There are times at work when you might need to refill your water glass or get some hot water for tea or wash out your oatmeal bowl in the sink (with a paper towel, since the idea of a communal sponge was probably deemed too horrifying to consider), and there you will find yourself looking out the window at the world below. A few years ago (before my time) there was plenty more to see out there, as the park was the site of Occupy Albany, which, modeled on Occupy Wall Street, had many people living there in tents (I happened to walk through the park with my girls at the end of the occupation, when there were just a few tents left, and was interviewed by a TV reporter, clearly desperate for news. He took the angle that I was explaining inequity to my children, which was exactly right, and I discussed this briefly while wearing my famous green leather jacket, but that news clip is lost to time.).
Anyway, these days you might see someone trying to park in a very tight spot, or negotiate payment with a parking meter, which is admittedly, less exciting (though I did hear from my coworkers recently about a couple who were frantically trying to dig up something under a tree until the cops came. Drugs were suspected.).
But you might also find yourself staring out the window with someone already there, and striking up a conversation. It is a perfect place to talk. In fact, since the kitchen really only holds two people (and not entirely comfortably) conversation happens by necessity. It was during one of these conversations with a friendly coworker that I accidentally discovered the best way to make old fashioned oats in the microwave. Step 1: Add water to oats in bowl. Step 2: Have a 15-minute conversation while looking longingly out the window with said coworker, while oats sit in bowl. Step 3: Place bowl in microwave. Step 4: Enjoy much more thoroughly cooked oats!
I also know it’s winter because there is one coworker who always takes advantage of the deliciousness of pink grapefruits during this time, and spends a very long time at the sink, first peeling the grapefruit, then peeling off the white sectiony stuff. We have had a number of conversations about grapefruits since we have very little else in common.
More recently, I had a conversation at the window with another coworker, who until then I’d only had the briefest of exchanges with. She was looking longingly down at the world below and somehow she got to tell me how she would soon be 65, but didn’t plan on retiring. “I don’t really have any hobbies,” she told me (this is the most common reason I have heard for why people don’t retire, but it is a very difficult one for me to process). She also admitted that if she and her husband both retired she wouldn’t know what to do. And then I found out that they had always worked opposite schedules; she worked 9 to 5, and he worked 3 to midnight. They literally never see each other during the week, which she thought was likely the success of their long marriage. So she worried what would happen if they had to spend entire days together in their house. This reminded me, once again, that not everyone has the same ideas about marriage.
You can get lost just looking out that window. Conversations tend to go on longer than you’d expect. It really is hard to look away. But eventually you must. And so, you gather up your glass of water, or your just-right oatmeal, or your thoroughly peeled pink grapefruit, and you head back to your desk.