I’m obsessed with an office and its contents and I don’t know how to deal with it.
My mom and I are teaching a kids’ painting class for The ArtsCenter in a remote studio in tiny Carr Mill Mall. Everything is beautiful polished old wood and smells like the insides of a ship. It’s full of expensive specialty stores like a bead shop, a fabrics merchant, a fancy restaurant, art galleries, and a Rita’s Custard. I always knew there was an upstairs part consisting of various offices accessible by forbidden elevator. It’s always intrigued me but not enough for me to explore. I have an inordinate fear of being reprimanded by mall officials.
So when I discovered that our class was to be held in this upstairs part of Carr Mill, I was thrilled. I entered the elevator the first day, quickly looking side to side to see if anyone was impressed that I was admitted upstairs. No one was, because the upstairs is not private and though I knew this, I was still gripped by its mystery. Once I was upstairs I found myself in the middle of a long hallway stretching to both ends of the building. The hallway seemed to go on forever in each direction, much longer than the building itself. I was immediately reminded of House of Leaves.
Though our classroom is the first one you face when you step off the elevator, I wasn’t really satisfied just walking into it and setting up. I tried to find excuses to walk down the hallway and stare at everything.
I looked at the list of offices posted next to the elevator and saw things like, “Prisoner Literacy Program, Rm. 208,” and “Brain Functions, Rm. 166,” and “Carrboro Yoga, Ste. 111,” and “NC Mental Health and Doctor, Loft 18.”
I decided it’d be more efficient if I just spied on everyone nonchalantly so that’s what I did, and when I started walking down the hall, a rock-and-roll dude turned the corner from the other end and started trudging towards me. He was a gracefully aging hipster, and in this godforsaken town that just means he was over 25. He had a combination of mad scientist hair and male-pattern baldness and looked very world-weary thanks to it. He had a practiced slouch and his gait was slow and determined. He had a messenger bag and a Springsteen t-shirt on. He entered an office simply labeled, “Backstreets.” When he pushed the door open, sighing lightly and closing his eyes for a split second but long enough for me to notice, I craned my neck behind him and caught a glimpse of desks scattered with papers and iMacs, posters on the walls and regular old phones. I took out my trusty Blackberry right there in the hallway with its slow-as-shit internet browser and looked up “Backstreets Carrboro” and this is what I found.
I panicked immeasurably when I realized I knew nothing about Bruce Springsteen. I don’t know why I panicked, I just did. Maybe it was because I had discovered this mysterious hipster haven, this little ecosystem in the fancy mall, and I knew even if I approached one of them in the hallway sometime, we’d never relate to one another and I’d be rejected from their club, deemed a poser and barred from their clubhouse which almost certainly contained a mini-fridge full of interesting things.
The following week I was taking a couple of the kids to the bathroom to wash the tempera off their hands when I spotted another Backstreets denizen lingering outside their door. This guy was tall and slim with Mark-Rentonesque close-cut hair and five-pocket Levis and eyelashes for miles and a flip-phone into which he was babbling incessantly. He did that thing where he saw me and paused for a tiny second as though he recognized me but then kept talking. I stopped immediately, again panic-stricken, and the two four-year-olds I was with looked up and asked me why we weren’t walking back to their newly-painted butterflies and newspaper hats. What I meant to say was, “Oh I saw a friend of mine,” but what came out was, “I saw someone I want to be friends with.” The girls looked at each other quizzically and I knew then that four years old wasn’t too young to know you’re dealing with a complete idiot.
Why am I so jealous of this clique? I don’t know these people. I know one person on the staff, and he’s a local musician. When I see “Hands Up” on any jukebox, anywhere, I play it over and over again. I know I’ll never be friends with these people. They’re writing about things I don’t understand and obsessed with a man I know nothing about. Why are they so collectively attractive to me? I want my phone to ring and have it be someone I barely ever talk to and I want them to say, “What’re you doin’?” And I want to respond, “Oh, hangin’ in the Backstreets office with the guys.” And I want them to say, “What’s the Backstreets office?” and I want to say back to them with a delicate snort, like a dainty guffaw, “What, you don’t know?” And I want whoever it is that called me to feel as out-of-the-loop as I do right now.
It’ll never happen, though. There are four weeks left to our class, and I’m gonna show up in the fancy mall hallway every Tuesday and spy on their door, almost always closed, and absolutely always closed off to people like me, who’ve never really gotten along with their bosses anyways, and certainly can’t really start now.