The Last Day In The Office
The company is moving its headquarters downtown, from Madison Avenue to a building on Broad Street, next to the New York Stock Exchange, that is bristling with security checkpoints and biometric thumbprint scanners-devices that, to judge by the expressions of suited security personnel repeatedly mashing their thumbs into them, have yet to catch up with science fiction. Thursday, July 29, 2010, was our last business day in the old space, which had already been stripped of cubicle decoration, shelves, filing cabinets, plants and, we were horrified to discover as of 10:40 a.m., vending machines. No light snacks this particular Thursday, or soda; the booze at our last happy hour in this overpriced neighborhood would hit that much harder.
While hoarders were forced to struggle with practical consequences, I had a solitary item to pack (besides my computer, slathered in labels screaming “KLEE, MILES,” lest a coworker on the other side of the move receive the hard drive with my precious stolen music on it), and that was a Build-a-Bear ankylosaurus named Bogart who wears a yellow hardhat and boots and is a source of instant cheer when I need it, because why is there a dinosaur dressed as a blue-collar construction guy smiling at me from the far corner of my desk? He was too good for a box, in fact. I shoved him in my messenger bag instead.
My thirty-five-buttoned landline phone, alas, was not to be liquefied in a blender. Or even picked apart with needlenose pliers. The torture fantasias are for naught; the phone will follow me to the Financial District. I should explain that my job requires no phone, let alone a phone that, like thumbprint scanners, falls between the poles of “state of the art” and “intermittently functional.” Before the Great East Side Verizon Outage of last week, an event that closed our office four hours early, it had been blinking “78 Missed Calls,” because I rarely answer my phone, its number apparently one digit off from, among several businesses that are not me, The Sliding Door Company. At first I was hazily amused that a wrong-number coincidence was occurring in connection with “Sliding Door” anything. Three years later, I can barely gather a disgusted sigh. And the persistence of the digitally challenged is appalling-they insist that I am incorrect, that they have the number right in front of them and dialed it just fine, without transposing a 2 and a 3, as I’ve outrageously suggested; many call back the instant I hang up on them, in which case I wait two rings, then pick up and drop the receiver in a single now-involuntary gesture.
(Sliding Door Company literally sells Sliding Doors, if you were wondering. It is not a venture capital-backed startup that engineers parallel timelines, as a youth misspent reading Michael Crichton led me to hope.)
Will I miss this building? I suppose I’ll retain a fondness for its stately faÃ§ade, the columns and deft ornamentation, but then I always enjoy the sight of those early, Louis Sullivan-style skyscrapers, once audacious in height but humbled over the past century. The security guards here were understanding when I forgot my ID, though Human Resources has warned us not to expect such leniency at our new location, which despite its metal detectors and fortifications seems designed less to repel a terrorist attack than to enforce quarantine when a supervirus is inevitably unleashed within. I certainly won’t miss the tiny men’s bathroom on my floor, which is marked by the residue of foul behaviors and passive-aggressive notes regarding said behaviors, each evidently justifying the other. The current paper towel dispenser is the last in a long succession of uncooperative mechanisms often dismantled in wet-fisted fury. The nightmare, currently: that the new office’s hypothetically utopian restroom is, within hours, transformed into cesspool via foul behaviors and passive-aggressive notes etc.
The past two weeks have been strange, a gradual emptying, a tying up of loose ends, a discovery of garish logo-emblazoned baseball caps from the company’s bad infancy, a toast to the incidental wave of colleagues headed for other jobs. A giant get-well card was passed around for an off-site employee struggling with lung cancer-it featured a cartoon seascape with all manner of fish and bivalve and said “Get WHALE Soon.” I read what other people had written. I reflected on the fact that I did not know the recipient in the slightest. I pretended to sign it and passed it on.
I came here shortly after graduating college in 2007. It began with my dad telling me there was a temporary opening at his company and, rather too quickly, I had a permanent, full-time position. Though we didn’t have to interact much professionally (the relationship was defined by long lunches and end-of-workday breeze-shooting), my cubicle was directly in my dad’s sightline when he looked out through the plate glass of his office. We’d catch each other zoning out and share a goofy face, like we couldn’t believe we were allowed to work in the same place. A few times he pressed me to try moving up the ranks from my admittedly arcane position, but I had freelance pieces and short stories to write, and I couldn’t be bothered to pursue further responsibilities. Besides, I wasn’t going to stay here long. I applied for more glamorous jobs elsewhere in Manhattan, coming close several times, but with the credit crunch, hiring freezes descended, and places that had all but signed the first paycheck told me things had changed.
There’s also this: my dad is, as younger people in the newsroom would say, an “old school print guy.” He got his start with my exact job, only it was at Forbes, and it included a lot less Internet access and a lot more fiddling with a manual steam-driven paginator or whichever Gutenberg invention preceded Movable Type. The skill sets we each needed at this age, thirty years apart, are dissimilar. Yet in my time working alongside him, I’ve felt myself pulled into journalism despite a stronger passion for fiction, much the way he did. In the knowing glances we had I could see the medieval blacksmith and his son, the reluctant apprentice, toiling in uncertain times. Here we sat, stuck between two phases of media, putting out analysis of economic chaos in both formats (his and mine).
If there’s one way I’ve failed to follow in his footsteps, it’s that I haven’t been published in the New Yorker.
Earlier this month, my dad left for a career opportunity simply too exciting to pass up. I was stunned that he left before I did but eventually conceded that he has the more impressive resumé. His office has been a dull cavity since, no promise of advice or silly eyebrow-popping to recommend it, and on Thursday a maintenance person came through and ripped the phone out. Someone else must have scavenged his lamp. When I left for the last time, I noticed his desk was overturned, and I couldn’t imagine why. It’s only by luck that I’ll escape the blank menacing stare of that dadless space, and not a moment too soon: I can’t stand to be reminded of this rut my generation is in. I’m bound for the nexus of fiscal agonies and ecstasies, where tourists take complex pictures involving the scrotum on a statue of a bull. Where terrible bronze abstractions will overshadow my little debts, little troubles, little life.
Miles Klee does not work in the sliding door industry.