My first grown-up job was as a lawyer in the Waffle Building, a deceptively nicknamed high-rise in downtown Vancouver. The word ‘waffle’ typically conjures warm, fuzzy feelings. Memories of Sunday mornings. Smells of maple syrup and bacon. The warmth of a fireplace and quilted blanket. The Waffle Building was anything but cozy.
I’ll admit, from a pedestrian point-of-view, the building at 1075 West Georgia Street could be mistaken for a concrete Eggo— the kind a jonesing Paul Bunyan would break his tooth biting to get pumped up with nitrous oxide. It’s a 27-story concrete slab, punched with square windows that form pockets where butter and syrup would pool, if only the structure was constructed with flour and eggs instead of cement.
You may recognize the Waffle Building from television and film, where it has achieved such credits as: Evil, Totalitarian Alien Headquarters in V; Evil, Totalitarian Nazi Headquarters in The Man in the High Castle; and, let’s not forget, its riveting performance as Department of Mutant Affairs in X-Men: The Last Stand, which inherently sounds evil and totalitarian. See a theme of typecasting?
Although the Waffle Building insists it has range, you will never see it book a role as ‘Small-town Doctor’s Office’ or ‘Grandma’s House’. It won’t happen. Those opportunities go to brick houses with front-yard rose gardens and soft, pastel paint.
I understand working with celebrities— with their diva demands and inflated egos— is challenging. Working inside a celebrity, however, is downright disorienting. I once left work late to find myself smackdab in New York City. Cabs with ‘Big Apple Taxi’ decals lined the street. Pretzel and hotdog vendors littered the sidewalks.
Had I worked so late the tectonic plates shifted the Waffle Building to the East Coast? Was I like Rip Van Winkle, but without the nice nap? I knew I had lost track of time, laser-focused on a case, but surely I hadn’t been drafting legal pleadings for millennia.
Just when I dug up change to buy a salty pretzel and hail a cab home, I learned it was merely set decoration for a late night shoot. I walked to my apartment, hungry.
Apart from its Hollywood roles, the Waffle Building is renowned for its ‘ingenious’ use of concrete to finish its exterior and its interior. There’s no breakfast euphemism to describe life inside the Waffle Building. Stuck in a concrete cell all day— my office no more than 50 square feet, my ankles chained to my desk— I felt like I was in a prison. If anything, the Waffle Building is more appropriately associated with mystery meat and gruel.
They say when you’re unhappy with your job, a change in perspective can do wonders. “Focus on what you are grateful for,” my counselor said. My job paid my bills. Allowed me to afford downtown rent, while not defaulting on student loans. “Be thankful,” she advised.
“Easy for her to say,” I thought. Her office was in a restored, brick low-rise in Gastown. A Fengshui fountain soothingly trickled water near her velvet armchair from which she’d take diligent notes. A Buddhist thangka was affixed to a wall, hypnotizing my id to disclose more than my ego would allow. Sun seemed to shine through her window, even though it was otherwise rainy and gloomy outside one-hundred-percent of the time.
I decided to give it a try. Could I have a new perspective on the Waffle Building? My head titled to view it from another angle, I came to realize the Waffle Building’s untapped potential. There, standing before me, was not merely a concrete monolith to capitalism, but a Tic Tac Toe grid. Each office window, a small square bordered by thick cement, was a space for a ‘X’ or an ‘O’. It was game time.
At eight o’clock p.m., I was alone in the law firm, apart from some junior associates too focused on their screens to pay any bother. I snuck into the supply room and grabbed masking tape. Our office ate up one-and-a-half floors of the breakfast-food building, meaning I would need the participation of either the office above or below to execute a complete game. First, I would focus on what I could achieve alone.
My worn heels balanced on my desk, I taped a giant ‘X’ across my window. Next, I went to the adjacent, vacant office and taped an ‘O’. I pulled down the blinds to cover my crime from my co-workers, but I had meticulously coloured the tape red beforehand to ensure the marks would remain visible to offices across the street against our beige blinds.
“Stephen,” I whispered, the next day, interrupting an associate from his three-hundred-dollar-an-hour billings. “I need to show you something.”
I ushered him into a spare office, overflowing with boxes of old files. I pulled up the blinds.
“I’m making a giant Tic Tac Toe game!” I explained. “You in? Your office is prime real estate for the next ‘X’.”
He hesitated. Something like this could seem childish. Knock him down a rung or two on the ladder to partnership.
“Never mind, this conversation never happened,” I hissed in a loud whisper. “Just… don’t open your blinds after tomorrow morning. That way, you have plausible deniability.”
Even the elevator felt fun. Normally terse with tension, full of grumpy rats in a race dreading the marathon ahead, the elevator was now packed with potential conspirators, fellow comrades in my guerrilla army of fun. I studied the faces that lit up the buttons for the 19th and 23rd floors, stalking potential recruits
Then, my maple syrup ran out.
“A paralegal was in the spare office and found your ‘O’,” Stephen explained. “Some of the partners were pretty pissed, especially Mr. Kimberly. He said you probably put us in breach of our tenant agreement.”
The X’s and O’s were gone, though victory was mine. It wouldn’t be my last rebellion, though for a while, they became more discreet, like tiny villages constructed with paper left with no explanation on partners’ desks.
To this day, I’m still a kid. Despite that first grown-up job.