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Columnists

Of Post Offices and Post-Office Love Affair Blues

November 16, 2022

Have you ever stopped to think about the astonishing impact offices have on us? I haven’t run the numbers, but I can venture a guess that we spend at least the same amount of time in between those four walls as we do in bed. (Okay, there are those who snooze behind their desks, but that’s an internal matter, the domain of Human Resources.)

Think about an office. For openers, the word is derived from ‘ufizzi’ in Italian. There’s a famous museum by that name in the enchanting Tuscan city of Florence. Don’t miss it.

Consider some of the idioms that have sprung from this six-letter word. Let’s see, there’s office politics and office romance. Officeholders and office seekers. Office parties and office gossip. ‘The Office’, the TV show with its documentary-style, one-camera shooting technique, buried its storylines into our souls. Although the sitcom, like all sitcoms, followed an exaggerated trajectory, there was always telling nuggets of anchored truth in each episode.

Not to be left out is Dilbert, the popular syndicated newspaper comic strip that chronicles the soullessness of life at a keyboard. Its creator, Scott Adams, was inspired by the frustrations he endured in his former life making a living in an office. Offices – for better or for worse – exert a magical and overpowering grip on us. They’re a whole life form unto themselves.

Of course, there are those among us who despise office life. They have made it their mission, their life’s goal, to stay as far away from them as possible. That’s fine and dandy and their prerogative. But here’s how I see it.

You can devote your entire career working construction. Building stuff from the ground up like houses, shopping centers, and…offices, retiring with leathery, weather-worn skin and bad knees. Which underscores my point. Offices touch your life even when you’re not thinking about them. Even shepherds, cowpokes, and kids who run summertime lemonade stands need a place to store receipts, make decisions, prop their feet up on a makeshift desk. It’s their base. They can spend most of their time in the field, doing what they enjoy the most, but the office beckons as home base.

Don’t leave out police officers. Polls have revealed that they are among the working class who most avoid the sedentary life in the world of offices. With technology having reached its stupendous level, you can often see them parked on shady side streets, punching numbers into their mobile PCs. For them, utilizing an office on four wheels is a far cry more bearable than brick and mortar. Plus, you can pull into Dunkin for coffee and doughnuts and eat in blissfully solitary peace.

Like good Greek people everywhere, my father came out of World War II looking for meaning. For whatever reason, he turned his nose up at taking college courses on the GI Bill. Then he married my mother. My grandfather ran bars and restaurants in Washington, DC. Since he was not about to let his youngest child starve, he figuratively took my dad by the arm and taught him the foodservice business. There was no written curriculum. No diploma to hang on the wall. Just the in-your-face approach, a bounty of long, unpredictable hours and a chance to build a solid career.

Once my father completed his studies in the school of hard knocks, he and my uncles began expanding their footprint in the nascent restaurant scene in what was once a sleepy nation’s capital, where they rolled up the sidewalks at 6 o’clock. They opened several beef houses, a creperie, and a cozy, neighborhood tavern. When I asked my dad if he regretted not going to college and earning a professional certification, he laughed and shook his head. “At first, I thought I was expected to follow that conventional road,” he said. “But I came to love mixing drinks and mixing things up with my customers. I enjoyed handing out menus, inquiring about families and making new friends.”

However, he would always toss a caveat in. The real work, he affirmed, “took place behind the scenes, in my office upstairs and at home. “You have no idea what’s involved. There’s weekly payroll to figure out. During the lean weeks, we weren’t sure there was enough in the account to pay our people. There were filing cabinets overflowing with invoices and receipts and minutiae. So, don’t kid yourself. Everybody needs an office. If for nothing else, it’s a sanctuary, a dwelling place.”

Father always knew best. I wish he were still here so I could absorb more of his sage advice. Speaking of how the word is used, I forgot to include one: the Oval Office. I visited it once. It’s almost disappointingly tiny, considering the powerful men who sit there.

At least 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue doesn’t have cubicles designed to be walls, not bridges. I bet it would even pass muster with Scott Adams.

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