Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Something to think about: Bugging out

The Mountain Democrat is moving — actually, we already have moved. We talked about it for almost a year, but we began bugging out in earnest a month ago. Partitions and cabinets began disappearing, allowing a full view of people we’d always known were somewhere in the office. Ancient equipment, long hoarded in the depths of newspapers and dust, began to reappear and then we had to decide what to do with it. Moving from 18,000 square feet to 7,300 meant we needed to streamline our work space.

At first it was exciting to dust off the old and sell it to collectors of the odd and ancient; to donate objects to Snowline, to laugh about things that had been kept that were so beyond obsolescence that no one knew their original purpose.

Space bloomed in the vast space we already had. You could walk with your arms extended on either side down a corridor and not touch anything but air. At the rear of the building, we could hear someone counting change at the front desk.

We were told to consolidate our files. Some of us did this by gifting our files to others. Daily, faded, yellowed manila folders appeared on our desks — presents from the consolidator. It was like the photos of friends and family on Christmas cards that you can’t make yourself throw away, so you just stuff them somewhere out of sight, hoping they’ll be accidentally thrown out by someone else.

Consolidating our files was the least of it; we had to consolidate ourselves. The walls and partitions between us disappeared daily as the move grew closer. We were exposed to each other, protected only by a few boxes and some strategically placed garbage cans. We could see everything and everyone and they could see us. No more looking at shoes on the Internet between stories.

Not only did walls disappear, but rooms began to vanish as well. First, the break room went and then the bathrooms as they underwent some necessary remodeling. The smell of old, long-buried cigar smoke began to emanate from areas under construction. I started eating lunch in my car. We had to use the warehouse bathrooms. I stopped drinking water.

Even our name disappeared, leaving holes in the wall where “Mountain Democrat” used to be. First the “i” and then the “n” as  20 years of dust filtered down into our upturned faces.

Then it got serious. Elves disguised as workmen appeared and began to roll the filing cabinets away, causing terror and consternation. Two-drawer filing cabinets — repositories of the stuff we deemed vital, like bags of microwave popcorn, old business cards and musty folders — long unseen. There wasn’t going to be space for filing cabinets at the new place. Everything had to fit in drawers in your desk. Anxiety levels began to crest as we realized we’d have to give up our stuff — our stuff might not be immediately handy — our stuff might even have to be thrown away. People began marking filing cabinets with their names, hoping the elves would move them to the new place, but no dice. They weren’t going. Whenever the merciless elves appeared, we tensed, preparing to throw our bodies across the stacks of folders and junk we desperately needed.

During the final week, the conference room chairs disappeared. We still had the tables, although they weren’t much use except for duck and cover exercises.

The moving process was like  going through therapy: the old was unearthed; walls and barriers came down, old things underwent examination with new eyes. Do we keep it or throw it? Most times the answer, just like with emotional baggage, was to toss it — we were preparing to lighten our load, reconfigure ourselves, set the course for a new future.

Everything successfully made the transit to our new, clean place except the phones and the refrigerator. We’re all adjusting to having more light, less space and new, taller partitions. We have a new neighborhood, but we’ll miss the proximity of stores and restaurants that had become favorites. I like the new digs, but I’m sure going to miss the openness of the last three weeks. And my filing cabinet.

Wendy Schultz is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. Her column appears bi-weekly. 


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