Sunday, September 11, 2011

Three Views From An Office

I’ve worked in this building for eleven years. I’m presently in my third office. The first one was directly by the front door and everyone who came in passed by. It had a set a double windows with a sill wide enough that, on afternoons when my brain pulsed like the walls of a disco and distraction was the only antidote for the throbbing, I could sit and watch the traffic – car and foot – move by on Main Street in currents running north and south.

There was a gingko tree right outside the window and it calendared the seasons with a local accuracy that the calendar never could. Sometimes it was the swaying of its branches in a brisk spring breeze that caught my attention and pulled me away from the mayhem documented in the files on my desk, if not so completely as to actually sit in the window, at least to prop my feet and let my face feel the warmth of the sun for a few healing moments.

I got moved from that office to one near the back stairs, an equally busy location. It had one window from which I saw not a gingko tree and Main Street, but an alley, an overgrown courtyard and flat rooftops of varying heights – brick and concrete and tar paper. The air conditioning unit for the building next door sat on a metal platform attached to wall of the second floor. It was rusty. The top collected water when it rained and it rained a lot while I was in that office.

There was a bench in the courtyard. It was rusty, too. It was missing part of its back and all around it weeds were growing up between the bricks. The scene both whispered and screamed loneliness.

That single window was off-kilter in its sash and in the winter months cold air seeped through the cracks overpowering the output of the little ceramic heater I kept under my desk to warm my feet. There was no sitting in the windowsill in this office.

The third office, the one I now occupy, is on the back corner. It is larger than the previous two and is at the end of the hallway, in a sort of interior cul-de-sac shared by only one other office and a tiny kitchen. When I close my door here it is more likely for the purpose of climate than crowd control. The same furniture, the same books, the same certificates identify its occupant.

There are two windows, one overlooking the alley, one Main Street. My office marks the intersection where the noise and constant activity of the street crosses the quiet and emptiness of the alley. The humming of cars and trucks is set off against the non-noise of occasional foot traffic. The wide and open juts up against the narrow and constricted and the contrast is stark.

I’ve been here a while. Long enough to have changed out some of the older photographs for more recent ones. Long enough to have gone through a couple of printers. Long enough to have survived the renovation of the office building across the alley, a renovation that took months and months and involved too many afternoons of a cement mixer underneath my window grinding and grinding at a decibel level that had me teetering on whatever decibel level is my personal pain threshold.

I’ve been here a while and, yet, strangely enough, I’ve only just now come to see this place as an intersection. The single point on a graph where the Y axis, traveling in one direction, and the X axis, traveling in the other, meet. And having seen it, I’m now asking myself what exactly does one do at an intersection?

That depends, of course, on what one sees. A traffic light, a stop sign – those are easy to interpret. But what if there are no traffic signals? What if there are no street signs? What if there is an accident blocking your lane?

The answers are all the same. First, slow down. Then decide. Right, left, or straight ahead. Maybe even a u-turn if it’s clear there’s been a mistake. All viable options.

What is not an option is stopping. In the middle. Of the road. It is there that danger lies.
Copyright 2011

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