I tend not to be the sort of person who wallows in memories of “the good old days” much. I don't have the time. What's the point of that anyway? Things were never really as good as you remember; the past is the past and you can never ever go back, and too much nostalgia can be paralyzing and destructive.
But about noon everyday, as I sit in my stuffy office behind my desk, which is pratically covered up with ever-so-urgent paperwork, shoving a cold sandwich down my throat along with the 8th cup of coffee of the day, I can't help but remember the noon-time naps of my childhood in Iran.
How does one describe noon-time naps in Iran? Everything, even the wind, seems to stand still. The shops and schools shut down and kids trudged back home for lunch. The sounds of the muazzin faded into the background, and even the birds seem to become silenced.
Some taxi drivers pulled over their cars, said their noontime prayers on the sidewalk, and snoozed under the shade of trees which lined the street. Your belly was full with your home-cooked lunch, and you sipped that last sip of sweetened, fragrant tea. So you put your head down for a bit, and off you went into a deep, restful slumber.
Napping is, of course, not acceptable in American work culture. In fact a lack of sleep is a common problem here. Doctors talk about something known as the “sleep debt” which people accumulate over a work week, and how it causes health problems. Eating lunch is acceptable, but only for an hour or so, and preferably at your table where you work as you eat.
My particular profession doesn't leave a lot of time for rest either. You're expected to work very long hours, even through weekends if necessary. In my particular company, a fancy caterer even brings you a free lunch to your desk if you stay there and keep making money for the company.
Or you go out with clients and co-workers and then promptly return to your office and get back to work. Then, if you're lucky, at 7 or 8 at night you can drag your tired body onto the train, go home, eat, watch a bit of TV, fall asleep, and do it all over again the next day.
But what work? After being raised with a habit of taking noon-time siestas, who can do anything except yawn from noon to about 2pm? So there I sit day after day, bleary eyed and tired, pretending to be busy but desparately wondering if anyone would notice if I just closed my office door and snoozed for bit.
Of course finding a place to sleep in a Manhattan office building is not easy. I tried dozing while sitting on my chair, but kept falling to one side. Sleeping in the car isn't an option, since no one really drives here. I even tried sleeping on my desk once, but that wasn't comfortable either.
In desparation, I was left with the floor underneath my desk. The advantage of this arrangement was that if someone entered into my office, they would assume that I wasn't there since no one could see me hiding underneath my desk. I could never get really comfortable though. Part of the problem was the due to the fear of getting caught.
Spending part of the day hiding under your desk will probably earn you a free visit from the company psychologist. But the main problem was that there was something just too ridiculous and surreal about the arrangement. Imagine, past all the fancy titles, despite the good salary and bonuses, after all that education and hard work, beyond all that corporate-ladder climbing and developing all that professionalism, there I was, day after day, hiding under my desk, sleeping on the floor in my fancy suit, quite willing to trade everything in for just a few short minutes of the sort of naps I used to take, long ago and far away.
Pathetic, isn't it?
Apparently, it was pathetic enough for Fate to intervene, in the form of a Persian carpet. I dragged that 4-by-6 meter item of what was then illegal “contraband”, hidden not-so-discretely inside a large, cheap luggage bought at the last moment specifically for the purpose from Tehran's main bazaar, past the customs agent at New York”s JFK airport with what was probably the most incriminating and guilty grin on my face. I must have looked like I was dragging a ton of cocaine into the country. I'm surprised they didn't pull me aside immediately, but somehow I made it past them, feeling sort of exhilarated at having exacted a bit of personal revenge for the idiotic sanctions policy.
I loved the carpet from Iran so much that I put it in my office. As a newly-minted executive, I was allowed to “decorate” my bit of space. I spent more time in that room than my home anyway.
I remember spreading it out on floor, marvelling at how the rich colors and intricate designs seemed to literally scare away the impersonal and inhumanly efficient-looking dull light grey-blue of the corporate flooring. I could have spent hours following the carpet's designs with my eyes, watching as each tendril of a decorative motif scrolled hypnotically into a spectacular sunburst of color, and then wove its way around and around until it reached the next sunburst on the other side. I seemed to discover new details everyday as I watched the designs more and more closely. The carpet was a kaleidoscope, and looked a bit different each day.
The carpet caused a bit of a commotion in the company. It made my office look nicer than the senior VP's office. His tacky golf and hunting trophies didn't help either. I heard the staff chatting about it next to the water cooler. People came to look at my carpet from all over the office and asked endless questions. It later became known as the flying carpet. I sometimes wondered if that was meant to be a derogatory comment about my ethnicity, but then I decided I didn't really care. They just wished they could have one too!
Noontime came, and as usual, I quitely shut the door to my office, took off my jacket and rolled it up as a pillow, and layed down on my carpet in the middle of my office. How does one describe the sensation of the rough, thick, wool pile tickling the side of your face as you sleep on a Persian carpet? Or the wooley, dusty smell?
Just then my secretary unexpectedly opened the door and walked in, intending to leave some paperwork on my desk. He almost stumbled over me. He stood there speechless for a second or so, and probably thought that I had finally died. Of course, I was completely shocked and embarrased, but decided to play it cool.
With my eyes shut, I casually asked “Yes?” as if sleeping on the floor was the most normal and routine part of my day. He stumbled over his words for a bit, not knowing quite how to react, and then blurted out something about a fax which had just arrived. So, should I jump up and make some sort of sad excuse about a “bad back” that had forced me to stretch out on the floor? No. I was tired of making compromises.
I was going to take a nap every day for at least 45 minutes, and I didn't care who caught me lying on the ground. The ground was good enough for me. So I remained silent for a while, then put my hands underneath my resting head, and pretended to be considering his words deeply.
After enough time had passed to make him feel yet more uncomfortable for barging into my office without knocking, I dismissively said “leave it on my desk.” That was all. He had to step over me to get to the desk, and step over me to get out again. But he then very quitely and gently shut the door behind him.
I must have fallen asleep right after that, because all I remeber is the taste of fresh barbari bread, the fading sounds of the muazzin calling out for noon-time prayers, and the sleepy warmth of a day from long ago and far away.