Saturday, July 26, 2008

Office Space

I've spent almost 13 years of my life locked away in the safe confines of my office, which I like to refer to as my work pad or simply the real estate where I hide from my boss, a man who gallantly assumes that I intrinsically love my current employment situation, a word I do not use lightly. The administration would prefer that I had a more conventional, conservative attitude and work space rather than the free-wheeling, anything goes atmosphere that my office exudes. Maybe it was my indoctrination into a place they used to call "Birkenstock U. that changed my attitude towards college and how I really feel about rules and regulations. I prefer to exist in a free-form world that welcomes difference, rather than molding myself to follow those that should never lead. I like to think that I'm a quirky type of gal who has stuck around this joint merely for the comic relief of watching so-called educational elitists attempt to vacation from their prestigious egos while making poor attempts to advise students rather than the almighty privilege of working alongside esteemed professors and colleagues. Most of my faculty friends are amazing, well-rounded humanists, yet there are those who treat students as though they are peasants and serfs who should be grateful for the verbal exchanges that happen in the classroom. They seem to soil the experience somewhat, but I quickly learned to move past those that didn't believe in the vision of education and lean towards the sunny halls of Roosevelt.

The cinder block walls of my office are adorned with album art, eclectic posters, hard-to-find radical postcards and various odd memorabilia from my life. The furnishings have changed over the last several years to a funky mixture of garage sale antique chic and late 1960's groovy. Scents like patchouli and sandalwood waft out into the main hall as passersby comment on the wonderful smell. This is the office of my dreams.

Years ago, I had a massive bulletin board in my office, filled with photos of my former students, who I often assaulted with my trusty Polaroid camera. As I collected more and more important artifacts from my "job experience", I posted them all over the walls and windows, much to the Fire Marshal's dismay. I was constantly barraged with loads of mail from local fire safety personnel and disapproving sighs from my old boss, as he paid fine after fine for my potential cinder box.

As one faculty member stated, "it looks more like CBGB's or some East Village dive apartment rather than a college adviser's office. I totally get it." Thank God for an open minded, hip professor who looked like he spent the better years of his life licking the rim of an empty Tangueray bottle, smacking his chops as the last thistle of clear poison dripped into his mouth. At that point, I'd take even a back-handed compliment rather than none at all.

My old boss grew to love my office although he would never openly admit to it. It became the heart of our school, a place where both students and faculty meshed in a way I had never experienced. They became equals in my office, as if there was some sort of magic in the walls that blurred the lines between student and teacher. People talked about everything from politics to food recipes and the ever important venereal disease that may be plaguing them at the moment. What my office created was a community and now on the verge of the school closing, the heart of the school is dying, with the final blow coming in less than a month. This once charmed space will soon cease to exist. Its final moments will be painful and excruciatingly sad, but the memories contained in that particular space will forever remain a powerful, expressive force in my life. It is there where I found a spirit in my work and a unique pride that isn't boastful or arrogant, but simply special. I've been dreading this moment for the past five years and knew that one day I would have to woefully close down a school that I had worked so diligently to perfect. Graduating off the last remaining students seemed to create more of a melancholy atmosphere rather than a celebratory occasion. Thirteen years of my life have been intertwined with a program and a community that I will desperately miss. I've been agonizing over the transition for months now, causing a variety of minor health problems including panic attacks and bouts of serial rudeness that only seems to rear itself in the presence of the "suits" that spearheaded the new world order occupation of my so-called career. All that's left of the pioneering educational visionary that initially introduced me to the world of interdisciplinary learning is a few old tobacco stained architecture books and a clay Tiki God pencil holder I inherited after many years of coveting. I like to think that my old boss deserted me, leaving a huge mess to clean up but in reality, it's nothing so dramatic. He simply got old and retired. I must say, he always did have great timing.

