Publication Date

April 1, 2019

Perspectives Section

Perspectives Daily

Attentive AHA members know that the Association’s beloved townhouse on Capitol Hill is being renovated. The updates will fix long-standing problems that make work awkward—aging restrooms, doors and windows that don’t close properly, and an HVAC system that has a mind of its own. But sources within the Association have expressed pleasure that so much spending will be earmarked for amenities aimed at vaulting the AHA into as many Top 10 Best Places to Work lists as possible.

The prototype for Lazy Fred.

The prototype for Lazy Fred. Chris Sale/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

“These improvements are a long time coming,” says one staff member, who, like other sources in this story, asked for anonymity in order to speak freely. “I recently visited the headquarters of a tech company, and the hallways were decked with contemporary art that looks weird but super expensive. There was a baby grand in the lobby, a treehouse for meetings, and a Zen waterfall to meditate by. We had none of that.” In a world where undercapitalized tech startups provide cryopreservation, free acupuncture, improv workshops, laundry services, and subsidized cafeterias, the AHA has determined that its talented staff is worth the same.

Contractors have completed what will soon become the Frederick Jackson Turner Memorial Lazy River, providing a soothing setting for fretting about declining enrollments.

The renovations to the creaky building were a clear priority for many years. But sources say the impetus for the improvements was an internal survey of staff members conducted annually. The survey asked standard questions on insurance benefits and parking passes, but there were also several free-response questions. The responses, says an AHA source close to management, “shocked leadership.” “It was just like the admissions scandal: pages upon pages of complaint,” said the source. After sounding out membership, it was clear that nearly all historians want their professional association to have nice things—at least as nice as the campuses at the center of Operation Varsity Blues.

Historians rose to an AHA fundraising challenge, to the tune of $100 million, give or take a couple of digits. But money wasn’t the only thing that came through. “They also sent us words of such deep affection,” said one longtime staffer. “I’ve never seen anything like it. We learned that everyone loves listening to papers at the annual meeting, everyone reads Perspectives and the American Historical Review cover to cover, and everyone plans to renew as life members—well, once they get those mega-raises that tenure brings.”

A visit to the townhouse today reveals a flurry of activity. Contractors have completed what now looks like a moat snaking around the building, which will soon become the Frederick Jackson Turner Memorial Lazy River, providing a soothing setting for fretting about declining enrollments. “Washington is a high-stress city,” says an Association manager. “We don’t need all that stress on top of the delegitimization of history and the humanities.” The Lazy Fred (as staff members have already dubbed it) will replace a small parking lot behind the building and a front garden that a staff member describes as “dubious. I mean, landscaped cabbage. Cabbage.”

The AHA was able to leverage its knowledge of history to get an easement from the local historic preservation commission to build an extra floor for nap pods, with weighted blankets, blue light filters, and white-noise machines to lull those workers overstimulated from double-fisting too much black coffee. As one staff member says, “You can only be productive for what, three hours a day? I think there’s some science about that—although we should problematize science. Anyway, nap pods will let us snooze away the workday blues but quote-unquote ‘be more productive.’”

“You can only be productive for what, three hours a day? I think there’s some science about that—although we should problematize science.”

Staff members also demanded enhancements like an arcade with retro video games, pinball, air hockey, and Skee-Ball, with a climbing wall shoehorned in for good measure. “Putting out a whole magazine month after month can be a real bore,” said a Perspectives editor. “Sometimes you just need a trip to the bouncy castle.”

The upgrades, AHA leaders hope, will also draw members visiting Washington. The Association currently hosts a monthly brown bag lunch, but leaders hope that the new amenities will make the townhouse a truly vibrant place for the historical community to gather. Especially once the beer taps are put in, say staffers, when the AHA will recruit a crack trivia team.

The membership of the Association has not been without dissension about the incessant fundraising. “AHA staff members want nap pods and a lazy river? Kindergarteners want cookies,” said one historian, a named chair at a private university in the Northeast. “I guess I haven’t renewed my membership in a while. At least I think I was a member at one point. Can I get back to you?”

Staff members dismiss the naysayers. “Why do the tech bros get to have all the fun?” says one assistant. “We deserve nice things, too.” The revitalized townhouse will be unveiled later this summer. A ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring leading lights of the discipline is in the works. “Everybody wants to be a part of it,” says an AHA staffer. “We’re going to be the best hangout spot for historians in all of DC. And I’m sure wafting down Lazy Fred will beat fidgeting through snotty faculty meetings any day.”

Inquiries about Lazy Fred, the AHA nap pod, or cookies may be directed to the Association’s director of physical plant, April Fuhls-Day, PhD, who reminds you that everything has a history, even decorative cabbage. Especially decorative cabbage.

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