Office Spaced

October 1, 2010

Besides part-time work as a double-decker bus tour guide, I am a legal assistant at a small landlord-tenant law firm on Fifth Avenue up the block from the Flatiron Building.  The spare characterlessness of the office space is a result of the obsessive-compulsive habits of my boss, a single practitioner.  All white walls with a few generic framed photographic prints of the old city, not a trace of knickknacks, a set-up of individuality without individualism: the product of a seasoned, smart and sometimes undealable New York control freak.

Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower, 1909Last week the office got a call from a former employee, recently laid off from a big firm, who wanted to see if there was any work to pick up, and there was.  The woman hasn’t worked here in 5 years, and so for her first days back on the 17th floor of the Croisic Building, I ended up training her as a new old employee.  The training was surprisingly fundamental – she took overly detailed notes about tasks which she herself had showed me how to do when I started work there in 2004.  I made a joke, “you must really have blocked this whole place permanently out of your mind!”  Except it wasn’t so funny.  In keeping with the pallid countenance of the office – staid, track-lit, no music, shelves of leather lawbooks unconsulted – nothing had really changed except a faster computer, an updated MS Word and the use of a scanner.  No new clients, no new verbiage, no new forms lists, no new furniture.  I re-trained the step-by-step processes as if for a first time to an old employee now new who had showed me the same the first time.  Duly perplexed, I fought the urge to denigrate the common senses of people.  In NYC, one fights that urge much much, it can easily become a dangerous game played with one’s own good faith, dug into the synapses like bedrock for skyscrapers. I suppose it was my own common sense, to have put myself in this schizoid circumstance, which I really questioned.

As a countersignature, my desk does yield a transcendental view of Madison Square Park and the full Venetian ziggurat of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower, built in 1909 and the tallest building in the world for four years.