Monday, December 13, 2010

Long Live Fridays at Five!

About three years ago, on my way to the bathroom in our offices late on a grey, dismal Friday afternoon, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a very welcome sight: my good friend Katie Freeman (also a contributor to this website) with an open bottle of red wine and a half finished glass in her hand as she busily and efficiently went to town on the emails filling her inbox.

“Um, Katie what are you doing?”

“It’s been a long week. I thought I’d celebrate the weekend with a glass of wine.”

“Are you gonna drink the whole thing?” (My not-subtle way of asking if I could partake in her brilliant idea.)

“I hope not.”

“Okay, I’m hitting the bathroom and then I’m coming to join you.”

It was the most historic and fateful sentence I would ever utter with the word “bathroom” in it.

Maybe it was because of the positioning of her office (smack dab in the route to the bathroom, right at the corner of a bend that made it difficult not to peak into her office as you were passing); maybe it was that Katie was friendly with everyone here, from the mail guys to our fearless leaders; maybe it was because of how cozy and warmly decorated her office was; maybe it was because she just kept buying wine. Whatever the reason, Katie’s office quickly became home to the beloved tradition of gathering with co-workers every Friday afternoon, ready to celebrate the dusk of a week hard-worked.

The process evolved over time. At first it was at four, but because these gatherings came to resemble actual celebrations instead of a few chummy people getting cozy, we moved them to five, once the work day was officially over. At first we worried that our older, more senior members would frown at the tradition, but before long they were making cameos to see what all the fuss (and noise) was about. (I once co-hosted a Friday at five with my boss.) At first it was solely a few bottles of wine and maybe a half bag of chips someone had lying around from lunch, but before long Katie started bringing in mouth-watering, home-baked delicacies, and gourmet cheeses with an impressive variety of spreads and crackers. People started trying out recipes on the group, and before long we were as culinary as we were fermented. At first I would grab a single glass of wine on my way to whatever Friday engagements I had on the calendar, but after enough instances of having to drag myself away from the festivities, I started limiting all big weekend plans to Saturdays and Sundays.

We talked about books—what we were reading and what we wanted to, and gave each other passionately espoused recommendations. We weighed and debated the merits of various jacket possibilities we had seen for upcoming titles, oohing and ahhing over our favorites, and traded notes on work loads and the most efficient way to battle the bumps in the road we all encounter at some point in this line of work. The point was never to continue working during these sessions—rather to take a deep breath after shutting of the computer for the night—but some of the most valued and fool proof tricks I have up my sleeve for my work here I gleaned during these off-hours gatherings. During our best, loudest, and longest lasting Fridays at five, senior editors would come by and regale us with tales from bygone eras, and encounters with legendary, beloved writers and passed on to us some of our imprint’s most charming bits of history. Most of the good stories I have about this place’s distant past are also by-products of Fridays at Five.

Not everyone showed up at five—sometimes big projects or looming deadlines kept us. But as there was a steady stream of entrances and exits at each week’s meeting, we never really worried—we knew some chapter of the group would be waiting whenever the last t was crossed. Every person’s arrival, no matter how late or early, or how predictable due to regular attendance, was met with a welcome cheer. It was always clear that people were happy to see you whenever you made it. About a year into the tradition we started celebrating birthdays, new arrivals and departures to other jobs as part of the tradition, which only deepened the sense of community.

This past Friday was Katie’s last day here. The publishing world is lucky enough to keep her—she’s heading over to Farrar Straus and Giroux. Like all million dollar ideas by the great minds that litter our past, Katie’s founding of Fridays at Five will outlast her time here, hopefully all of our time here. We’ll continue to gather every Friday to discuss the things that plague and delight us in this business, and the books—and of course people—that make it all worth it. With a little luck, Katie will continue to cameo every now and again, and during the weeks she’s tied up at her fabulous new job, you can be sure that at least a few of the stories shared will feature her as protagonist and star.

Because most milestones are recognized with a toast in the Land of Friday at Five, it’s only fitting that we should send Katie off with one. So here’s to you Katie—for creating a work place so lovely and inviting that nine to five, five days a week just isn’t enough, and to co-workers who become family. We miss you already.

1 comment:

  1. I hope the Fridays at Five tag engenders future tk postings on the subject.