By Robert Seitz
Photo © Dale Johnson
They say that we are already who we need to be. I don’t know, it sounds like destiny and the last thing we want is a human authority on that subject. But I think in terms of appreciation, and even stretching… body has this full range of motion from cannonball in a swimming pool to the full extension on Voyager’s plaque. But mercy my limbs aren’t keen to fold or extend with full ease… and maybe that’s what they mean by already who we need to be… only thing left to do is the stretching to get the full use.
The full use of anything is raw resource, and just as possibly a terror as a segue. We remember the self-replicant language and the mazes of Borges, but it was a little work by Blanchot that set me wandering the streets and looking for the wavelengths of words. He smelled in the ruin of industrial expansion that one day even the password will change so often no one will be able to remember, or it will be unrecognizable. He found his fiction in that truth. He was just not straight enough to align with Time’s Arrow, so like his passwords he is largely forgotten, but if you’ve ever taken a fortnight’s walk into the moonless wilds, you will know that familiar can be a noun. So nice to know someone else is enraptured by the observation of Language as a Something (and even more daring, a Something Else) and that makes it possible to find courage in anywhere. But he’s dead so there is no rush, read my story instead, just in case. Because my password is still active, and the realm of action is where we will meet, in the if and when.
The thirteenth floor was a mezzanine where you switched elevators, to the fifteenth and the mica tiled chevron patterned entry of the restaurant’s level, and the sixteenth floor, a dizzying rooftop bar edged with little more than thick tricky plates of architectural glass. Without a breeze the height could be artificial, if not for the swirling of children on the little traveling ice rink in Pershing Square below, distant told with a complete silence of movement among a cloudy smattering of red lights. Close enough to string a clothes line across, the Deco tower of the Title Guarantee building suggested a mid-management demi-demiurge who had turned out the lights and was home for dinner. Flagpole bare, ingenious balconies that seemed placed for four elders to sit out the days in the sun and thinned auto vapors, alert and rheumatic reminiscence faced in four cardinal directions.
There was something about being in the building that called me to make trouble, a little fuss, to be certain the security guard on the 13th floor was at the heart of it. The whole point was to walk, to look up at the extremities and join them. Neither urgency to escape, a thought one doesn’t fancy lightly when walking the heart of a city, nor the breaking free and hiding in the clothes racks that boundless indifference and situation can inspire in children. The finger of the building held up a morsel of something I was invited to try. It reminded me of walking through an indigenous market in Oaxaca, where an old one eyed lady hissed to get my attention. Standing over a caldron of stew, part of what I imagine was a skull languidly rising above its bubbling red surface, she offered me a few shreds of goat’s meat from the extended tip her hand. The fine folds of her hand, the stain of the chiles folding her and the stew into one dish.
That’s what brought me to the rooftop… folding into the dish. Back to the thirteenth floor, eyeing a portal behind the security guard. A simple, marble-framed cut entrance, with stairs ascending. It was unlit – that was the oddity, and the arch was strangely low, so the steps seemed to ascend into empty black space. It hummed with a cool opposition to light, as though dark matter was discovered to radiate a coolness in its beams, and was invading the floor just above us. Contemplating it, both elevators burst open, packed six each with young professionals in the clean but understated city standard that reflects our time. Excess is concealed in matters of health: the water, flora and fauna they will enjoy comes from a tidy Avalon of healthy soils and dirt roads, wealth dressed in a sheepskin of common sense, golden corn fed to golden calves and gently lifted to the eating houses in ample slings of silk, loops gently drifting beneath the observation decks of silent dirigibles. Lighter than air they tie off at that miniature homage to the Chrysler Building’s spire, just across Hill Street, and the calves are rubbed down with avocado oil and tattoo’d under spray anesthetic by a former intern of Wim Delvoye. The contentment of the calves is recorded and archived on humming servers whose blue droplet lights can only be seen during a citywide brownout, when the Deco tower’s redundant backup power supply kicks in and the mirror polish of the concrete provides a sort of omnidirectional launching ramp for its watery photon ripples. A crowd-funding dinner is held in the Crystal Ballroom at the nearby Biltmore, where they are introduced, paraded and priced by cut and pound by celebrity food talent, according to their decoration. They are finished in a makeshift abattoir deep under the sidewalks, perfect cube chambers with stainless rails, lined in glistening zirconium dioxide ceramic tiles. At each step the chambers are hosed down by repurposed factory robots with a tea tree and vinegar solution, and blasted for a split second of stellar grade heat. Much later, when javelinas would run the halls, the tiles could be chiseled away and sharpened into spearpoints, perpetuating the grand cycle. Finally they are smuggled in tunnels under the streets to the 15th floor kitchen in order to avoid exposure to UV, and served one slice at a time under the starless night of downtown Los Angeles.
I was neither hungry or thirsty, I was curious about the shadowy passage behind the guard at the thirteenth floor. He leapt from his stool at the rush of people, all of them confused by having to change elevators, and tried to sheep-dog them in the right direction. It was my break, and I was up into the dark stairway in a flash.
I already knew a line was being crossed by the tenth step. The stairwell did not turn but steadily moved upward like a Looney Tunes scene, impossibly up and beyond the walls of the building into what dimensionally should have been the open air. Yes, I thought, pay-dirt. A simple wood door with a handsome and anachronous engraved escutcheon greeted me. There was no key, and it did not give when I pushed. I pulled at the brass edge of the keyhole with my fingernail, and reached into my pocket. On my keyring was a skeleton key that once belonged to a dresser I left behind to the covetous hunger of a sociopathic landlord better forgotten. It fit, and turned slowly with rusty hesitation, until the key finally snapped at the very instant the door gave in.
Inside was a long hall, a curved vaulted ceiling, a library of incredible length. At its far end a rose window and along its length four massive portals for light, their depth revealing the thickness of the walls, easily as a dense my body’s length lying prone. Its entire perimeter was a railed walkway carved throughout with the fruits of a Baroque imagination. The stacks reached eight shelves high, conformed to every vertical space. I suppose it says something about my mood to mention the library first, before describing the curious contained and churning sea that filled the center of that great chamber. As though sliced from the center of a squall in international waters, waves sloshed and whirled in that space contained in it, but with the volition and energy only possible for waters that are working out the waveforms of vast distance in every direction. The library was an enclosure for a force of nature that did not obey the same physical laws. I stood inside that room, the head of a contradictory table, and the books seemed a light matter. They were the other guests, our banquet was the mathematical absurdity just beyond the rail. It was transfixing, naturally, and then my eye followed the momentum of a wave, watching it and aware its crest would breach the barrier of the hand rail and threaten to soak the books. I watched the water strike something like a glass barrier, but one so crystalline and transparent it might have been thinner than rice paper, and only then did I step forward, pulling the door closed behind me, and began to inquire what records this impossible place served to keep.