There are ten elevators at work. Once, there were five. Two in the lobby, with gorgeous silvery doors, and one back in the latter annex, which had no scenes of newspaper history engraved on the door. These were for the scribes and editors and functionaries. There were two service elevators with broad maws and dirty cabs; things essential were hauled up and down, but you’d never take them if the other proper cars didn’t arrive. They were for the Morlocks.
They were Otis elevators - or, as I thought of them, SITO elevators. The OTIS brand was upside down from the passenger’s perspective. For years and years I rode them, usually the ones in the back, and everything about those rides is permanently installed in my memory. The revolving door, the five-step flight (with the boot-scraper in the anteroom if it was winter, an ancient object with the paper’s logo), the short ride up, which was usually a time to recount and recap in mild despair the short skein of one’s remaining days, then the tired stained elevator lobby with the trash bin and the water fountain and the rest of the weary old office.
I came there when it was still fresh - a recent renovation had given the newsroom a shine and a sheen, but time, economic contraction, and the general filthiness of old-line reporters had made the place a shabby grubby warren by the time we left, and I don’t miss the old building at all. At all.
Because we work in a big skyscraper now and it’s clean and beautiful, and we’re not on the outskirts of town like the little match girl dying in a snowbank, which is great.
And we have ten elevators! They are swift and prompt. The back bank of six goes to the main lobby; it’s the elevator I take when I want fast access to Downstairs Pizza. The other four serve the Women’s section, where I work; also Sports. Less traffic. Like most skyscraper elevators, they only serve a few floors, not all. You don’t punch your floor - 12 - and look longingly at 47.
At the end of the day I walked into the elevator and pushed L, and the doors closed. The elevator dropped a yard. The elevator shuddered. The readout said 11 for a moment, then said:
And the elevator did not move.
I thought: my meter expires in five minutes, I’m going to get a ticket.
I thought: I have a charger, right? So my phone will let me stream some video while I wait and I’ll be connected to the outside world, right?
I thought: this has always been my nightmare.
Earlier in the day I had gone to the U of M, alma mater, ski-u-mah etc, to research an architectural firm. It’s a building that sits atop the U’s vast underground cavern of material, the place where some day my papers will go. I know that sounds incredibly pretentious and presumptuous, but I will have papers; ought they not go somewhere? I’ve been a local columnist for decades, and have been writing “humorous” opinion in local journals for three and a half decades, which is a damn sight longer than anyone else in that particular game, and when you add decades of Bleats I think there’s a fighting chance someone might want to consult the Body of Work at some point for something, and might enjoy opening a box to find the original columns, on paper, from a bygone era.
I know that’s how I felt when I opened the box and found something I did not expect: the original plans of the Foshay tower. Long story, it’ll be in Saturday’s paper. Point is, damn right it’s presumptuous and a bit morbid and boastful, but this building was where my work would end up, whether they liked it or not. And I saw the basement archives as the last scene in the first Indiana Jones movie. Doesn’t matter: as long as it’s filed and numbered, like the work of these architects.
Alas, all they had were plans. I wanted office memos and typed-up interviews and lists of the staff; no. Just blueprints. Then I opened another box and almost swooned: 1928 drawings of the Foshay interiors by an artist we only know as DW. Who knows the last time anyone looked at these? I’ve never seen them anywhere -
There was a shelf of Gopher Annuals. That would be the yearbook of the U of M. Alma Mater, ski-U-mah. 1892 - 1983. Just sitting there. I went to 1929, the fateful year, and saw -
Oh. Hold on. I need permission. This will have to wait. Trust me: this has a kicker you cannot predict.
I left and took another photo. Call it . . . the Sentinels.
The West Bank has a strange, tangled, brackish hold on my memory. My first year at the U I lived at Middlebrook the hoity-and/or-toity high rise dorm. A miserable year of boastful flailing - the West Bank was bland and modern and arid, and I would only bloom once I leaped over to the East Bank. the English side, and discovered Dinkytown. I would return to the West Bank for a Year of Hell in the early 80s, but that’s another story. Point is, it’s the worst kind of old home: the one you know and regret and resent and can’t shake.
Got in my car, drove out of the lot, paused, looked up: there was the massive Brutalist concrete tower the hip people lived in, for a while. Flashback: Dick and Kristi lived there. Speech-and-debate, Fargo North - seniors when I was a soph. The glamour couple who left Fargo and moved to The Cities. I had a hopeless crush on her - fragmentary memories of a party at her house in a half-finished basement, “Tea for the Tillerman” on the stereo. I went to see them at this tower when I got the U, and they called me Lou, as was my nom de speech. They seemed impossibly sophisticated and older and sort-of half-married.
In the wind now; no idea where they went. Needle skrich years later, years - it’s the summer of Northrup King, I was on the road taking orders for seeds, town to town my van in the South, alone and miserable because my girlfriend was cheating on me. AND SHE WAS A LUTHERAN. End of summer, up to see her old roommate, who lived in the Brutalist tower. Dalene. Smart, sweet. She had a glow, because the world was turning out good. The world was bending towards justice. The Sandinistas had won and Khomeni had returned. Iran was free from the Shah!
Things were great!
All that while waiting for the red to go to green. It changed and I drove on, and went to the office. Did office things. When I was done I went to the elevator, thinking: it’s Friday, I should have more glee. There are rewards ahead! A nap, the pizza, a bourbon, ice cream -
(to be continued)
From a 1920s movie magazine, a recollection of the early days of movies.
Father Time is holding a list of movies from this bygone age; the first is "What Happened to Mary," a 1912 serial.
From the beginning, they were tired of oaters.
Remember, we think the 20s were the early days. But every age thinks it's full of modern marvels, and looks back at the benighted old times. More to come throughout the week, and some of them we just - won't - get.
Bring your own definite article:
After a certain population size is reached, isn’t that pretty much all of them?
It begins with a voiceover from . . . City.
Since this isn’t a review - because I don’t feel like it - we’ll just do the BW thing and give you shots. The plot might help - a burned-out cop with a crazy thing for a bad dame is going to quit; this is his last night. He has a new partner, who speaks in aphorisms about the City and the People and Duty, and has a detached-but-compassionate manner that makes you think he’s going to be revealed as an angel at the end of it.
We get some fine noir shots; remember, in the theater, that phone would be about six feet tall:
Which is why it's not in focus, I expect. The scene is set up to give the room depth; the phone leads to the cord, which leads to the cop, which leads to the two giys on the left, whcih leads to the light, which leads to the back wall. It doesn't mean anything in this instance, but it gives the shot substance and heft. Too many flat shots, one after the other, and your brain reads it as "cheap," and you get antsy and bored. Well, I do.
Anything with this guy is good, because he’s just so bad.
Many shots of the city at night - and here we have a problem.
It's Chicago, right? And these are your typical Chicago street folk who show up to gawk at a murder at midnight, right?
Well, when our villain sets off to pull a job, here's where he goes.
Or . . . or do we?
Here's the location today.
Who cares? you ask. Believe me, you will. More next week. In the meantime, be sure to google the movie, find the location, put it in the comments and spoil it for everyone! Big prize for the first person to do so. And by "big prize" I mean IP blocking!