Morgan Stanley’s Free Lunch

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11/03/2001

Montgomery St, Jersey City, NJ

Neighborhood: Letter From Abroad, Outer Boroughs

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First came the hugging and the crying and the storytelling. We're all alive and it's groovy. Long live the marketing department! Long live the company! We'll rebuild!

Then came the fatness.

Working in an office, in a cubicle, is the surest way to obesity. You scorch your eyes looking at the Internet all day, sipping a mocha with whipped cream. But it's so much worse when you used to work in the World Trade Center and the people who take you in across the river, in Jersey City, give you Pop Tarts and Famous Amos cookies and General Tso's chicken to dull the trauma.

Every day they wheel in carts of food. They put out Oreos and potato chips. They stock the fridge with Cokes. A line forms out the door. People leave with plates spilling over. They laugh at their own indulgence. They go back for seconds of tiramisu. But the pieces are too small. They go back for thirds.

They return to their workstations and eat the fatty foods and talk about TV and the Yankees and famous people and anthrax and bombing Afghanistan and sit for the rest of the day, staring into a computer monitor with an American flag taped to it. Rows and rows of computers and people staring numbly and American flags sticking up.

The room is called the BIF. Business Interruption Facility. It looks like a telemarketing floor, a really patriotic one. A couple hundred people from the trade center are here. Some were in the building when the planes hit, some were coming out of the subway, some were in the plaza with stuff raining down, some had called in sick. But the end result was the same. They all went to bed crying and had nightmares.»

In the BIF, you can't swallow, can't blink, can't fart without someone knowing. You live in a cloud of perfume and bad breath. The lady next to me was chewing pretzels earlier. It sounded like grinding tectonic plates.

There are some pretty girls, new ones from other departments that I hadn't seen before. I sidle up to them in the lunch line and carry on imaginary conversations. "Hey mama," I say. "We've both been through some shit. We both made it through. Now let's teach the miserable world a thing or two about passion."

We back it up on the snack table, smushing the Fig Newtons with our naked asses. Call out to the BIF: "This is living! This is love! Can you dig it?"

But I don't say anything. I sit at the computer and write little stories and ignore my work and pray for the courage to quit my job. At the end of the day, I get on the PATH train. It lurches through the dark tunnel and it hits me that we're under water and I wonder if the world above is ending. I shake off fantasies of water pouring into the train and small pox in the ventilation system.

Then a memo: Starting Monday no more food. They're going to stop feeding us.

The outrage! Two months of terror and fatness and now look. Some goon in a window office thinking, "They can shell out their own jack for lunch."

Good idea. Move forward, I say. No more pepper steak and curly fries. Let the healing begin.

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