There’s No Place Like? Living at General Foods

The following is a true story. Names and places have not been changed. It took place at General Foods Corporation back when General Foods was a stand-alone company. (It is now part of Kraft)

Martin was very happy with his new job at General Foods in White Plains. Marty had gone right from college to business school to get his MBA. He had graduated near the top of his class at NYU and got a job in Marketing at a great company. Everything was looking sunny. Except for the debt.

Marty was already loaded with student loans and credit card debt. Since General Foods was in the suburbs Marty found he had to buy a car just to get around. Even the piece of junk used Chevette he bought put him further in debt. He hated the car and the color


but it was all he could afford; and the sleazy used car dealer was actually willing to give him a car loan.

The big problem was rent. Apartments were expensive and hard to find in White Plains. He got a small place on a month-to-month basis. But even this small apartment  was taking up almost half his take-home pay. He didn’t even sleep  well there. The people in the other apartments were very noisy, and you could hear everything they did through paper thin walls.  Often Marty went to work exhausted.

Combined with utilities  and the minimum monthly payments on all his loans, Marty had exactly zero dollars left at the end of each month. Some months he actually had less than zero and had to build up more credit card debt.

Still, Marty loved going to work. It was like a sanctuary for him. The General Foods “campus” was a little world to itself. It had a subsidized cafeteria open for breakfast and lunch, and a gymnasium open until 8 PM every night. It even had a barber shop on premises.

Marty started spending more and more time at General Foods. He had breakfast and lunch there and worked out at the gym every day. He just hated going home to his cramped noisy apartment for the night.

Then one day the Marketing people had a big meeting in one of the conference rooms to discuss a new product launch. It was a very large room with a big oak table. Along the sides of the room were several large plush couches. Marty was very tired since he had not slept well at his apartment the night before.  During one of the Power Point presentations, Marty kept looking at the couches and thinking how nice it would be to stretch out and take a long nap on one of them.

Couch and Bananna 007

That’s when Marty and an epiphany. He realized that the solution to all his financial problems was for him to live at work full time. Over the next month, he put his plan into action.

The first step was to move his clothing to the office. This took a lot of imagination. The General Foods gym had lockers but you were not allowed to leave anything in them overnight, and the gym instructors actually checked. (Yes- General Foods had such an employee-friendly atmosphere it had certified trainers on staff to guide employee fitness).

With the gymnasium off-limits for clothing storage, Marty had to get more creative.  He only had a cubicle, not an office, so space was limited. The first thing he did was to empty out his file cabinets and  arrange the files on his desk and the floor of his cubicle. This left his work space a little cramped, but it meant he could put his underwear socks and shirts in the file cabinet drawers.  He always kept the file locked so that no one would accidentally stumble on  his secret.

The building had large coat closets and no one really paid any attention to what was in them. Way in the back Marty hung all his coast and jackets. He threw his sweaters and other bulky items  on the shelf at the top. Everything else he needed he kept in the old Chevette.

Then Marty took the plunge. He gave notice to the landlord and vacated his apartment.  It was time to become a full time resident of the General Foods campus.

On the first night Marty developed a routine. He worked all day and then went to the General Foods gym to exercise. When he was done, he showered and shaved then drove his Chevette off site to a nice bar and restaurant where he spent a couple of hours having dinner and talking to the other patrons while everyone watched sports on a big screen T.V.

Then it was time to sneak back in. Marty has planned out every detail. He parked his car behind the gym where the maintenance vehicles were. Then he used his key to get into the main building through a side door. He had a key, since  after Marty had decided to live at the office, he had volunteered to be one of the General Foods fire marshals.

Every department in the company had to have one fire marshal. No one wanted to do it since it meant attending a lot of training meetings, and there was no extra pay. However, Marty had noticed that the fire marshals were  all issued special access keys so that they could search the building for missing people in the event of a real fire. They were “hard keys”. That is, they were actual metal keys and not electronic security badges. That way the keys would still work if a fire knocked out the electricity. It also meant that when Marty used the hard key there would be no computer record of when he entered the building after work hours.

