The History of the New York Office

A glimpse of a brothel near Wall Street in 1994.
Photo: Merry Alpern / Courtesy Galerie Miranda / No. 2 of the Window series, © 1995

Vanita, 2018: I was sitting on the conference room table waiting for a meeting to start. My legs were hanging down, and they were sort of apart. (I had shorts on.) A girl from another department who was super bright, attractive, young, and openly gay walked in. I had seen her once or twice but never up close like this. She was standing in front of me, a little between my legs, and we were just looking at each other. It was so intimate and unexpected. I was breaking up with my girlfriend at the time, and I didn’t want to cross lines at work – but the heat was there. A tech nerd walked in – I’m in the gaming industry – and said, “Are you going to kiss you guys?” Looks like you’re about to kiss each other. We told him: “Fuck you”. But of course, we went out the following weekend and kissed all night long. We went on a few dates after that, but it was quickly done. I have often dreamed of kissing on that conference table, where it all began.

Billy, late 1980s: I started sleeping with my business partner at work. We were still good friends (which is why we opened a fashion line together), but we didn’t look at each other sexually until later in our friendship. We used to lock the door to our office – which we shared anyway – and say we were in a “closed meeting” and “couldn’t be interrupted”. I would rip her clothes off and sleep with her on the couch. There was something ridiculously exciting about our employees being in the office and at any time they could interrupt and say, “Billy, call for you, line three.” Those days are over. We have three children now and have never had sex.

Laura, 1978: I had just moved to New York from Vermont. I worked in an office at the Metropolitan Opera. (I would call my mom and put the phone on my office speaker; they were playing all rehearsals all over the building, and I would call her when this amazing guy Pavarotti was singing. We had never heard of him. .) One day a gorgeous guy appeared and we ended up talking. Was he in the city of Wisconsin? Minnesota? Trying to become a model. I watched the elevator every day, waiting for it. We flirted for about a week, then went to a closet for a little more intense “flirting”. The best lunch times ever. He never got a modeling contract and had to go home. We went out for one last night and then to his apartment. He had no furniture – everything was in order – and slept on a large piece of folded cardboard. Of course, we had sex, and it didn’t matter if it was on cardboard. That Monday, I received a farewell card from him in the inter-office mail. And he was made of this cardboard box.

Reina, 2006: I was teaching in an elementary school and I was new. He was a sadly married science teacher and he craved connection. We would flirt all the time, all over the school. Friday afternoons we all went to breweries and happy hours. However, we almost crossed the line only once. We were alone in the teachers’ lounge, and he was saying how good I smelled. (I had a new scent.) Smelling my neck, he tried to kiss me. It went on for half a second and then we both pulled out. Years later his wife cheated on him, they divorced and he contacted me. He said he was still in love with me. I was no longer romantically interested in him.

Allyson, 1999: I wanted to be a copywriter, so I got an internship at one of the big downtown advertising agencies. The guy I reported to (a real editor) wasn’t necessarily “sexy”, but he was admired and boastful. I flirted with him when I delivered papers to his desk, when I saw him in the elevator. I remember he came to my cabin to tell me something, and I really felt the warmth between us. We had a little vibe.

Finally, I asked him for a drink and we planned to meet at the Coffee Shop in Union Square the following Saturday night. I’ve always been a real minx, so I was hoping to have a whole night of fun together. He arrived very nervous. He wasn’t the guy with the office swagger; he was anxious and hostile. We ordered drinks and by the time the waiter returned the editor told me he wanted to leave. Like, without me. He left me there with our drinks and the bill. Did he think I was too young? Did he have a girlfriend? Did he feel unethical? I left for a real job a few weeks later.

Workers at lunch outside 1 Penn Plaza in 1975.
Photo credit: Don Hogan Charles / The New York Times / Redux

Chana, 2011: I was at my first job, a TV production company, and I was madly in love with the art director. He had a girlfriend, but I didn’t care. We had a big Christmas party at the office. I usually dressed like a man for work and showed up in a sparkling Zara mini dress. I had never felt so sexy. The art director and I weren’t even drunk; we were so excited for each other. There was a taco truck outside, and when everyone went to get some tacos, we started to kiss. We were very paranoid about getting caught, but we couldn’t keep our hands together.

The next day we had a corporate breakfast together. I already felt like it was out of my system. A few years later, we finally had sex. I was so disgusted that I wanted to run away. He was such a loser.

Timothy, 2002: I knew I was gay, but I hadn’t been out and had never been with a man sexually. I was a young lawyer in a prestigious firm and just wanted to stay for myself and do a good job. But one of the partners was gay and he obviously knew I was gay from looking at me. One day, I was making myself a coffee. He came over and asked point blank if I had a boyfriend. I almost froze. But I pulled myself together. And he said, “Go out with me and my friends tonight!” We went – of course – to the Cock. I was considerably younger than anyone, and they were all very respectful, no boundaries were crossed, but I ended up marrying someone I met through his clique years later. Without knowing it, the partner, in that little kitchenette, gave me permission to be gay and to feel normal about it.

Tanya, 1969: I had a hair salon on the first floor of an office building, and all the businessmen came in to have their hair cut. One continued to have cuts he didn’t really need. Like, her hair wouldn’t have grown an inch. Finally he said, “How about instead of paying you for the reduction, you let me take you to dinner?” I married him a few months later. We would also have fun hanging out in his office after hours, having locked up downstairs. We once transformed his cabin into a small disco. Once a year we always visit this office building and have a bottle of champagne where my living room was.

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