My desk is by far the messiest in my office. I know what you’re thinking—you have an idea of what this office looks like, but mine is not a pretty mess. You know that epic Vogue photo of Kate Moss from April 2012 that shows her in a gilded room at the Ritz surrounded by blindingly white Chanel boxes? This is very, very different than that. A former colleague used to walk by and call my work space “the inside of Bernie Sanders’s brain.” It’s that bad. I am the living nightmare of Marie Kondo. I’d give her a panic attack. One look at me, at my desk, and she’d have to be carted out on a stretcher.
And now, I have been asked to transfer it all. The Vogue offices are being remodeled, and we’re being moved to temporary space while we wait for it to be finished. It is the fourth or fifth time we have done some version of this since I started working here almost five years ago. Our organization will now be on a different floor. The layout will change. The new, freshly constructed office setting is what a startup looks like in a movie: huge rows of thin white tables with shiny laptops; a meeting area dotted with swiveling chairs that resemble scooped-out hard-boiled eggs; a cornucopia of snacks. I privately hope that they will have vats of almonds that will be refilled all day long. One of my colleagues joked that the new desks remind her of an examination room at the gynecologist’s office, lots of white with nowhere to hang any personal effects.
Preparations for the change feel sterile. In the weeks leading up to the move, our office manager tells us that there is a cutoff time—1:00 p.m. sharp—after which workers will arrive to demolish the floor and its remaining contents, including anything we have left behind. In the midst of the subsequent packing frenzy, the tables that are typically designated for fancy discards (typically gifts that don't fit or flatter) have been loaded instead with an array of random tchotchkes—the things we’ve collected or held on to thus far that won’t be coming with us this time. Or at least not with their original owner. Most will be donated to Housing Works. One table near the culture section is overflowing: tape-bound galleys of romance novels, plant-based cookbooks showing happy chefs, a book cover with Anne Frank and a swastika floating around her head like a halo. Some of these are autographed by the authors themselves and addressed to specific people. Some of them are expensive coffee-table books that weigh about 6 pounds—that’s the weight of a slightly underweight newborn. I put a stack of self-help books that I have accumulated and not read over the years (specifically about de-stressing, and funnily enough, organizing my life) in the pile.
The giveaway table by my desk looks like the living room of an old lady who is slowly losing her mind. Expired packs of kettle corn. Candles that smell like those caramel candies your elderly aunts excavate from the bottom of their purses. Vases for flowers—so many vases, in the palest roses and dim violets. I had to toss a bouquet of lilies on the last day before the move. They were personally delivered to me by two people I had featured on Vogue’s website. That has never happened to me before. For a week, our row smelled like something blooming. Now our accountant is shoving documents through a slot in what looks like a locked trash can. It reads: “Confidential: to shred.” Her assistant looks up at me. “Can you believe it? I found an expense report from 1979!” she says. I imagine cutting the zip tie and going through all of these people’s now-antique records. What were they expensing back then? Unlimited black car service? Sterling-silver knives? I’ve heard some crazy things, like a Guy Laroche dress.
While attempting to pack up, sifting through my old expense reports—mostly coffees from the cafeteria, what could be more boring—I look around at my cubicle. On one wall hangs a collage of nothing work related: my mother’s grocery list on a notecard with a lipstick blot, scribbled with things like “fish, cat food, pencils”; a laminated traveler’s prayer card with a famous dead rabbi on it, even though I haven’t gone to synagogue since Yom Kippur; my best friend’s wedding invitation. Tacked underneath it is a note from a man who used to work in the building: “If you need a friend, here is my number.” It reminds me of the notes that boys used to pass girls in class. He left me both his office and cell phone contacts. Maybe I looked really good that day. Maybe I just looked sad.
A photograph of me and my ex-boyfriend has been floating in limbo underneath my keyboard. I dated him a few months before I came to Vogue, and we broke up within that first year that I started working here. The photo is black and white from an automatic photo booth. In one photo, I have lifted up my shirt. In another, I am on his lap, kissing him on the mouth and holding his jaw. I think it was from one weekend when we went upstate together and hung out for hours at a local motorcycle bar. The photo strip has been with me since our days on another floor, four years ago. It’s the only image I have of him. Before we broke up, I had it taped to my computer on the left side of the screen. When we moved that time, I stayed late to pack up my desk. Barbara, my late-night confidante and surrogate mother from 4:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. came by, doing her rounds as a member of the maintenance crew. I flapped the photo at her, saying, “Look what I found!” I had forgotten about it until then. Barbara shrugged. “I knew it was there,” she said. “I clean under there every day.” I put the photo into an envelope and into a packing box.
Like with everything, each time we move I leave most of the work until the last minute. This time is no exception. Instead of going through the massive shoe collection that has burrowed itself under my desk, I spend the day reading articles about Souen, a restaurant in Soho that is closing. I have never been, but for people on the Internet, it is apparently a huge deal. It has been open since 1971 and serves earthy health food. Some Israeli developer is taking it over at the end of the month. Like here, the owners will have to vacate the premises swiftly and clinically. People are mad about Souen closing. They want to keep old New York alive. There are desperate crowdfunding campaigns. There are pleading tweets punctuated by crying emojis. Emotional Instagram posts with images of hearty, boiled vegetables. It makes me think about this tiny Ukrainian diner that I used to eat at with two of my old friends whom I haven’t spoken to in years. We’d order $7 meals and hide beers in our coat sleeves. It was somehow connected to the 2015 gas leak down by Second Avenue that killed three people. Someone had been illegally siphoning gas. I wonder what they did with that framed newspaper article that hung on the wall and read: “Helen Mirren’s favorite place in town!”
But now I’m running out of time. Diving into my drawers, I find old receipts. Some from the Metropol, a hotel in Moscow that I used to stay at when I would cover Russian Fashion Week. One from a $20 tea, whoops! A handwritten note from a gypsy cab in Ukraine, priced in local currency. A box of Georgian cold medicine. I never even logged these receipts. Lost money. A lot of debt. I throw it all away. I keep everything from my mother, even a Charlie Card that I used when she was in Massachusetts General Hospital this time last year. There is also a heavy book about World War II that was intended as a gift for my father, but that I instead used to prop up my computer. I cry when I look at a half-used Starbucks gift card from my coworker with a card that reads: “Happy birthday! I love you! I know you’re the only person who would appreciate this!” I unearth a huge newspaper created by a model who was big in the ’90s. On it is a pale yellow sticky note the size of a Ghirardelli chocolate square from my boss scrawled with: “Come see me about the story! xo.” I never met with my boss about this. My heart sinks, but I keep it.
The end of the move happens so quickly. I feel like that Madonna song “Ray of Light” when everything is moving around her so fast that it blurs. I remember watching that when I was little and imagining myself in the middle of traffic, screaming as everything passed by. Around me, huge blue bins cart away old magazines. They look like beautiful landfills. The face of a red-lipped Sienna Miller peeks out. Lupita Nyong’o stands ever elegant in a yoga pose, her hands clasped in prayer. Sifting through my own magazines is painful. Carlene, from this floor's maintenance crew, looks at me and says: “When are you going to read it? You’re not going to have room.” I put almost all of them on the free table.
But I have some real-deal loot that I’m keeping. I’ll never get rid of it. I am holding on. A few months ago, a longtime editor who had recently left gave me a whole year of American Vogue issues from 2003. It was from when she first started at the magazine. They are in mint condition. I opened one and it still has that new smell. They are too heavy to take home, so I will take them to the new floor. Who knows, maybe this time I will look through them when I settle in.
Love Stories is a series about love in all its forms, with one new essay appearing each day until Valentine’s Day.