It’s a trite but truism that there are certain films, certain albums, and certain books that serve as barometers for where we are in life: By our late-twenties, the Holden Caulfield who articulated everything we hoped that we hoped the green hair we had in high school would (but didn’t) had become that creeper who cornered us in the kitchens at house parties and shared weirdly personal details that were entirely unrelated to the conversation. When we were fifteen, the meanings behind a Tori Amos song were like goldfish flitting through a quick stream, we could glimpse them, but not catch them. We believed that they’d stop eluding us when we were older, but when we were older, we realized that we’d never understand what it meant for Jupiter to be gay or blue and we felt strangely cheated by this; then, once we’d had our hearts well and thoroughly broken for the first time, we found ourselves skipping backward on our iPods, just to hear her sing “thought we both could use a friend to run to,” and what we felt was more important that what we could understand.

I have a new boss. Her name is Pam. Pam emails us and we reply. Pam never replies to our replies. I hadn’t heard of Pam until this semester. But there she is in the staff directory, listed as a Course Coordinator.

“Where the hell is Pam?” asks my colleague after yet another crisis. And Franz, the Co-coordinator is going nuts. He has to find a replacement for the lecture on Coetzee because the professor scheduled to give it has been embroiled in a scandal. Or has had an accident. Pam isn’t clear on that.

Pam is reportedly based at the Other campus (we have three).  However, the big red-haired administrator tells me that Pamela works right here. At This campus.

The administrator has a sheet of paper taped to the filing cabinet in her office. It says in caps:


“What’s she like, this Pam?” I ask. The administrator looks at me askance. I’d almost face-planted running for the train that morning and caught the fall with my hands, which are dripping blood all over the carpet.

“Pam?” says the administrator. “Pam’s an older woman. Favors scarves.”

But someone else describes her as Not Old. Keep an eye out for a pink cardigan and ankle boots, they say. Her office is in Building 5. Room 10. Level G.

That’s my office.

Pam, like Elvis, has been sighted at any number of conflicting locales. Sitting in front of someone on the bus or disappearing across the parking lot. The situation is rare but not unusual. Many graduates and teaching assistants describe their superiors as immaterial. Sightings of the Head Librarian, Associate Dean or one’s Doctoral Adviser abound, and are the stuff of campus legend.

Franz emails my colleague and asks her to fill in the Coetzee spot. Pam also emails my colleague and asks her to be the new co-coordinator.

“That really bugs me,” says Franz. He looks like he is about to cry.

My contract goes missing.

“You can’t be working without a contract,” says the administrator.

“I sent a copy to Pam,” I say.

“Leave it with me,” she says. “I’ll get onto Pam straight away.”

“Thanks,” I say doubtfully.

“This conversation never happened,” says the administrator.

I wait a week after the conversation that never happened. I keep an eye out for Pam in my office. Finally I go to see the administrator who cobbles me up a new contract.

“So have you seen her?” I say.

“Who?” says the administrator.

“Pam,” I say. “For the love of God—!”

“Oh,” she says, swiveling around from her desk. Rolls a tic tac on her tongue.  “You’ve just missed her.”

The latest from Pam is a mass email announcing her resignation and a ten percent pay raise.

“Believe it when you see it,” says my friend, a Bronte scholar who moonlights as a nanny to make ends meet.

But there it is in my next pay check. I don’t know who, or even if Pam is. All I know is that she’s gone, down into the murk below the inexact surface of our so-called reality. Today I created this digital dream to cover the tracks she left. It’s the least I can do.

Working in Manhattan can be an exciting, thrilling experience, but it doesn’t have to be. For the first year of my legitimate-office-job-having life, I worked in a building entrenched in a cozy block of 7th Avenue, spitting distance from two of the most impressively banal landmarks in this city: Times Square and Macy’s. Now, things can get pretty hectic in busy digital media what with the constant barrage of emails, IMs, phone calls, and that woman from accounting shrilly dictating lists of numbers into her speaker phone. I soon learned, therefore, how valuable it was for the mental health of any office worker to unwinch one’s shoulders from their hunched slump, peer away from the computer screen, and make one’s way out into the city.

I highly recommend an afternoon stroll through the western gutter of Midtown Manhattan to anyone who complains that the city has gotten too gentrified, or fancy, or clean, or pleasant. Nothing quite lifts the spirits like battling one’s way down a narrow sidewalk shrouded in complete darkness at 3 pm on a summer afternoon. I took a walk like this during my lunch break on my last day at my job, and maybe this was why everything seemed already tinged with nostalgia, why the dim streets seemed particularly elegiac. How I would miss spending my days here!

People are friendly in this neighborhood – from the delivery men saying “hello” by tapping gently at your legs with their overloaded dollies or bolts of fabric, nudging you like cordial goats, to the slow-moving herds of tourists who envelop you in their fanny-packed midst, sweeping you inexorably towards the luminescent glow of the Applebee’s in Times Square. Seven-foot-tall teenagers stalk by with modeling portfolios tucked under their arms, directing their doe-eyed gaze at you in what might be welcoming greeting, but also could just be hunger. Every time you exit your building or turn a corner, rest assured you will run smack dab into someone, perhaps even someone (as happened to me on this particular day) who will take hold of your arm and forcibly shove you out of the way (of danger, I assume). Plus, there is a cornucopia of interesting lunchtime options, representative of the breadth of New York’s international cuisine: from salads and sandwiches to sandwiches and salads. The brave of heart may choose to venture down Board-of-Health-defying alleyways marked with handmade signs promising cheap tamales or glatt kosher falafel; the iron of stomach can graze on the urine-yellow halal meat offered up by the street vendors.

Meander a little further west, preferably down 40th street, flanked by the Port Authority bus terminal on one side and the local parole board office on the other, towards the peep shows, and keep your eyes peeled for the authentically “gritty” characters this city still has to offer. There – a stumbling fellow with a face like gristle leers openly, calls out in a nonsense language something I can only assume means, Hullo, friend! There – a man peeing in a doorway looks up and grins, waggling his flaccid member in cheerful greeting. Hullo!

I came to find that after my lunchtime strolls it was largely a relief to make my way back towards the office building. What a relief to sink back into that office chair, though it seems to be ergonomically designed to make me slouch – how tranquil the office seems after the chaos of the street. The soothing hum of phones ringing, the quiet clatter of web copy being typed into ancient computers, the mellifluous singsong of the woman from accounting dictating numbers into her speaker phone. And yet, there’s something wonderful, I mean really wonderful, about such a dose of chaos.

Now I work in the Conde Nast building, where the hallways seethe with the seamy lights of Times Square. I don’t get back to the old neighborhood much anymore. It sounds nutty, but I actually really do miss it in all its filth and bustle. Maybe one of these days I should make the 5-block trek down to the Garment District and watch someone peeing in an alley just for old time’s sake. After all, I don’t want to become one of those office drones who only leaves the building to go to Starbucks, with that baleful cry, “Anyone want anything from the outside world?” Because you know what? I do want something from the outside world. And it’s not a latte.

Well, not just a latte, anyway.