My first job out of college, I was a reporter for the New Haven Register newspaper. I shared an apartment for a while with a friend named Mark.
We moved in different circles, but he was a good roommate. We’d hang out. Many weeknights, we’d “go see what’s up with Mary,” as we called it.
I know this sounds like slang for marijuana, but it wasn’t that at all. Instead, we both worked late, so we got into the habit of eating whatever we’d scrounge for dinner in front of the TV at 10 or 11 pm.
That meant Nick at Night and reruns of Mary Tyler Moore.
It became a routine, and it probably kept us out of trouble. I’d cover a school board meeting or go out to meet someone for the newspaper, come in late, and unwind.
We were both kind of broke then, and the apartment was a dump, but it had character. A steady stream of characters came through: friends, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends.
Sometimes they’d visit for a few days, or maybe crash on our couch while job-hunting. One stayed for a long time. For purposes of this story let’s call him Napoleon. Maybe even Nappy for short.
Nappy had a hard time finding work, and not for lack of trying. He went on interviews, but there was a recession, and he was probably even broker than we were. So when Mark or I came home and wanted to “see what was up with Mary,” Nappy would almost always be there.
We only had the one old couch, and it was crowded for three people. Since Mark and I paid the rent, Nappy would go sit on the floor directly in front of the TV.
I’m dating myself, but this was before you could just press a button on the remote to see what was on. So Nappy would scour the weekly printed TV schedule for us, finding old movies and shows to expand our viewing repertoire beyond Mary Tyler Moore.
But then, tragedy struck. Our TV broke.
I remember taking it to a repair shop. The guy said it would be a while before we’d get it back. A couple of days later, this led to an indelible image that I can easily visualize all these years later.
I came in from work at night to find Nappy, sitting on the floor in front of the now-empty spot where the TV used to be—quietly reading the TV listings, and circling shows that we’d never be able to watch.
Want to know why I suddenly thought of this? A story by Joe Castaldo in the Toronto Globe & Mail, about virtual coworking spaces.
I had no idea about this phenomenon, but it’s apparently taken off. Remote workers during the pandemic are willing to pay $40 to $50 a month to sign into an hours-long Zoom call, so that they can recreate some of the routines they miss from the office.
It’s for people who find they need the office experience to force themselves to start the workday on time, not quit early, and just put in productive hours.
One office worker said she turns on her camera each morning, exchanges pleasantries — then mutes herself on Zoom, and goes about her business, having recreated the idea of being in a shared, open-plan office, where anyone else can stare and see what you’re working on.
I read it at first with amazement and a bit of judgment. But, then I thought about the old apartment, and Nappy, and Mark, and how it felt to lose our habit of checking in with Mary for a while back in the 1990s.
We need our routines. Sometimes, I guess we don’t realize just how much we need them until they’re gone.
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