Monday looms, and The Desk awaits me. Strewn with paper, stacks of unfiled matter, some company archives from the 1960s, it’s all there.
Ask anyone who knows me, particularly the people who work with me (I’d rather you didn’t ask the person who lives with me, or the reaction might be a bit acerbic) but, yes, I’m a Messy Desker. It bothers some people. Some people it bothers a great, great deal.
I am not the worst. I slow down and gaze in admiration when I pass certain offices on other floors of the building and see the torrents of documents and files that are the daily fare of the people in Benefits Accounting, or the Intellectual Property people. They are my salvation. “At least it’s not THAT bad!” I say.
We had a VP at the HQ whose office window looked out on the front walk. He’d leave the lights on after he went home each night so that everyone who walked by could see that big expanse of mahogany desk without ONE SCRAP OF PAPER on it. What one WANTED to say in response to this overt display of passive-aggressiveness was, “Great. So you have a full-time assistant who files everything for you, and a staff who gets all the rest of the paper. Where’s My assistant? Where’s MY staff?”
I admit that had I a line of assistants at desks outside my office, stretching down the hall, and a staff that filled every available office on the floor, the place would still be a wreck. I get a certain amount of leeway, being on the media beat, since some of those piles are video tapes and DVDs and archival stuff that’s going into video productions, but the worst piles are just good ol’ paper. The problem is, I know where everything is under there, within a few inches or so, and so why bother to waste time filing when I know I can get it? Even worse, I know that 90% of the detritus is useless or nearly so, and therefore let it sit there, knowing it’s not doing any harm, avoiding the need to make a hundred file-or-discard decisions. Let it rest. Mess has a right to be, as we all do.
Two circumstances, however, one at work and one at home, have made the situation critical in both locations. At work, we had to vacate the floor I had occupied for 14 years, and which my predecessors who ran the department had occupied since the building was constructed in the ’70s. Thirty years. ROOMS full of video tapes, files, thousands and thousands of 35mm SLIDES, photographic transparencies, scripts, edit lists; boxes full of CDs, DVDs and media no longer in use: 3.5″ floppies, 5-1/4″ floppies, 8″ FLOPPIES! My god. Hardware, too: video editing equipment, some of it dating to the earliest days of my work in the medium; still and video cameras; 35mm projectors; old computers; electronics of every sort, nearly all obsolete. It all had to be either discarded, shipped away or squeezed into a tiny fraction of the space it once occupied.
My office is a mess. But, really, could you part with perhaps the last remaining operating multi-image 35mm projector setup in the western world? Uh uh. No way. It’s there in the office, 1987-vintage 486 computer and all, ready to rock!
And in the past few months, with a significant remodeling job in progress at home, my office in the spare bedroom must serve as the storage space for a chest-high mass of boxes, dining room chairs, and all kinds of what-not, making it essentially unusable as an office, and the once merely messy desk has the potential for serving as a tabloid front-page photo for the story, “Man Never Throws Anything Away. Years of Junk Accumulate.” Honestly, the situation was so dire that I took some of the boxes and stored them in my office at WORK because, well, my office is larger than any of the usable rooms in our little 50s ranch house, Rancho Retro.
Has anyone seen my file for my Visa card statements? I know it’s in there.
The Counselor is suffering, too. HER office has to serve not only as office but as living room, dining room and kitchen while the rooms that formerly served those functions are under the administration of the contractors. Now, instead of maintaining a tidy stream of monthly bill-paying, we live in a world dominated by endless clutter, like a dull, constant beat of administrative drums in the jungle night. And she is a person who prizes neatness and organization. It is hard, very hard on her.
Like most American males of my generation, a book that figured large in my adolescence was “Catcher in the Rye,” although it’s now been many decades since I went back to it (AND, Mr. Salinger, we’d welcome something new, anything, from you. Come out, come out!). In one memorable passage, Holden C. bemoans the fact that his fellow Pencey student, Stradlater, — for all appearances a clean-cut ideal young preppie — is a “secret slob.” Hah. I should be so lucky. No secret here. I am an Obvious Slob. A Messy Desker.
Well, then, I will embrace it: my destiny, my self. Look at that desk. Preserved there — yea, available there — are all the things I will need not only on this Monday, but all through the days and weeks to come. Manufacturers of file drawers and manila envelopes, behold your apocalypse, it is me.