Thursday, January 27, 2011

a moment of office-time

There are times when it is genuinely nice to sit in my office with the door shut. Often I'm just hiding from the sense of being overwhelmed by details, in my job as the administrator for a church, non-profit community center and food shelf (simultaneously). Our building, a large former elementary school, hosts a small charter school now for children with disabilities and special considerations. They are one of nearly a dozen tenants. My half of the reception area is generally a pass-through from one side of the building to the other, and along the route to the workroom where the copiers and supplies are located. I sit right across from the Nurse's office. Sometimes the loudest, most anxious children seem all to be picking up the same chaotic vibe from the universe, and the reception area becomes unbearably high-key as paraprofessionals seek assistance in calming their kids. At 3:15 when school is dismissed, the door buzzer beeps nonstop as bus drivers and care cabs arrive to transport the children, who are escorted to and fro by the staff. Parents are buzzing in and out with kids, meds, needs and questions. It's a very positive place, to be sure, and I love having company in my work the vast majority of the time; I'm pals with the school's receptionist/program coordinator, who sits back-to-back with me facing the school's side of the reception area. I like the kids who routinely visit the office for meds and moral support. I like the staff.

Sometimes though it's all a lot too much. And I walk into my tiny office, snap off the fluorescent overheads, switch on my desk lamp and open the laptop. It's far easier to blog here than at home; where my only uninterrupted hours tend to be in the middle of the night. Here, when I close my door it mostly stays closed until I'm ready to make an appearance. I can take a private call if I want. It's a new thing, a benefit of the new building. This may have been a vice-principal's office at some point. There is a huge framed cork board covering most of the long wall over my desk, and another smaller one near the door. Behind me there are three tall file cabinets and a bookshelf. My desk takes up about one-third of the room. I have a narrow window, which fortunately opens; the ventilation out in the reception area isn't terrific, and the air gets stale. Thank goodness we moved the teachers' microwave; no more burnt popcorn! Suffusing our hair and clothing.

I brought a small brown bear into the Nurse's office a couple of weeks ago, and sat him on the counter, when no one was around. He's the first stuffed animal I ever bought for my son, before he was born. He's cute, and fuzzy like a rug. He has long arms and legs, and an unassuming expression. But H never took to stuffed animals really (except for one, "lamby-Lamb" who only toured with H for two or so years before becoming a shelf item.) The bear never got a second look. I felt badly for him for years, before finally daring to re-home him. A bear needs friends after all. I thought the kids who routinely wind up on the cot in there would take some comfort from his presence. And sure enough, after a week or so one of the more forward children bubbled over with curiosity, and just had to know who's bear he was. D, the program director, guessed shrewdly that I'd had something to do with the bear's sudden appearance. I explained to the young man that the bear needed friends, and I'd thought he might find some at the school. "What's his name?" I was asked; the bear doesn't have one yet I replied. And so the young man christened him "Barry," and with a nice bandage taped to the side of his head, Barry now presides over the Nurse's office from the top of the med cabinet, always available for hugs and visits.

No office is safe for long however from our building manager, a loquacious fellow with a compulsive need to connect, frequently and for no particular reason (though he constantly strives to invent new questions about real or imagined dilemmas.) He's very good at keeping the facility in decent shape, has a long history as a church custodian for Catholics and Protestants alike, and is well-connected in the underground janitor's market of swap-n-trade goods. With little effort he can procure a hundred folding chairs, a floor buffer or a deck of lightweight dining tables at reduced or zero cost. He has licenses for boiler and electrical, and can improvise solutions to a wide array of obscure mechanical misfortunes. The catch is, he never shuts up. But he's harmless and funny, a good sport and an enthusiastic source of advice. It's only occasionally one wants to run away when one sees him coming.

I know the sound of him opening the heavy door from the hall to the reception area, the way he pushes the handle down and puts his shoulder into the wood panel, swinging the door wide before he even enters the room. I think it's a habit associated with pushing the large trash barrels on wheels: make an opening big enough to shove the barrel or a cart in ahead of you. It's a different sound from the one my boss makes when he walks into the room. The pastor has a lighter touch, but moves faster; he plays basketball two or three times a week. He slaps the handle down and lets it spring back on its own as he thrusts the door open just wide enough to admit his narrow frame, before ducking immediately into his office on the right. And I know the sound of a student entering the room from my side of the office, the tentative turn of the handle and the soft sliding shush-sound of a small person using their whole body to slowly open a heavy door.

There are a million small things to know about this place.

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