Physical memories

An old friend that I used to work with in the way-back time (before there was a Puddinette or clean laundry on a regular basis) sent me an email today with a brief message. I’m sure he probably would have preferred to send me a text message, but I can’t send or receive texts (and yes, that’s another post).

At any rate, his message was delivered succinctly in just the email’s subject line: “They are leveling the old office.”

The place was one of those connected office condo-complexes where you’d usually find a dentist, a general practitioner, maybe an ambulance chaser, a CPA or two, and a few small, eternally optimistic businesses that no one really understood but continued to struggle on in the face of lost sales and disappointment.

We worked for one of those.

My initial reaction was not that surprising. Fitting was my first thought, which was quickly followed by long overdue.

Unfortunately, the place had been mostly vacant for a long time, and really, it hadn’t been very nice since even before then. The offices inside were a depressing combination of dirty tans, and I’m pretty sure the carpet was original when Nixon was in office. It might have been plush back when I was in elementary school, but by the time I started working there, it was pretty threadbare. Familiar paths of discoloration were worn into it so well that they seemed like runners.

My friend and I referred to the décor as Early Brady Brunch because it was that dated. So, yes, the place was pretty much a dump, and it made no difference whatever you tried to do to spruce it up. It was just unspruceable. The doors squeaked, the screen doors were hopeless, and the toilets were a permanent shade of something I’d rather not describe. And apparently getting the building owners to even change light bulbs in the outside lights was much akin to herding a deaf wildebeest into an active volcano.

So, yes, long overdue.

Except, that wasn’t where my thoughts ended. On the heels of that was a twinge of melancholy, and that took me completely by surprise. The place had become an empty husk of an office complex that probably had more teenagers hanging on the grounds at night than tenants during the day. And, honestly, the last stages of working that job had been one of most unhappy experiences of my professional life. There was truly a sour taste in my mouth at the end, so I couldn’t believe I was feeling nostalgic.

But although Time can be a thief, it also heals and provides clarity. I see now that things happened the way they needed to and that nothing could have been done to prevent the end when it came. That particular ship had been sinking for so long that we’d all just learned to overlook the water we were up to our necks in.

On top of that, something else occurred to me. I spent years of my life working in that office, and they weren’t all frustrating. There were good times too, plenty of them. We’d play after-hours games of Quake, frequently, and the smack talk would get as thick as molasses. When the weather was nice, we’d grill brats and JTM burgers for lunch on a Coleman camp stove on the little porch outside. Sure, the porch was terrible, but a steaming bratwurst with a dab of horseradish and mustard makes you overlook a lot of faults.

I grew up a lot through all my time in that office. When I started there, I was a wet-behind-the-ears know-it-all in my early twenties. When the end finally came I was nearly thirty and a little wiser, but only wise enough to finally understand all that I didn’t know.

A demolition company leveled that office complex today, and frankly, it needed to be done. The physical structure is probably nothing more tonight than a pile of rubble and rebar, drywall and dust. But the place will always live on in my memories; memories of gladness and pain, success and failure. Mostly, they are the memories of the period in my life when I truly matured out of childish ways and into the first faltering steps of real adulthood beyond.

Some part of that dump of a building will always be with me. And it makes me glad to know it.