I have much of the paraphernalia that graced the walls of my office and the memories of by gone Halloween parties, fall harvest festival's, Christmas extravaganza's, Valentine's Day chocolate celebrations and my favorite holiday, Mardi Gras, where we stuffed ourselves silly with King Cake and wore crowns made of gold plastic, adorned with fake gems of purple, yellow and green. Our students loved it, as well as most of the faculty after some prodding. They eventually appreciated my sense of community after some strong, used car salesman-like techniques, executed by valued students. Some undergraduates even brought friends to join in on the fun, while former students who worked at the University, flocked back to my office for a slice of pumpkin bread or a nice sugary hunk of Double Bubble.

My students seem to dig the surroundings, feeling right at home as the tunes beat on out of my college stereo system that my mother bought me after hearing endless complaints of how I was sick of spinning vinyl in my dorm room. It isn't CD ready so I spend most of my day listening to WFUV 90.7 on the dial. The mix of indie rock and alternative country is the soundtrack of my career. Most of the DJ's are from the iconic classic rock channel WNEW 102.7 in New York that turned me on to shows like The Grateful Dead Hour and Get the Led Out. It fell to poor ratings in the mid-90's after decades of airing great music.

At first, some of the more traditional, stoic faculty members used to question why students would flock to my area of the Hall rather than theirs, questioning if I was serving mixed cocktails from the alcove of my main office. When I initially heard the rampant rumor, I pondered that particular idea, but after much research, I decided to keep my work pad alcohol-free. There's just too much liability once high spirits and college students are involved. Plus, I'm not in the pleasure business, I'm a college administrator. Most of the news I give people is either mundane or bad, but there are the rare moments when I tell a kid they actually are graduating in four years. It doesn't happen often these days so the unpleasant news surprises me rather than delights, knowing another twenty something will be cast out of the royal college court into a depressed, impersonal job market.

I'm an avid toy collector, so I have a table in my office filled with fun gadgets like the Magic8 Ball, Chinese yoyo's, The Tangle, Koosh's, and various generations of Rubik's Cube. All of my Attention Deficient Disorder (ADD) kids think it's fabulous since it keeps them busy as I dish out much needed advisement. I often wonder if they are paying attention when I explain the graduation requirements for a Bachelor of Arts degree in my unit of the University. I always anticipate the parental call four or five years later wondering if their son or daughter spent a little too much time fiddling with my 20Q rather than focusing on their much needed liberal arts requirements. To this date, I've never had a parental complaint about the famed toy table but the potential for something odd to happen always seems to loom.

When I was initially hired for my administrative position, I was excited at the thought of having my own office. I almost felt hot and bothered at the prospect of making private phone calls without the usual nosy, gleaming gloater edging over the cube next to me, desperately trying to listen for any dicey conversation I may be partaking in.

When I walked into the suite area outside my new, unseen office, I found it wasn't painted in the colors of Van Gogh or Matisse but rather in an early, decrepit mental ward shade found only in nightmares or gas station bathrooms. As I slowly walked through the creepy beige void, my eyes began to dart from side to side, twitching occasionally in between beats. Someone recently told me that in old Indian superstition, when the eye begins to twitch, bad things are on the horizon. I'm so glad that thought entered my mind when all I needed to do was impress my new colleague and appear excited about the space. Trying to look less horrified and more engaged, I stood in the middle of the room and pivoted around shaking my head in approval, saying aloud, "This really has some potential" lying like a good new employee should. That was about all I could muster, knowing full well that I was more than unhappy about working in a place filled with old nail holes, black random scrapes and dumpster-dive finds for furniture.

My former cube in corporate hell seemed to be calling from afar, drawing me back like a magnet, making me regret leaving that sterile, cold misery. My mother always told me to be careful for what I wished for, clearly forgetting to highlight the importance of specifics. Although I wanted my own personal work area, I didn't think to pray for furniture or a celebrity stylist from The Learning Channels, Trading Spaces. That was my mistake and rest assured it won't happen again.

