you've got to do," he said. "This should make a nice severance package."
Allario said his shirt effort was in response to losing tens of thousands of dollars in stock, his job and all its benefits when he was laid off Monday.
Just months ago, Enron was the country's seventh biggest in revenue. But investors and traders alike evaporated amid revelations of questionable partnerships that helped kept billions of dollars in debt off its books and the company's acknowledgment that it overstated profits for four years.
Enron filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Sunday in New York then laid off 4,000 of its 7,500 employees in Houston the following day. More layoffs came Friday.
"It's like a car crash," said 27-year-old Richard Britton, who talked with numerous recruiters and potential employers at Friday's gathering. "You don't want to look but you can't help it."
"What was unique about Enron is even in the throes of bankruptcy we felt like we were the New York Yankees and that we can still win in the ninth inning," Allario said.
"There was this 'not until the last out are we out' and even when the last out came and we went into bankruptcy ... the same attitude pervaded the company and the people stayed there and said we are going to win this game," he added. "There is a strength in the culture. There's nothing you can throw at me that I can't do."
Britton said that attitude he experienced with his former colleagues at Enron is what's giving him strength to move forward.
"It's a shock to all of us really," he said. "This was a place where I thought I could hang my hat and stay a while. But you can't dwell on it and be sad about it. You have to move on, because we've all got bills to pay."
Bills are among Wendy Hiatt's biggest concerns after going from making $70,000 a year to nothing since Monday.
The 35-year-old already has made plans to move out of her condo and stay with her sister to conserve money.
Shane Lakho, 47, is in a similar position. She's turning off her television cable, canceling her pest control and trying to figure out how she's going to recover from losing more than $200,000 she had in Enron stock and her retirement plan she had built in 15 years at Enron.
"I've never had to look for a job," she said. "I'm looking at sample resumes and I think I need to work on mine."
Hector Ruiz is among a group of former Enron employees who developed a Web site to help former workers find job opportunities and network with each other and potential employers.
Friday's party and other such gatherings will continue to be advertised there, he said.
"That's what this is all about," he said. "It's to help ourselves and help others find jobs. We've got nothing else to do and you can't sit at home and watch (Jerry) Springer all day."