Out of work and hoping for a new beginning at 43


PRETTY SOON MOM MABRY and her boys will put all the stuff they can't take with them out on the lawn, including the hundreds of model trucks and cars that Rusty Mabry, the younger of her sons, accumulated and never put together. He'll sell some of the dollhouses he made, too.

You might see Rusty posting cardboard signs for the moving sale around Middle River. He's a 40-something guy who sometimes sports a Tasmanian devil T-shirt. He has a patchy beard and stringy hair. He drives a gray '88 Mustang. You might see him on Third Road, which is actually the second right off Dogwood, down past Martin State Airport. That's where the Mabrys have lived, in a squat, three-bedroom house with an enclosed front porch, since the early 1960s. They're moving at the end of the month.

They can't afford the mortgage anymore.

The finance company wants them out.

Rusty Mabry, at 43, feels his life is ruined, and he's bitter. He'd had bigger plans than this.

"I worked hard all of my life," he says, "and because of my one mistake it has destroyed all of my feelings for the Baltimore area. When I move, I will never set foot in this area again."

Rusty's mistake was looking for a girlfriend on the Internet.

While at work.

On his employer's computer.

On the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 5, 1997, his supervisor called Mabry into his office and accused him of spending too many hours connected to a matchmaker's Web site. He was fired.

He'd spent 20 years with AAI Corp. in Cockeysville, performing computer-aided design of electronic circuit boards, earning $14 an hour. Just like that, he was out.

Mabry claims he received no warnings, no reprimands, and that his employee record was clean.

"I had been told that it was OK to use the Internet before and after work and during lunch breaks," he says.

(AAI would not discuss details of Mabry's dismissal. However, Carolyn Wolf, spokeswoman for the company, says AAI developed a policy against personal use of the Internet and e-mail by employees in February 1996. Employees are reminded of the policy each Wednesday when they sign on to their computers. Violations of the policy can result in disciplinary action, Wolf said, up to and including dismissal.)

Mabry isn't trying to get his job back. He's not suing AAI. But he thinks the company was unfair.

"I would sit at my computer and, if you know how Windows 95 works, you can just click back and forth from your work to the Internet," he explains. "They [AAI] said they could tell for how long I was logged on to some Web sites. They said they had records that I was on there all the time."

Mabry says he'd sometimes sign on early in his workday and stay connected to the Internet until quitting time. But, he insists, he did not spend all his time looking for love on the World Wide Web. Rather, he'd switch now and then to the dating service site to see if he had any new messages. He only got one date.

It didn't matter. There was no appeal. No union protection. Mabry was even denied unemployment benefits.

And it appears that the firing haunted him all year. He could not find another job. The money situation in the Mabry household quickly degenerated.

His mother, Nancy Mabry, a 73-year-old widow, lives on $563 a month from Social Security. His older brother, Jack, doesn't work; he gets federal disability benefits. Since Nancy Mabry took another mortgage on her little home a few years ago, monthly payments have been $840 a month. With Rusty unemployed, the Mabrys quickly fell behind. Now they have to get out.

The house is cluttered with boxes, including several filled with all those models Rusty Mabry never put together; he'd hoped the collectors' market for them would turn hot one day. That didn't happen either, exactly.

That's not what makes the man bitter, though.

"I wanted to do better than my father and my older brother," he says. "My father was an assistant manager of a gas station. My brother is a dropout who couldn't hold a job. Shortly after I started working at AAI, my father came down with cancer. He died a year later. This left my mother with no income, so I put my life on hold for her. When she started getting Social Security, my brother needed help. He was living with us. His marriage had failed. So I tried to help him until he could get back on his feet. Then he was injured on the job, and unable to work. I had to pay his bills."

Once Jack started receiving disability benefits, Rusty saw an opening.

"I thought I could finally get a life of my own, so I did what ruined my life. I used the Internet connection on my computer at work to join a matchmaker's service."

He left his computer one day, still linked to the dating service Web site. Someone noticed, and snitched.

Rusty Mabry has a list of jobs he sought and didn't get since then. He's given up on the Baltimore area.

He wants to go. He's taking his mother with him. They're going down to Romney, W.Va. Jack Mabry's wife has family down there. There's an old, semi-renovated farmhouse the Mabrys are going to rent with an option to buy. Maybe things will be better down there, though in such a rural area, Rusty Mabry knows he probably won't find a job that involves computers.

That might be for the best.

Pub Date: 10/16/98

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