The other night I attended a law firm cocktail party with some former colleagues of mine. I made sure to bring a tie to work to put on for the occasion. So around 5:30, instead of leaving the office and walking a few blocks north back home, I descended with the hordes into the subway and barreled into midtown. At Times Square I was walking against the mob to get to the shuttle to Grand Central; the throngs of people were jostling around me and literally twisting my bag around my body with their constant, thoughtless motion.
On Park Avenue, on the way to the right office building, I passed a few open-air bars where men in business casual attire stood holding their beers and looking boorish. When I found the right lobby I made my way through security and entered the high-speed elevator to zip upward 44 floors. The offices were beautiful and plush. From the wall of windows Park Avenue was an elegant stream of taillights, cabs moving smoothly below us. The southern view seemed strangely quiet and peaceful, an unexpected valley splayed out before us. From other vantage points I could see the lights of Brooklyn and Queens; the far-off sunset sinking into the western sky; and the Chrysler building, tantalizingly close, a friendly giant.
It was interesting to see my old colleagues again. Everything is more or less the same in that world. People I didn't know very well would ask me about my new job, and when I explained that I was now working in higher ed, I received a lot of quizzical, vaguely pitying looks. It was like I was answering their question by chirping back, "Oh, I'm a housewife now!" I felt like I was a complete visitor to that world, a world I was immersed in for a long time. I don't know if I had ever embraced it, though. I always felt weird about being yet another uniformed young man in midtown, off to my skyscraper perch to practice law or twiddle with spreadsheets or something.
After an extremely pleasant evening with the two old friends I had come to see, the elevator gently plummeted me back down to earth. Outside I loosened my tie and chucked the name tag I had received. I walked through some old familiar streets, from Rockefeller Center to my old stop on the 1 train. I felt very lucky to be the beneficiary of corporate largess, at least for an evening, and then for the freedom to return home unburdened by unbilled hours and demanding partners. Sometimes I feel like a genius for escaping that world, or a rogue, or a thief. I still can't believe I got away with it.