I’ve had the privilege of working in some unusual office buildings. They range from an historic federal building of imposing gray stone, a renovated college dorm with stone stairways grooved by the trodding of many feet, sterile medical center cubicles, a building with intricately carved panels on heavy brass doors and bathrooms with floors and stall dividers made of marble, a building in a tourist district that shared space with shops where my office was above a popular restaurant, and a basement newsroom filled with clacking typewriters.
But my most recent office building is the most interesting in several ways. It’s situated on an island in the Duluth-Superior Harbor in what was once was my favorite restaurant for Lake Superior fish. It features a deck that’s just steps from the water and from public docks. The building is in a city park that draws people for recreation.
When I was eating at the restaurant, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would one day work in the building, but as fate would have it, here I am, right in the spot where I ate lake trout with friends. I have two banks of windows that look out on the water. Although I assure you I spend most of my time staring at my computer screen, the windows have afforded plenty of opportunity to see other things in my three years here – like the coyote who crossed the ice from the mainland one spring, or the fox who heard a mouse underneath the deck and kept trying to pounce on it (see video here), or the family of otters cavorting in the water, or the disabled gull , or a young common tern begging its parent for food, or woodchucks sunning themselves on the deck, or the bear who walked through the parking lot.
Humans have also created distractions — like the guy who walked backwards past my office for several mornings in a row, only to pass by walking forwards minutes later in what must have been an exercise ritual. (Now he bikes past). Then there was the man who swam past my office. I read later in the newspaper that he was a long-distance swimmer who traveled from the Duluth to the Superior ship entries. My office is along the way. Then there was the man who drove a Zamboni down the road, and the man who wanted to build a world-record ice sculpture .
We get all sorts of people wandering inside our office as well, looking for public restrooms and tourist attractions that haven’t operated in the park for years. There was the tour busload of people who were looking for Wisconsin cheese, people who want to buy harbor boat tour tickets, people who think we’re the office for the historic ship that’s parked next door.
But sometimes we actually have visitors who take time to read the signs outside our office and want to know what kind of research we do. (For those of you who have not paid attention over the years, I work as a writer for a water research organization.) Sometimes these visitors are scientists, sometimes they are crackpots who want us to publish their theory to the universe and everything. But sometimes they’re the inventor of the Post-it note.
Yes, you heard me right.
This week, the real live, honest-to-god inventor of the 3M Post-it note dropped by the office on a whim to learn about what we do. He came in with his wife and talked with our receptionist, whose office is right outside mine. I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation and recall thinking the duo asked intelligent questions. It was just as they were leaving that the wife told the receptionist that her husband was Arthur Fry, inventor of the Post-it note. After a moment’s hesitation in disbelief, I rolled my chair over to my doorway just in time to see the retreating back and profile of the purported inventor.
I shrugged and went back to my task, but started thinking later in the day: what if he really was the inventor of the Post-it note? What does the inventor of the Post-it note look like, anyway? I looked him up on Wikipedia, and by Jove, our office visitor was a dead ringer.
It was then that I metaphorically kicked myself for not taking advantage of the opportunity. I should have run after him with my camera and new fancy digital voice recorder and interviewed him for my world-famous blog! He seemed like a very nice man, I’m sure he would have obliged. It’s just that I had spoken with one of the crackpot people only the day before and I wasn’t in the frame of mind to believe that a genuine inventor could just walk in off the street.
Next time, I assure you I’ll be ready. Now I’m just waiting for the person who invented the coffee cup sleeve to walk into my office.