I am an orphan, which is not so unusual for a man of 79, and like everyone else I know, I work out of my own home and at the moment I’m sitting at the kitchen table with a bowl of Cheerios beside the laptop and a cup of coffee (black). I have no office anymore. I’ve had offices, not cubicles but offices with doors and a window, sometimes a credenza, since I was 22 years old. I miss them.
If someone opens a Museum of the American Office, I volunteer to be a docent and I’ll show them around the office of fifty years ago with the mimeograph machine, the manual typewriter, and the big telephone with the long curly cord that went into the wall. There was no copier, we used carbon paper. Someone knocked on the door and I hid my copy of Portnoy’s Complaint in the top drawer and a woman poked her head in and said, “The meeting is about to begin.”
That’s what I miss, the meeting. They were like little morality plays, in which people assumed allegorical roles, Dreamers, Realists, Satirists and Strategists, and the outcome was usually to maintain inertia but they were entertaining. I was a satirist in my early years and then suddenly I became the boss and I was surrounded by realists, and at the end of my office career, I became a dreamer and the two women employees listened and took turns being the assassin who points out the deadly reality so not much happened but I was okay with that. The pleasure was in the meeting itself.
If someone opens a Museum of the American Office, I volunteer to be a docent and I’ll show them around the office of fifty years ago
We cleared out the office because we didn’t need it, the copier went, the coffeemaker, conference table, the files were packed off to Deep Storage (where we’ll all wind up someday), and we went home.
Electronics made the office redundant, no need to be combed and suited up by 9 a.m. I imagine the Oval Office may be only a ceremonial room and Joe, though still the most powerful man in the world, may be working from his breakfast table in his T-shirt and pajamas like me. Maybe the Supreme Court will decide to go on conferring by Zoom, the justices at home in their judicial bathrobes.
But I miss it, those friendly Good Mornings as I, Mr. Boss Man, walk in. My wife says Good Morning but sometimes she also says, “You really need to do something about your hair. And your eyebrows. My gosh. How do you see through those things?” My employees never said that.
So now I sit at a laptop at my kitchen table, still in pajamas at noon, and I compose limericks like:
The poet Sylvia Plath
Suffered depression and wrath:
The day that she dove
Headfirst in the stove,
She should’ve just had a hot bath.
A man doesn’t need a staff to sit around a conference table and help him write five-line limericks. But it’s lonely and there’s a loss of status. When you can no longer say, “I have a meeting at the office this morning” people put (Ret.) after your name, and I don’t want that. I’ve thought of about getting myself a psychotherapist just to have someone to meet with and talk about stuff but I’d be trying to amuse her, which is my line of work, and she’d be probing for the dark dank cellars of my unconscious though there truly are none, I’ve looked, and my unconscious has no basement, it’s a solid concrete slab, nothing mysterious about it. I have friends who are in the therapy business and they listen much too closely and the way they say “Hmmm” and “Oh really?” makes me uneasy.
So I’m trying to get together some men to have lunch with. I’ve got one guy, a former Republican, formerly in the investment biz, a guy who turns to the sports page first thing every morning. He’s perfect. Now I need to find two more sort of like him. I’m a Democrat so I’d like a Republican and maybe a guy who knows about science. Race and ethnicity don’t matter. Two guys over forty. Nobody in the arts.
If we met this morning, I’d look through my enormous eyebrows and tell about two lively small towns in Pennsylvania I saw this weekend, Sellersville and Jim Thorpe, and how walking around in them made me love this country more than ever. Someday I’ll find my group. Oyster stew and a grilled cheese. Coffee. Looking forward.