Marty used his key in the side door and quietly slipped down the hall to the the Marketing  conference room.  Then he closed the door to the room and stretched out on the couch.  General Foods did have guards that made a sweep of the building each night, but they did it only once. Their main job was to make sure all the employees had left,  and to turn off any coffee pots or other devices  that people had left switched on which might cause a fire hazard. After that the guards stayed in the main lobby.

Marty set an alarm on his watch, stretched out on the biggest couch and fell promptly to sleep.

Marty did this every day and at the end of the first month he was amazed at how much extra money he had. No rent or utility bills meant a lot of extra cash.

At first Marty had just planned on doing this for a short time until he was able to pay off some of his debts. But then he began to really enjoy himself. He felt  like he was a spy with some sort of secret life.

He woke up every day early in the conference room and then used the company bathroom to change, shave and brush his teeth.  Then he worked at his desk until the cafeteria opened. He had breakfast at the cafeteria and then was back at his desk. As far as his manager and co-workers were concerned he was fantastic. He was always the first one there in the morning, and got a tremendous amount done.  He looked great since he was working out every day.

The only tense part of the day was sneaking back into the building each night after dinner, but he guards had such a regular routine that it became easy. Marty became very comfortable with his new life. In fact, a little too comfortable.

He had not really considered weekends when he came up with his master plan. The company was closed every weekend, which meant no cafeteria or gym.  He would have to go out of the building to eat, but he was a little worried about sneaking back in in broad daylight.

Then he realized that a lot of people went into the office for a couple of hours on a Saturday or Sunday to catch up on work. So Marty would get up early on the weekend and sneak out the side door and walk down the street to a diner for breakfast.

When he was done he would come right back into the building through the main lobby where the guards were and tell them he was there to do some work. It got so they realized he was a real “go-getter” and came to expect him every Saturday and Sunday.

Now that he was “legally” back in the building he was free to walk around and talk to the other people who were doing weekend work. Some of the executives began to take notice of him. They liked this guy who was always putting in extra work time.

But all good things must come to an end and so it was with Marty’s living arrangements. His downfall was that he had just let himself become too relaxed. Marty got sick of sleeping in his work clothing, so he started switching to pajamas before he went to bed. He had been living at the office for almost a full year and it was now winter time. Marty had stashed a bathrobe, pillows and blanket under the conference room couch. Every night he put on his pajamas, made up the couch like a bed and went to sleep.

Three unrelated events and plain bad luck ended Marty’s tenure as an nonpaying tenant at the office. The first was that he had eaten a very large dinner and was exceptionally tired. The second was that after a year of  waking up at the same time every day he had gotten out of the habit of setting the alarm on this watch. The third was that the Finance Department had borrowed the Marketing conference room for a 6:30 am meeting to discuss some issues they were having with developing the budget for the next year.

Marty was having a pleasant dream about swimming in the Caribbean, when he woke up to find fifteen accountants staring down at him like he had landed from outer space.

Marty was fired and escorted out of the building the same morning. It took more than 10 trips back and forth to his Chevette to get all his clothing and other personal items out of the office. He had really made it a home.

Over the next month security was significantly upgraded. Every  lock and code at the General Foods building was changed. Those of us who still worked there had to sit through a series of lectures given by senior management about what was and was not “appropriate” behavior.

We never heard from Marty again, but there were a lot of rumors about what had happened to him. Some people said he is now a wandering homeless bum. Others said he landed in jail. But those stories don’t sound true to me.

The story I believe is the one I also happen to like best. People said he drove his lousy Chevette all the way to California where he got a job with a start-up software company.  Instead of trying to hide why he got fired from General Foods, Marty decided to tell his prospective employers exactly what had happened.  Most of them decided not to hire him, but the software start-up people loved it. They decided they definitely wanted a guy with that king of initiative and imagination.

This winter I thought about Marty  many times. The winter weather was terrible and the daily commute had become a nightmare.  I sometimes found myself looking at the lovey couch in the conference room and thought, “who would really know if I slept there for the night?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.