Some years ago, I began working as an attorney for The City of New York. The office I was assigned to was in an old building on the corner of Leonard Street in Manhattan’s lower west side. The barely renovated offices were once occupied by the garment industry in an era long gone. Large paned glass windows allowed daylight to spill into the dark cubicles and transformed the wall of glass into a stage for the world outside.
My co-workers were a lively cast of characters, all so different from each other. Never had I been exposed to such a diverse group of people thrown together in close proximity, except in my own family of course. In college, people were from all parts of the world and came from all different backgrounds, but all the students had a common purpose, a similar goal and living a similar lifestyle.
I liked all my co-workers. Really, I did. Not that I didn’t see their flaws as I am sure they were quite aware of mine as well. But, I enjoyed each one’s perspective and analyzed each person’s place in life. They were caricatures from some book for me with their lives unfolding as I became better acquainted with them. Their ages ranged vastly from my youthful age of 24 upwards to somewhere around 65. Their races were many, their sexual preferences were vast and their socio-economic levels were surprisingly as diverse as their other characteristics even though they had all achieved the same education level.
When I began working there, they descended on me like vultures on fresh kill. They wanted to know all about me instantly: where I came from, where I lived, where I shopped, what school I had graduated from, where I banked, my religion, if I had a boyfriend and on and on… but most of all, they wanted to know who’s office I was going to share. As it turned out, I was placed with a dynamic 55 year-old woman who had gone through as many office mates in her tenure there as bolts of fabric had passed through those doors. She was difficult to say the least, but I liked her too. She was interesting, and I learned a lot about life in the BIG CITY as her office mate. I eventually moved on to one of the less dynamic offices in the queue, but not before achieving the status of remaining with her the longest. I think my placement with her was a test of kinds, an indoctrination.
One day, everyone’s personality became more vivid to me. Their perspective on life clarified, and I felt I knew each one better than they knew themselves. Our large windows looked upon another aging garment industry building very close in proximity. Through the windows, you could see the building was converting to loft apartments, as the area was rapidly becoming one of NY City’s trendiest neighborhoods. The units were filling fast with young New Yorkers eager to buy affordable real estate especially NY Law students whose school was adjacent.
On this particular day, we were called to the windows by a loud cry from one of our more outspoken co-workers, “Oh my God, you have to come see this,” he shouted. In a flash, we all stood huddled together before the windows trying to catch a glimpse of what we were summoned to view. Before us in the loft across the way, were a couple; a young man and woman. They were nude on a bed involved in intimate acts of love. Their bed was pushed up against 12-foot windows with no curtains or screening of any kind. Did they know we were watching, I wondered? I never found out. Maybe they knew and enjoyed it adding to the excitement of the moment, or maybe they were so caught up in each other, they had no idea any one else in the world existed. Regardless, there were people watching, all of us. We stood and stared, analyzing the scene in our own way, with our own perspective.
For my supervisor, a 50 year old mother of two adult daughters, who had just gone through a bitter divorce after finding her husband of 28 years with a younger women, it didn’t make sense. “She must be a pro,” she blurted in disgust. “That is NOT how they did it in my day. Who takes off all their clothes first? Only prostitutes,” she said as she watched for a minute or two, and then returned to her office with a solemn look on her face, justifying to herself the women’s apparent pleasure. Her comment confused me. I wondered how she did it with her husband all those years, with her clothes on? And why had she interpreted such a beautiful act as tainted? For a moment, I was glad the “bum” as she called her ex, left her, for surely she had never known such love. Had she missed out, or had her memories soured with more recent events of her husband’s infidelities.
Our gay co-worker made the quickest departure, rolling his eyes and returning to his case at hand stating, “Give them some privacy, please!” My 55 year-old ex-officemate who had never been married also made a quick departure stating, “Who the hell would want to do that? What a waste of a morning!” she said as she pushed passed everyone annoyed she had been bothered for such nonsense. The horny lush who first discovered the scene and summoned us all there, never moved from the window all day, hooting and howling, making wise cracks and wishing he was alone so as not to miss the opportunity to find his own pleasure in the moment.
Slowly all the observers returned to their work, as did I. However, I was left with the memory of it all. I have returned to the scene in my head periodically over the years, my perspective having changed as life changed me. I began to understand each co-worker’s response although my interpretation of the scene has always remained constant. For me, the young couple were in love, moving slowly and carefully, kindly and lovingly. I caught what I saw as a beautiful moment bringing softness to my heart, but that is where I was at 24, in love, moving slowly in life. Today I look back at the couple with a tinge of jealousy, hoping they still find those moments together and that life has not spoiled it for them as it did for many in their audience.