"Was this an established college? I'm not from this area of the state and didn't know much about the University. Are they in financial ruins? Am I going to lose my job in a few short months? Don't they have enough money to slap some paint on the wall and air out the moldy, grim office space?" I thought to myself. I was rambling and rambling in my mind bordering on manic, while my new suite mate was trying to sell me on working for a college. "I'm not buying a used car lady." All I wanted from her was a blindfold and a shot of Captain Morgan's. That would take the edge off my glazed facial expression. I was concerned about my financial future but figured if I got six months in at the job, I could collect on the dole for a while and then move back to the myriad of mindless corporate jobs that paid well but failed to challenge the intellect.

After making my way through such a welcoming entry, I feared what was beyond the large, deeply scratched wood door of 203A. Unlocking the door proved challenging since the lock was partially blocked by a sticky substance, preventing an easy path for the key to simply glide into the jagged hole. Large flakes of shellac wedged underneath my nails as I pushed open the thick, yellowed entryway. What I saw next left me speechless. The early 1960's Naugahyde orange sister chairs and gray, metal rusting desk were an interesting mix of someone elses junk thrown into a bleak room with a few pencil shavings strewn across the stained, threadbare rug. Either this was a stogie smoking, fat bellied insurance broker's office or I was in middle of someone else's bad acid trip. It reminded me of a used furniture haunt I visited a few years back in Alphabet City. They tried to advertise themselves as a vintage furniture seller but in reality, it was a dumpy old storefront with some bizarre plastic office furniture, a few reproduction pieces and glass lanterns for that eclectic Moroccan flair. Of course the owners were eccentric former hippies who traveled the world and said they had much of their "valued" inventory shipped in from foreign, exotic ports.

Since I have a bad back from an ugly car accident in the early 90's, I was very concerned about the condition of the chair I would be sitting in on a daily basis. Ever since my fair-weathered college friend collided with Barbie and Skipper on the Robert Moses Causeway one hot day in June, I've never been the same physically. I have three herniated discs floating around in my back as a result of someone else's stupidity. While my friend air-drummed to an Aerosmith's Toys in the Attic, she failed to brake in enough time to prevent from hitting the restored, bubble gum pink 1967 Ford Mustang convertible in front of us. I was in the back seat of her measly Ford Escort as we were pummeled from behind by another driver not paying attention. "Not the day at the beach I had planned," I thought as I extinguished my smashed cigarette, starting to feel the growing muscle spasm in my back.

Wow. There she was, a half black vinyl, half remnant tore fossil with a telephone book lodged underneath the seat, apparently holding it up. When I asked my colleague if I could purchase a new chair, she quickly jumped into the old gal and spun around claiming this chair still had a lot of life left in it. At first, it seemed to handle the rough behavior, but like any aging entity, it soon grew angry, tossing my new work friend about. When the chair over extended itself, a few choice bolts abruptly shot out from the stem leaving my colleague flat on her bum and the chair in multiple pieces. Getting up in a flurry, she quickly exited the office, slightly embarrassed but more annoyed. Directing me to the office secretary to fill out the proper forms to order a new chair, she left me alone in this antiquated, jalopy of an office that included a computer from the Star Trek era and a few broken pencils. Somehow, I was glad that she took that fall. Honestly, how dare she think I could spend 40 hours a week in that broken down hunk of junk? "She must be a nightmare to work with," I wanted to say aloud, but held it in thinking someone must be watching me.

Weren't faculty offices supposed to look like something out of a historic residence or the interior of a lovely, ivy graced structure? Traditional is what I'm thinking, with a lot of dark wood, large bookcases, banker's lamps and wood floors. Maybe I'd find a stained glass window or two or a lovely claw foot library. I suppose I'd have to venture to a small liberal arts college nestled away in the Western Berkshires for such a place but I was hopeful that I might be able to land an office with at least one piece of wood furniture. Believe me, it was no corner office overlooking the Hudson River or cool space I'd imagined editors at Rolling Stone occupied, but this space was now mine and I had the power to design something that challenged the imagination and quelled the soul. The canvas was a bit old but my palate was hungry to paint.

To be continued…

1 comment:

s(b.) said...

That was awesome! ((memories))