I always tell inquirers that I left New York for Atlanta because of the Federal Witness Protection Program. Two adaptations have been painful. One was the identity changing depilatory of baldness. The other was conversation. For a New Yorker, conversation is an aggressive match, akin to fencing without the protective breastplate. Southern conversation avoids a painful truth in its pas de deux of false politesse.
One thing I don’t miss is the Axis. I don’t mean the Berlin – Rome – Tokyo axis of evil of World War 2. I mean the Boston – New Haven – Princeton axis. My alma mater, more like an almost martyr – Miami University of Oxford, Ohio – was a social leper club in New York. One of my employer-partner- friends, a graduate of Princeton, the Ecole des Beaux Arts and Harvard, would introduce me socially as “one of Harvard’s top graduates!” I’d never even been to Boston – why bother. Luckily, no one ever asked about my residence hall or my favorite bar in Cambridge – not that there’s a bridge or a river Cam.
Miami University in Oxford, Ohio had two things going for it. One was that the town was named after the other prestigious English University, giving a pretentious uplift to a Midwestern state school. The other was that the School of Architecture in the 1970’s had a very well curated visiting critic program. In four semesters, I had Michael Graves, Robert A.M. Stern, Stanley Tigerman, James Freed, Lucien Kroll, Larry Booth and Susana Torre. For these critics, life in this lesser Oxford was a monastic escape. For Midwesterners like me, they were like short wave radios – a connection to a world beyond the cornfields. Michael Graves, a former Hoosier, became a good, honest friend. He told me where he hid the keys to his Princeton house. Susana Torre, the most famous female architect of that era and probably the most insightfully gifted studio critic I’ll ever know, also became a dear friend and mentor.
After graduation, Susana invited me to work for her – in New York. As part of the “compensation” package, Susana cleared out a small back storage room in the office as my new New York address. It had a window. The single bathroom in the office lacked a shower, so for personal hygiene, I was on my own. Susana’s office was in a townhouse on 54th street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, closer to Sixth, not far from the soon shuttered Studio 54. Linda Eastman, a photographer and Mrs. Paul McCartney number one, maintained a gallery/residence on the floor above. A crazy lady who claimed to the only surviving Romanoff lived on the floor below. I was sandwiched by exoticism.
Anyway, living in the office, without a TV and in the pre-internet days, was like solitary confinement lockdown when I’d come “home” from the Upper East Side bars. Most often, after the usual four hour vodka nap, I’d hear the siren song of my drawing board calling me. “Kevin – where are you? Come Here. There’s so much more you haven’t done!”
I could never, and still can’t, refuse that lyrical siren’s song of seduction.
You can close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears.
One morning, one of my co-workers, Deborah Dietsch, showed up early – that’s about 9:30 for a New Yorker. I was sitting there dutifully at my drawing board in my boxer shorts, humming to the earworm in my head. She eventually left the profession, probably due to that incident.
The NEW NORMAL, now six weeks old and hopefully forgotten by the dog days of August, has quarantined me once again in solitary confinement. Like the summer of 1980, my personal hygiene is once again questionable and the downstairs drawing board is wailing its seductive song, taunting me to draw another section or two at 2am on a China competition. However, the NEW NORMAL has an Odysseyian subplot – there is another fateful wind other than the taunting pull of the Sirens. It’s called Microsoft Teams.
Microsoft Teams is one of several WebEx platforms that enable COLLABORATIVE WORK AT A DISTANCE. These WebEx platforms come with their own vernacular jargon. Someone said to me the other day that I should “ping” Justin. I thought a “ping” was a sonar pulse belched by a submarine to establish firing range to target before launching a torpedo. I like Justin, so I wasn’t keen on blowing him out of the water.
Anyway, for my co-workers, Teams is a new Christmas toy they can’t put down. Recently, I was on a series of group chats for 7 1/2 hours. In a six hour marathon WebEx, one of my business partners spoke so long that I turned off the camera and waxed my kitchen cabinets. All that’s fine, but the siren song drawing board demanded my attention until 5 am the night before. With the bars all shuttered, that means I’m working 18 hour days captaining the ship through tempests of the Aegean Sea.
What’s a sailor to do?
With her melodic enchantment, the drawing board is telling me to say that Team and her companion ZOOM are not always an enabler of COLLABORATION, it can also be the substitute of DISTRACTIONS. Six weeks ago at the office, the crew, more like the crew of a pirate ship than a disciplined navy, would all fill the day with a rolling parade of distractions, morning coffee, team meetings, cruise-by chit chat, pretense supervision, late morning coffee, lunch, mid-afternoon coffee, more cruise-by chit chat, etc. Our interiors staff also cleverly gamed the day to include serial presentations by ceramic tile or fabric vendors accompanied with snacks. There are not pull down categories on the time sheets for any of these, so the “8 hour” day gets logged to a project. Chatting on the internet machine now fills in the gap left from the shutdown of office social intimacy to the new social distancing.
Which again is fine if you don’t have a singing drawing board.
TEAMS is not my only complaint of quarantine. Before March 19th, I was in a comfortable monogamous relationship with beloved Sofa. I couldn’t resist her pillows and we spooned every evening until well past midnight. However, after the stay-at-home order at 11:59 on the 19th, I discovered a new distraction- Stove. Stove was new, shiny and, well, hot. At first, the house was permeated by Sofa’s primal, hormonal odor of jealousy. But with the curative of time and no distance, the evenings have settled into a competitive tug of war between sofa and stove for my affection.
I’m exhausted by the household of Sirens.