Saturday, June 15, 2019

Planking Together

Living the coworking life.

Every single day, every single member gets a hug at the door of my coworking space. Doris is the hugger, her job to sit at the door and await you. She hugs the tantra way, her generous bosom flattening out against your chest as she tightens her embrace. Like the coworking experience itself, Doris’ hug is platonic, with no intention to sexually arouse.

After the hug, the member next puts on his slippers. They’re both colorful and made in Estonia, and your name has been lovingly embroidered on them by Doris.

I work in the quiet area. The tap, tap, tap of keyboards is all you hear, except for the occasional tubercular cough, since it’s often that season and there’s always one who should have stayed home. If you talk you get shushed. Your second offense may result in a written warning from any member you disturbed, and it’s sometimes signed by several. A third offense means you’re banned from the quiet area for a full month, relegated to do your work in the café area where the tables are sometimes sticky.

When the clock strikes noon we leave our desks to plank together, yet we remain quiet. The heavy breathing of the less fit is audible, of course, but this is acceptable when planking and is, again, not intended to sexually arouse.

Every Tuesday evening at 5:30 p.m. we have an inspirational speaker. Someone usually brings homemade oatmeal cookies which we dip in milk and munch on while reclined on pillows needle pointed (by Doris) with misspelled inspirational sayings (Their is no I in TEAM). A recent speaker was 23-year-old Mari, an Estonian version of Marie Kondo. But Mari does not deal with possessions: she rather helps startupers get rid of old ideas. She asks us to hold each idea we have, see if there is love, and let it go if there is not. I have a lot fewer ideas now, thanks to Mari. For example, I’ve given up on investing in Stinkeroo, the app that allows users to inform someone anonymously that he or she has body odor.

Thursday evenings also feature speakers, but the topics are about interpersonal relationships. There was recently a class taught for Estonian women. Sometimes, and usually when traveling abroad, a man will hold the door open for a woman, and the woman may be confused about what to do or how to react. Though not officially an attendee of the class, I was invited to play the part of the door opener, which I found both informative and helpful in breaking down gender bias.

Friday evenings, sponsored by a local political party, are a light-hearted hate speech night. There are no blacks in the coworking space, so we make do with the darkest-skinned members we have: a Turk, a Spaniard, and one French Canadian. The three are herded to one side of the room and members shout “Go back where you came from!” and “Don’t pollute our culture!” The more artistic members draw swastikas on the white boards and we all stand around drinking craft beer until we adjourn one of one of Tallinn’s growing number of right-wing bars. While Doris assures that it was not the intention, some male members find hate speech night sexually arousing, and the coworking space’s management is considering its discontinuation.

Despite how collegial the coworking environment is, I’m still not sure what anyone actually does. Members tend to stand around in the kitchen talking about funding rounds, though it doesn’t seem anyone has actually been funded. It’s popular for older members (in their thirties) to offer sage advice acquired from the many startups they’ve had in the past. They will tell you how to be your own attorney, why to incorporate in Delaware, or explain why they rent a Nissan Leaf instead of owning a Tesla (because Elon Musk is an asshole and/or he has ignored the coworking space’s invitations to speak).

For most of these members, I wonder how long they can keep paying the almost 400 euros in dues per month including VAT. Directly across from me in the quiet area are two guys who seem to be playing out an Andres-and-Pearu conflict in an office setting. Andres left his Martin Lazarev-designed ID card reader too close to Pearu’s desk, and it disappeared. He retaliated by unplugging Pearu’s computer, whose cord had to run under Andres’ desk in order to reach the socket. Without fail, the two of them end up shouting at each other. Somehow no one dares to write up a complaint about them, so they haven’t been banished to the café area. What each does to earn his 400 euros rent I have no clue, though through a remark Pearu made one time I gathered they’re both somehow connected to EAS.

There is one guy named Alar who clearly has a real business. I’ve reached this conclusion because he frequently has to get up and go to another room to talk to his employees, while most everyone else just stares blankly into that screen and goes tap, tap, tap. I like Alar. He’s in his forties, never tries to hug me, and he’s one hell of a good ping-pong player, though I think his serve is probably illegal according to the year 2000 rule revisions concerning hiding the ball from your opponent’s view.

At the current prices I’m thinking that I might have to migrate back to the law reading room at the National Library. Since coworking spaces offer all the coffee you can drink, I do my breakeven analysis on this basis. Four hundred euros split over 20 working days is 20 euros per day. Twenty euros per day divided by €2.50, the average price of a cup of coffee in Tallinn, means I need to drink eight cups each day to feel I’m getting value for money. The National Library is free to use, of course, but their café’s coffee is known to be diabolically undrinkable.

The advertised reason to remain a member is that your startup could get noticed by the likes of Richard Branson. Doris says he’s a big fan of Estonia and is planning a visit one day soon. I’m sure he’ll see a future in my columns, worldwide syndication that will make us both even richer.

If he comes I’m going to plank with him. Resting on our elbows we’ll come face to face, perspire a bit. Others in our plank circle will pitch him on their startups, thirty-second elevator speeches designed to blow his business mind. And when they’re all finished, when the breathing is at its peak, I’ll whisper his name. I’ll remind him that planking is not designed to sexually arouse. Just a little disruption to get his attention before pitching him on my Next Big Idea.

This story originally published in Edasi
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