An Air of Bad Ease

An air of bad ease descended upon the rooftop gathering as employees of Hotel Julian listened to Minerva explain her predicament, and, by process of detrimental reliance, their own. Commercial buildings, particularly those housing paying guests, were subject to strict codes designed to protect the public against construction dangers inherent in aging and disrepair of physical systems that might result in unforeseen and unexpected loss to property or life. The purpose of updated codes was to minimize the uncertainty of loss. While Minerva tried to focus on the cost of updating, including the interruption to business, which would probably put the employees out of work long enough they would have to find work elsewhere, Julian argued the building should qualify for state and national historical interest and preservation. Either way, Minerva countered, the costs would be a show stopper. But there might be preservation funds or grants available for which they could apply. But the project would require neighborhood support, and that was certainly uncertain. Besides, current guests could ill afford future rates required to sustain a renovated project. Would there come a new clientele? In this neighborhood? Did Julian want to participate in a gentrification project? Dour looks and quiet space filled the conversation, which was, for the most part, between Minerva and her son. Hotel Julian was, after all, a family owned business. And there was the problem of the tunnel, built under the public road without permit or any kind of engineering approval. The tunnel coming to light had afforded the inspectors no end of curiosity and enjoyment. At that, faces with frowns glowered in my direction. Prior renovations to the building, particularly the one of the late 1940s, adulterated its original character to a degree it would be difficult to argue its historical nature or value. And now an elevator would need to be installed. The fire escape ladders could no longer be used to access the rooftop for public tavern use. There wasn’t anything about the rooftop bar that met any kind of code, license, or fee requirement. Seamen had been berthing in the hotel since the late 1800s; surely that provided some proof of historical interest. There was no business plan. They had, in a sense, been stealing from the business, letting the building deteriorate from improper maintenance. They had let it go, much as a person aging might be prone to let their own body go, ignoring exercise, diet, health care. Not that they didn’t care for their body, or their mind, but that the maintenance and upkeep became too much to bear. The old building contained a history of stories few today cared about. Neighborhoods change, and they had simply gone with the flow, in part, though, responsible for the direction that flow had taken. They were not slumlords, but a low rent district had evolved over time in their surrounds. They had adapted. Minerva asked for suggestions and questions. What about turning the building into a maritime museum? Find a new owner, one willing to invest in the old. The air on the rooftop, rarely used during the day, the sun rising, warming, then heating the tar roof, became too hot without umbrellas, and Minerva adjourned the meeting without ceremony or decision. I stayed on the roof, still nursing my morning coffee, walking the perimeter, watching the yachts come and go down in the harbor, and saw a few sailors dressed in white pulling detail on a distant Navy Destroyer deck. I was thinking about what might come next, while the others climbed down to go to work. I felt at ease, even as I felt somewhat bad about that easy feeling that comes from an ability to both care and not to care when presented with a prospect designed for either.

“An Air of Bad Ease” is episode 41 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.

The Happy Humanists of Main Street (a Fragment)

The Happy Humanists of Main Street (a Fragment): College Humanities now post their letters from Desolation Row. Yet on Main Street, the happy humanists go about their business. Lawrence, the locksmith, time on his hands, having just come back from unlocking Mrs. Tenderness’s pick-up truck, for the third time this week, so she wouldn’t be late with the doughnuts for the firehouse, returns to his Kant. Fritz, the insurance salesman, reliably opening at ten after a hearty breakfast of green eggs and ham before dropping the kids off at school, fills the office with Bach. Next door, at Cindy’s “Ye Olde Beauties’ Parlour,” filled with Dylan’s sailors, the book club holds its weekly gathering. This month, they are reading an Oprah recommendation: Where the Heart Is, by Billie Letts. But this afternoon, the shops will all close early, for Dylan’s circus is in town, and everyone wants to see the daring young man on the flying trapeze, who kicks off the show at three.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the tracks, the Humanities department is meeting to discuss the sale of Founders’ Field, twenty acres of unused parking lot, but there’s concern the developer wants it for a Walmart. “Shouldn’t we involve the Business Association in this?” Dr. Pfleger asks. “He wants to build a golf course,” Dr. Compson says, not a Walmart. “It’s not big enough for a golf course.” “Nor a Walmart.” “Not a real golf course, one of those miniature woop woops,” Mr. Other said.