A Nice Soak in the Office Bathtub, and Other News


On the Shelf

Relax: bathe at work.

  • When one thinks of rugged outdoorspersons, one’s mind does not usually summon Simone de Beauvoir. But it turns out Beauvoir was an avid hiker, and her writing about the activity stands in powerful contrast to the “wilderness memoirs” of more recent years. Emily Witt writes, “Pages of her memoirs are taken up with descriptions of the hikes she took in her twenties and thirties: in the Maritime Alps, the Haute-Loire, in Brittany, in the Jura, in Auvergne, in the Midi. Since the publication of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild or even Robyn Davidson’s Tracks, it has become commonplace to see the solo excursion in the wilderness as a possible experience of feminine catharsis. Beauvoir abhorred sentimentalism in her writing and seemed constitutionally incapable of contriving a sudden epiphany after cresting a peak, but it turns out that in addition to all of her philosophical contributions she is a forgotten pioneer of this genre of memoir … Beauvoir hiked alone … She saw her colleagues’ warnings that she would get raped as ‘a spinsterish obsession,’ and wrote, ‘I had no intention of making my life a bore with precautions of this sort.’ ”
  • Today in productivity concepts: your start-up office might have standing desks, exercise balls, a Ping-Pong table, and a formidable organic pantry, but none of it means shit without a bathtub. Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros., credits his imaginative success to Nintendo’s tub, and he makes a strong argument: “Thank goodness we had a company bathtub! … At that time, our office was in Tobakaido, which also housed the hanafuda [playing-card] factory … There was a water boiler that was used to make the hanafuda, and the water from this boiler was also used for a bathtub. The employees making the hanafuda could wash their sweat away in the bath after work, and at night when nobody was around, you could hang out there for a long time. It totally saved me … It was really effective at letting me put my ideas in order.” (Reader: if you’re interested in arranging for a claw-foot tub to be installed in the offices of The Paris Review, please be in touch.) 

  • In which Donald Fagen, of Steely Dan fame, recalls the nuclear-fallout propaganda of his youth: “By the time I was twelve or so, I’d become a preteen doomsday prepper. I’d wake up in the morning, look out the window and imagine a colossal mushroom cloud blooming on the horizon. I developed an alter ego, a rugged loner with a plan for survival. I bought one of those Army surplus utility belts and armed myself with a gravity knife, different size screwdrivers, an Allen wrench, plus my Boy Scout mess kit, canteen, and compass. Because, well, you never know what you’re going to need. The unfinished housing development we lived in then provided an excellent post-holocaust landscape. Hell, I’d probably be living underground anyway like a trapdoor spider, at least until the caesium-137 dissipated.”
  • You know what they say. You haven’t really lived till you’ve spent a day at Huaqiangbei, a sprawling electronics market in Shenzhen, intended to accommodate bulk orders of all the tiny stuff you need to make fancy gadgets. This is where technocrat wet dreams come true, people. It’s just too bad about the shipping costs: “If you need some bit of electronics or a phone accessory, you can find it in HQB. There is an entire multifloor shopping mall that sells nothing but phone cases. There’s one that specializes in smartwatches. There’s a mall that sells cellphones wholesale. There’s one just for surveillance cameras. And then there are the component markets. Need a chip? Or 250,000 chips? Somebody there can get them for you … We got to learn a little bit about ‘volume’ purchasing in Shenzhen, found out some interesting details about things we’d seen in the markets before, and learned about some of the headaches of shipping packages from China to the U.S.”