In one of his many prescient asides in Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, the author Jerry Mander (yep, that really is his name) talks about the lack of real sensory input in the American office space. The longer I work in an office, and the more I experience of the rest of the world, the more true this seems.
Have you ever thought about how dialed down everything is? The noise, the colors, the smells? The office I work in now is an order of magnitude more interesting than the software development company I worked for back east, and yet, some 18 months into my tenure here, I'm champing at the bit. Why?
I bike commute into work most days. Here in Los Angeles, it is a sometimes exhilarating and often harrowing experience. So, maybe it's because the rest of my day is often an anticlimax. But the problem goes deeper, I suspect.
It always smells the same in here. It is in no way offensive. It smells like clean clothes, ok coffee, the faintest hint of women's deodorant and shampoo. But when the espresso filter is lost down the trash, I dive into the can without hesitation, my nose suddenly overloaded with the stink of fruit that's been cleaned out of the refrigerator and the uneaten breakfast cereal. Am I unconsciously craving that flood of sensation?
The temperature is always the same. Despite the track of the sun during the day, despite the marine moisture and Santa Ana desert winds, its always the same in here. The thermostat stands watch. There's a book named Thermal Delight in Architecture, I can't remember the author's name. I think about how we deny ourselves that, with the simplicity of our climate control. Sometimes, riding my bike home in the summer, I think to myself, "It is hotter than hell's hinges out here. Hotter than two rats fucking in a wool sock." Sweat is jamming from my pores, I can feel the evaporation off my legs. It is Mojave dry-hot, uncomfortable as all hell, I can't wait to stop, but in that moment I love it. I spent 3 summers in Raleigh with no air conditioning. The way my body adapted to the heat was amazing. I would begin to shiver at 70 degrees, but 90 in the sun was ok - I could handle it. Now, anything above 80 and my body thinks it's "hot."
I think about the food here. The "fun size" Snickers and Milky Ways. Having them here is a comfort. It means that management at least cares enough to make this gesture. I think about the parade of people around that jar, morning and night (I can see it from my office). Are we all secretly rewarding ourselves for "doing time"? Giving ourselves a little sugar-and-butterfat haptic kick to the tongue as a consolation prize to squandering the birthright of our ability to feel the world around us?
In the quiet here, the sensory deprivation tank of the office throws everything into razor relief. I find myself noticing tiny things about my coworkers, and I'd be lying if I didn't say I was mostly looking at the women. Compared to air conditioning, fabric paneled cubes, and poured concrete floors, they are shockingly alive. Their skin glows, fabric slides over their bodies, the heat of their skin volatilizes the commercial perfumes in their face lotion. My brain is wired to appreciate them, with the rest of the landscape stripped away, it's as if they are surrounded in a brilliant aura. They inhabit the place I see in my head, dreaming, like an intense visual from the television news that replays in your mind's eye before sleep.
Give me the real. Give me a punch in the nose. Give me sunburn and lactic acid burning up my legs. Give me the struggle to stay warm on the mountain top. Give me something crazy like a head trauma at lunchtime. Give me the hollyfreaks at Baja Fresh. Give me anything but fun sized Snickers.