I’m having dinner tonight with an old friend. Many, many years ago, we were writers and editors together at a couple weekly papers here in the city. Our office was one of the filthier ones in Manhattan—possibly the tri-state area. It was one of those buildings in the West 20s that city inspectors hadn’t visited in decades (possibly ever).
Upon walking onto our floor, you would have thought you’d stumbled into a squatters’ camp, but no, this was our place of business. The main newsroom was like something ripped from an episode of Hoarders. That’s how much crap was piled atop surfaces, tucked into grimy corners and shoved under tables. That's how abjectly filthy this place was. The pieces of “furniture” were castaways from some moving company that would unload rickety particle-board desks and mildewed chairs on the cheap (in exchange for ad space, natch). And the bathrooms….suffice it to say, Alcatraz had better facilities. I frequented the office restroom only once, on my first day of work. From then on out, my friend and I would go to the cleaner, better lighted and more secure restrooms in Penn Station. To put this into perspective, dear readers, this was the late ’90s.
Surprisingly enough, from within this dingy office space, amid such squalid, and it must be said, off-the-wall weird working conditions, my friend and I turned out some terrific journalism. And even with the puny pay, the nonstop hours, the annoyance and irritation that comes with any sort of journalism job early in a career, we had a blast. Not only that, but this gritty little shop we worked at attracted serious talent, the kind of talent that’s gone on to The New York Times, New York Magazine…hell, there’s even been an Oscar winner. And of course, yours truly, blogger extraordinaire, hopeful author and consumer of all things chocolate.
So, tonight, my friend and I will get together and reminisce a little, strategize about our next career moves and undoubtedly run down the list of eclectic folks we worked with back in the day and wonder what happened to them. But most of all, we’ll have appreciation for that dirty place where we met and slogged over words together—in some strange way, that crazy job helped propel us to where we are today, and where we’re headed tomorrow.
Somehow, that makes all those trips to Penn Station's restrooms worth it.