At noon I quitely shut my office door
June 1, 2001
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
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
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
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
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.