Of Birds and Steele


My new office is a strange place to work. It isn’t the people I work with, (they are all very nice, and so far pretty normal) but the building itself that is odd. Scripps College is known for its gorgeous architecture. White stucco buildings are decorated by columns and vast windows and topped by red clay roof tiles. The campus is mostly rolling green broken by leafy trees and flowers. Orange trees and Elms are everywhere, and the main campus smells like the sweet and tangy odor of citrus.

My building is not on that side of campus. My building is on the new side of campus, in a building that is the pinnacle of the Brutalism movement. They have tried to disguise the tall walls of thick concrete with a collection of eucalyptus trees and ivy, but it hasn’t worked. It’s named after the Steele family, but Steele is so apt a name for the place that I often forget it was named for anyone at all.

Inside, it is far from brutal. The office was remodeled last summer. It’s filled with natural light from the floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors. Those who are lucky enough to have an office with a window can pretend they’re working in a tree house. Outside the office is a small balcony with a wrought-iron patio table, partially windowed and partially not. This scene is the view from my reception desk. Our glass doors must remain unlocked during business hours, which with the mechanism on the door, also means unlatched. This creates some interesting phenomenon.

It sounds like a horror movie at my desk.

The wind wuthers around the concrete corners, through the cracks in the door, and down the hallway. Some days it’s only a soft whistle. But when the wind picks up it can become this sustained and wavering sound like something from the soundtrack of Amityville Horror; in the middle of a cheerful blue hallway of brightly lit fluorescents and generic paintings. If the wind gets very gusty, the door will open by itself. I feel like I ought to keep garlic at my desk or something.

The other problem with the building design is the birds. I am going on my third week here, and we have already had one die over the weekend on the patio. They fly in through the slim railings where there isn’t any glass and then get caught by the windows on the other side. There is a blue net by my counterpart’s desk that we use to coax them out again. The dead bird, crumpled in a heap in the corner, was a hummingbird. We called facilities to take it out. We had a wren today, and sometimes we get these little black birds with crested heads.

Between the wind and the dead birds, I’m not really sure what kind of a building I’m working in. At least I have nice people to man the fort with me if the avian zombie apocalypse starts in Claremont. Cross your fingers for me, okay?

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