By The Office Hobo
There are some secrets you wish you never had to tell.
When my friend Jürgen invited me to join him and a friend for a casual Friday dinner, I nearly declined. Having slept badly the night before, I was feeling haggard and more than ready for a good night's sleep. I didn't know this mystery friend of his, either. But guilt got the better of me. I decided to make an appearance.
When I walked in to the restaurant and saw my friend sitting with a dark-eyed Venezuelan beauty in a tight black dress, my exhaustion evaporated.
Her name was Yasmin.
I won't say that I fell in love with Yasmin immediately. That would suggest that I had even the slightest control over my faculties. I was pretty much a bumbling, merry idiot. But I knew very quickly that I liked her. A lot.
Falling into like-a-lot with someone means you work very hard to conceal your less amazing qualities. Maybe you suck in your gut or postpone mention of your 8-year-old child.
Or maybe you avoid discussion of your living situation. Maybe you suggest everyone go to Jürgen's place after the bars close to continue avoiding said discussion.
(That was me.)
When the clock struck 6 a.m. and my secret remained undisclosed, I was pleasantly relieved. But that relief was short-lived. As Yasmin and I lay on Jürgen's couch, observing the light of the rising sun coating the rooftops, this dark-eyed wonder finally said those dreaded six words. The six words every guy wants to hear.
Every guy, that is, except me.
“Let's go back to your place.”
My eyes widened.
You see, I live in my office. For more than 250 days, I have called the place where I work home, taking up residence in the small plot of carpet in my Los Angeles cubicle, next to eight other cubicles just like it. It is an act of defiance from the institution of rent. It is a show of independence from the implied social obligation of traditional housing. And, best of all, it means I have the shortest commute in history.
Naturally, this living arrangement requires explanation. Where do I shower? Do my co-workers know? How do I explain this to a love interest?
These are all valid questions. But first, the origin story: During a series of errands for an evening work event last winter, I stopped by the office at 9 p.m. and was struck by the tranquility of the place. Unlike my home neighborhood, the office was perfectly still. No thumping bass from the upstairs neighbors. No security guard manning the premises, either. Someone could be here all night, I thought, and not a soul would be the wiser.
This past summer, a series of personal financial setbacks brought that curiosity to the forefront. The questions occupied my mind with increasing regularity: Why, in our culture, is a permanent residence a nonnegotiable line item in our expenses? Is it possible to function without one? Could I preserve a social life without maintaining a traditional home?
This is my experiment. It is rent boycotting. It is selective homelessness. I prefer to call it “home-free” living.
On Aug. 1, 2012, I packed my bags, secured a gym membership for shower access, and moved into my office. Save for a short hiatus of apartment living during the winter, I have been living there since.
I've chosen to remain anonymous to protect my company. None of my co-workers knows I'm living here. The people I work with are wonderful people; I want neither to accept their sympathy nor take advantage of their kindness. This presents a series of obstacles, and yes, I expend great energy to accommodate their schedules.
Like back in March, when my co-worker stopped by unannounced to drop off a tray of files on a Sunday. Somehow, I managed to tidy my cubicle and bolt to the staff bathroom in a matter of seconds.
It was a close call. And hiding in a unisex washroom is, admittedly, a humbling experience. But the way I see it, inconveniences like these constitute my “rent.” What others pay in earnings from countless hours of labor, I forfeit in sporadic exercises of self-deprecation. Having experienced both, I can't say my situation is any worse.
Up next: covering my tracks…
My situation just requires a little extra attention to detail. When I wake up in the morning, I always return my triple-sofa-cushion bedding to the same spot, zippers facing in. My belongings — the ones I haven't given away — are stuffed in odd corners of the office, placed one at a time over the first few weeks with frog-in-a-frying-pan success. I keep the fridge clear, opting instead to over-frequent the local sandwich shop and burrito stand. Sometimes I'll even run morning errands and show up “late for work.”
So far, my secret remains well kept.
Which brings me back to my dark-eyed dilemma.
Before Yasmin, I had no trouble telling — with varying degrees of success — women in my life about my situation. But this time I was tongue-tied. I was afraid she would laugh in my face. So instead of answering her, I remained silent.
Enter Miles Davis, liberator of silence, savior of the speechless. His song “So What” began to play on the radio, and Yasmin instantly perked up.
“Listen…” she said, closing her eyes, tilting her neck gently, as if Miles himself had offered to massage her back. “His patience… His innovation… That is what is beautiful about Miles. He challenges the rules. He does what he believes.”
He challenges the rules. He does what he believes.
It is rarely advisable to compare yourself to a musical icon. I am far from a genius in any field or art form, so the irony of such an association did not escape me. There was a lesson in her words, however, and it resonated with me in a way that reminded me why I was in this position in the first place. So I told her my secret.
She reacted without emotion.
“You live in your office?” she asked, scrutinizing my face for evidence of mischievousness. She found none.
“Well, in that case,” she said, “I have to see it.”
The resultant grin spanned the length of my face. She was a keeper. I just hoped my co-workers didn't have any files to drop off that morning…
The Office Hobo is the nom de plume of a guy who lives and works in L.A. Check out his blog at theofficehobo.com.
Public Spectacle, L.A. Weekly's arts & culture blog, on Facebook and Twitter: