I liked tutoring, but damn did I hate our company’s old office in St. Louis Park. After a warren of gray-carpeted hallways and mysterious closed doors, you reached one long fluorescent room with tables and folding chairs; we didn’t really share schedules, so every day, I’d walk in unsure how many other people would be there. If there was no one, it was creepy. If there were too many people, it was auditorily dazzling, the concrete walls ringing with the noise of other sets of reluctant teens and patient tutors.
Plus, it had no windows – both depressing and, on a practical level, maddening. One sunny day, I biked to work, tutored for like four hours, then emerged to find it had — unbeknownst to me — begun thunderstorming. (I should have been able to tell from the general dampness of the teens entering the room, but regrets are regrets.) My weather app wasn’t working, so I called my dad; because it was 5:50, I knew he would be downstairs watching the news, specifically the weather, and he was. “Judging from the radar, it’ll be clear for twenty minutes in around ten!” he said. “Seize your window!” I did, sprinting breathless into our old carriage house with large drops streaking the back of my shirt.
For the first week of March 2020, we were still in the office, just paranoid in each other’s breath winds and maniacally Lysoling the tables, as it was peak ACT season and none of us I guess could afford to cancel. Then came the anticlimactic day – I think my student was named… Lindsey? – we got the news that we’d be working from home. I left and only went back a few times: once to anxiously teach a heavily-masked in-person class, and once to return my key.
Did I miss the tutoring center during that hot, wild summer? Sort of. At the very least, I missed people; teens don’t take well to being small faces on a screen, though they do their best. Did I actually want to go back? No.
And then we moved to the farm, and I became even more online.
And then over email my boss announced that the company was moving buildings. I don’t know… Greenway construction reasons? The owner sold it? My brain is cheese. Anyway, Breakaway was getting a nice new office in Edina, somewhat useless information to me on my farm three hours away, but still. Good for them.
I began telling the children, “The office exists, but I have never gone! I cannot give you directions!” They thought it was funny, sort of, insofar as anything during ACT prep is funny (which is to say, only mildly): they knew something I didn’t, a nice switch from our usual thing of me being an asshole about semicolons.
Until two weeks ago, I was sure I would never see or Old Office again. But Miles was DJing a VR art exhibition at Rem5, the surreal, dizzying, and optimism-riddled virtual arcade in the strip mall around the corner from my former workplace, and I was eager to go. He went early to set up (he always sets up early… you can’t afford lateness when you’ve got so many cables, he says), so that sunny early-spring afternoon, I was on my own. I was planning to edit my novel, but of course instead I met Michelle for happy hour, then bid her goodbye and set off to attend the exhibit.
For some reason, I chose to walk to St. Louis Park from Uptown, three-ish miles, my feet following the path my car had once taken, people in SUVs eyeing me as I trudged (in Uptown, walkers are normal, but you get around the lakes, and people start to look at you strangely; can’t you afford a car, poor? At least, that’s how I see it; they were probably just thinking, “Gosh, that person looks like she is suffering. Why did she bring her whole laptop if she wasn’t going to do anything with it?”).
Yes, my backpack and novel-bag (I also had a whole printed manuscript) were heavy, but I think I was enjoying the uncanniness; I used to be here, live here, walk here, work here, all the time, and now my life is something very different. For one, I finally got an agent. For another, though I still tutor some kids online, I also now teach college, something I thought (and am still pretty sure) it would be impossible to achieve in the Cities, where I kept applying for adjunct gigs but getting denied, probably in favor of people with multiple novels and Ph.Ds under their belts, as the market is glutted with writers.
In the country, I am a(n adjunct) professor, thankfully. I can’t walk or bike to work, though, since the college is twenty minutes away, so I had to buy a new car – had is a strong word, but frankly in our Passat, I was going insane. It was fine for ten-minute drives in the Cities, but in the country my radio choices are… fewer, and all the NPR was starting to depress me. Also, the door bar broke long ago, meaning you have to roll down the window to get out. I ponied up for a small SUV with four-wheel drive, and honestly don’t regret it, except for on the 15th of each month when the payment hits.
A lot of things are better now than they were back then, somehow. At the very least, my time with no windows + fluorescent lights is limited to the two hours and change in my college classroom twice a week, not six-plus in that room every day in the summer.
Still, as I approached the complex with the office (a weird industrial area behind a Trader Joe’s where I sometimes went to get a snack mid-kids) and the VR gallery, I did experience a pang of nostalgia. I mean, I really liked biking to work, damn it.
What was the building up to now? I saw it, stopped, and started laughing.
I had totally forgotten: after our tutoring center moved, the owners demolished the building. Apparently, I’ve been gone from the Cities long enough that whole offices have had time to die and be reborn. The weird thing though is that the new thing they put up in its place is even MORE windowless, so I guess that area is just a magnet for brutalist architecture.
“Goodbye, old pal,” I said to its ghost, and kept walking. But the building wasn’t done with me yet.
If this happened in fiction, I wouldn’t believe it. However, I chose for some reason to take a cross-country route, a cross-parking-lot route, and there was a huge metal dumpster in it, a construction type.
And filling that dumpster was the very same popcorn ceiling I used to stare up at as students noodled over problems, both of us longing for the session to end. It taunted me then, and I am somewhat ashamed to say that two weeks ago, I taunted it right back. “You’re hideous,” I whispered, “and you deserve this, you horrible creature, you.”
Then I felt bad, gave the Dumpster a little pat, and cruised past, off to rejoin the future by becoming immersed in some overwhelming and badass VR art.*
*Which is where the picture comes from. It was a ridiculous night. When my brother arrived, I said, “Quick – we’re next in line for the Infinity Room!”
And he laughed. “This is just the type of sentence we say to each other now, I guess?”
“It is!” I yelled. “Take off your shoes! There are no shoes allowed in the Infinity Room!”
The Infinity Room was wilder than we could have ever predicted. I could try to describe it, but I would fail, and it would only confuse you. I will say though that we kept repeating “infinity room” to each other… well, ad infinitum.
Then later, when our Uber arrived, it turned out to be a Tesla. Sliding in, Joe went, “We’re taking a Tesla? And we were just in an Infinity room?”
“Only premium NFT holders are allowed in the Infinity Room!” I bellowed, shattering the car’s purring silence.
Our driver laughed politely and began talking about his Tesla, which he would do for the entire 15 minutes it took us to get to Drew’s house. In its Dumpster, the ceiling watched us as we drove away, but I’m not sure what it was thinking. Probably something about how great tiny holes are, or maybe, “Well, I have the last laugh, because guess what, girlie: I am riddled with asbestos.”