Open plan offices for new media companies, beautiful as they are, contain few physical pleasures.
There are no opaque phone rooms for naps or crying, just glass boxes with doors that don’t lock. No coffee pots, just a cumbersome robot that spits out diesel-scented “espresso,” and milk substitute. No room for a plant on your desk, which is more like designated space at a table.
The office I worked at in the summer of 2017, which was situated on two floors of the graveyard of Goldman Sachs, offered a few things worth having: narrow windows with views of the East River and the Stone Street meat restaurants, proximity to a neighbor’s helicopter pad, and an array of Fresh Direct-supplied snacks. La Croix in 10 flavors, single-serving discs of hummus and guacamole, pita chips of every stripe, slimey packages of hard-boiled eggs that came in pairs, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, hundreds of dollars worth of cashews and almonds, apples and oranges and one or two rock-hard green pears, and, most importantly, Babybel cheese. I ate it every day.
I spent that summer thinking about a crush, and complaining about my job, which was to pay attention to Tumblr and Game of Thrones. I thank god that we are not all bloggers, and that we have not all spent time in Manhattan’s Financial District, but I imagine you still know what I am talking about: each day is the same. An iced coffee drips condensation next to your laptop, an idle conversation about going to the beach this weekend ends with no one making a plan, and a music video or two breaks up the hours by giving you something to tweet about. Mercifully, the day will end when the sun is still out, the way it doesn’t for three-fourths of the year. It’s not all bad.
Plus, Babybel cheese. After breakfast, but before lunch, the same little red wax guy. Originated in France, manufactured at a factory in South Dakota, one of an estimated 1.5 million wheels per day. Driven to a 30-story office building in lower Manhattan at five in the morning. You can pop them like pieces of gum while you stew in the the languid but fizzy energy of waiting for a day to end.
It’s the perfect snack. For staring into space and dreaming of never returning another email. For doing something, anything, with your hands, while you recite a fraught iMessage conversation from memory to whomever sits next to you. For swallowing a low-calorie placeholder in two bites and, synched with the crouch to the trash can, subtly dipping your chin to find out if you remembered to put on deodorant.
The red cellophane wrapper makes the whole package look like a Valentine. The Valentine weighs exactly 20 grams every time, which according to some reliable-enough internet resources, is the same as a mouse and twice as much as a human eye. The wax shell looks like something that’s been hatched out of and discarded in a weird place, as chilling as a cicada husk dropping into an open pitcher of sangria. You can warm it in your hand and make a tight, shiny ball. But it’ll leave a pink film on your skin, so why would you?
The experience is sensual, like the slow drag of a zipper that you’re opening mostly for effect. The wax resists. It’s basically alive. Then there’s a two-centimeter gasp of bright white, appearing like a not-yet-tan belly peeking out from the narrow, moving gap between jean shorts and crop top. It is pretty much as close as you will get to a strip tease in a work environment.
The experience is also a little bit gross. Like peeling anything is a little bit gross. Like the word “peeling,” which is gross. Depending on your mood: a little bit like in Black Swan, when Natalie Portman peels back a frayed strip of the skin around her cuticle until there’s a bright red bloody line all the way down her finger.
And then there’s the cheese itself, which, bitten into, looks like an orthodontist’s upper jaw mold, and tastes like nothing.
Kaitlyn Tiffany is a writer living in Brooklyn. She co-authors a weekly newsletter about terrible parties.