I work in a downtown Manhattan neighborhood called SoHo – short for south of Houston. (Texans, please note: We New Yorkers pronounce the street "HOUSE-ton," not as you do.)
My office is small. There are five of us, two of whom are lawyers. I am executive director of the organization, which provides pro bono legal services to poor people.
There are lots of things I do at the office outside any job description. In a small office, everyone has to pitch in.
I enjoy performing a multitude of tasks. For example, I will write a proposal for funding – definitely a part of the job description – and then take it to the post office to mail, having no confidence in the stuffed mailboxes on the streets of SoHo, where collections are few and far between.
If fortune shines and the request for funds produces money, I take the check to the bank and deposit it. My favorite work-time activity is depositing checks. My least favorite is writing them.
Sometimes I answer the telephone. "Oh, answering the phones today?" chortles the caller at the other end of the line.
"Beats cleaning the windows," I respond.
Along with my colleagues, on Tuesdays I empty wastebaskets into large plastic bags, drag the bags down the hallway to the elevator, and then take them down to the street for the weekly trash pickup.
I communicate with the building owner concerning leaks from the apartment above us. The nice people who live there have an overzealous housekeeper when it comes to watering plants. Some of the runoff lands on my desk.
Cleaning up around the office the other day, I picked up a Manila file folder from the floor. But it turned out not to be a file folder at all. I found myself attached to a sticky mouse trap. Disengaging proved an arduous task. I must speak to the building owner about the continuing mouse problem. (My legal training helps in such delicate negotiations.)
Administrative chores bring me in touch with a variety of people: the window cleaner, for example.
We are on the second floor of an 1870 cast-iron building. The windows are nine feet high. When the windows need cleaning, I go down to the street to find the window cleaner who does jobs around SoHo. I bring him to the office and place copies of old law journals on the counters so he can climb up and clean the windows from the inside. He then exits through an open window to the building ledge overlooking Broome and Greene Streets to clean the outer glass. I am more nervous about this part of the operation than he is.
The Chinese-American mail carrier comes up to the office to deliver packages. We often meet on the street as he makes his rounds, and converse. SoHo is a small town in a big city where informal exchanges like this take place.
Eduardo, the building's handyman, handles our electrical problems – rewiring light fixtures that hang from the 15-foot ceilings, and dealing with electrical outlet problems involving the water cooler, microwave oven, and toaster.
When the main air conditioner gives out, a crew of three arrive with a new machine. They are from Poland, Armenia, and Georgia.
The Georgian looks at the picture of the poet Aleksandr Pushkin on my office wall. Georgia is in the Caucasus. Pushkin spent time there in exile where the mountainous landscape inspired him.
"Are you Russian?" the man asks. Indeed I am, on my mother's side of the family. Mother, in 1919 at age 16, came to the United States from Russia – by herself.
As I prepare to leave the office at the end of the day, I wave to a man high above the street outside my window. No, it is not the window cleaner still out on the ledge, nor a modern-day Icarus in descent, but a movie crane operator. Film directors flock to this block in the heart of SoHo to shoot movies, television programs, and advertisements.
I turn off my computer and printer, the copying machine, and the overhead lights, lock the door to the office, lock the elevator to deny entry to the second floor, and then depart.
Walking along the streets of SoHo to the subway, I think about these words of poet Rainer Maria Rilke: "If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself...."
My daily life is anything but poor.