Friday, May 22, 2009

Linden Tower (1999)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, MAY 22 - This originally appeared in Error fanzine # 103, 1/99.


I have made another Error. In the process of making this error, I’ve moved north by 4 degrees latitude, from Richmond to Providence, 3/16” on my desktop globe. Past errors have piled up. My errors are accumulating.

The move north came at the expense of my beloved office. The one and only advantage to living in a town that God frequently frowns upon is dirt cheap commercial space and on this front – despite not having needed or deserved dirt cheap office space – I had it fairly good for two years. I refer to Linden Tower, the decaying business unit on the northwest corner of Second and Franklin streets in downtown Richmond. Don’t try to find it... in January the building transferred owners and is now being renovated into upscale apartments edging into the four-digit rent range (yet it has been immortalized. The north face of the building can clearly be seen in the 1995 documentary “The Perfect Candidate”, looming morosely beyond the Republican party HQ, and the southeast corner can be glimpsed for a split second in 1997’s “The Jackal” starring Bruce Willis and Richard Gere, the climax mortar scene of which was filmed in a parking lot one block away while I was doing some typing). The renovations are part of some new plan for downtown Richmond, but I’m not sure what to call it. It’s not exactly gentrification, since no one is being displaced except pigeons and small business owners. And it seems not so well thought out as a series of bankrupt towers – the handsome Cokesbury building, the old Gerson Furniture store, the late James Madison Hotel, overnight home of FDR and Elvis – have all announced plans to go condo by 2000 under the perverted assumption that a bit of cash will lure yuppies to the empty fish tank of downtown Richmond, VA.

But my building had its moments. I always smiled warmly – as one would around a grown retarded nephew who decided to go nude for the day – when confronted by chalky ceiling water gushing down the south stairs every storm, the unstoppable radiators they’d blast all winter, punishment style, sapping strength at 94 degrees on a cold February morn, the windows with rotted frames that had a tendency to pop out and sail away into the night, the complaints made to the building manager of human dung in the hallway, allegedly eliciting the classic But... can you smell it from your place of business?, the silhouettes of three, maybe four dozen bats that apparently lived on the roof and which I would watch from the pavement at dusk, swarming in lazy circles seven stories overhead like a recurring nightmare, the strange sucking noises I heard by day from the orthodontist office directly across the hall and the more sinister mechanical clicks heard late at night, the daily message held aloft by a dusty E.T. figurine in the window of the ground floor barber – the “E.T. barber” – whose quips were usually moving and occasionally prophetic, the discovery that my key fit all locks on my side of the fourth floor and the subsequent discovery of ancient bloodstains near a deserted receptionist’s desk, or, of course, the north stairwell which I felt was essentially evil, somehow involved the night the night the elevator was left open on my floor, the stop button pushed and no one else around.

Last year, after an attorney was discovered in a nearby office tied to a chair with her throat slit, building management set the front door security switch a half hour back but never did get around to installing any bolts or alarms on the entire fire-escape accessible seven story west face. One bleak dawn the soda and candy machines were discovered looking like they’d been dropped from an airplane (exactly what kind of a person breaks into an office building to fight two helpless vending machines?) and a year later the demoralized cleaning lady recalled for me an incident of a man and a woman fighting with their private parts in the open hall next to the very same vending machines. Later, as an unauthorized full time resident of the building, I found myself often darting down the hall in the late hours to dump my juice jars of urine, spared complete desolation on the nights I could hear Ron the musak man one floor below, like the Overlook in “the Shining”, his distant melodies echoing down deserted corridors. On one of my final nights as an occupant I was rousted from a sound sleep on the office floor by not-so-distant clatter. My worst case scenario had finally arrived; building broken into with myself inside. Listening at the door, in that particular gloom known only to unlit office suites and whose film noir appeal evaporates at the first hint of trouble, clutching the mace I knew would be of little use against people who attacked whole vending machines, I suddenly caught a rhythm to the muffled thuds and realized I was hearing one of Ron’s bassier musak hits, wondering at that precise moment if there were any others like me, secretly living in their office suites elsewhere in the building and at that very same moment squatting by their doors in their underwear, groggy and clutching personal protection devices of similar pathos.

Through some legal slight of hand I never did get my deposit back, and I hereby take this moment to enter my faceless ex-landlords in the Richmond, VA We Ripped Off Sam And Got Away With It Hall Of Fame, alongside “Fat Guy” of EZ Car Rentals at 2029 W. Broad and Buddy the pock marked crack head who resembled the Hey Vern man long after relevancy, who “lost” my deposit for the unborn Barnacle Bill’s record store at the corner of Broad and Goshen, a week later “losing” himself, never to return. And since Linden Tower was scheduled for gutting of all but load bearing partitions, I took meager pleasure in putting a foot through the wall and didn’t even bother with the Vienna Sausage routine (obtain a can of such, punch hole in sheetrock, spoon feed sausages into wall, paper & paint hole, move out) that had to be employed on one very naughty landlord a few Julys ago. In my last week the power was switched on for the newborn city paper building a block away, slowly erected over the course of my two year lease, and its empty floors were left lit all night just to unnerve me, sheet plastic dangling from each fluorescent light like strange Chinese lanterns. Nine months later, none of this even figures into my dreams anymore.

Low commercial rent had been my prime justification for living in Richmond, and once removed from the equation I found myself unmoored, without any excuse for staying on, feeling somewhat like the guy who gets stuck on the inhospitable planet while making lengthy spaceship repairs. One day that guy simply wakes up, eats a baloney sandwich pill and realizes he’s spannered his final hull patch. When the last issue of Error hit the stands three years ago myself and contributors Iggy and Aaron held some long conversations over the great potential for tapping Richmond’s historical particulars. I take responsibility now for the opportunity lost. The capitol building collapse of 1870, the railroad engine and engineer entombed in an imploded Church Hill tunnel, the dramas of human slaves and Yankee P.O.W.s, Monument Ave, with its statues of defeat, memorials to a future that never was, capped to the west with the even stranger statue of Arthur Ashe, doomed to raise his tennis racket in rage towards every fiery sunset from now until the end of time... to all this I applaud. Someone needs to dedicate an exhaustive and respectful publication to Richmond’s fundamental balumptny. But, alas, that person shan’t be me.