Inside the spire of the Chrysler building and other unauthorized areas
A short story based on actual events.
Jim & Andrea couple
Andy marrries mutual friend from college
Jim feelings for Andy (forbidden)
In the university underworld Jim & Andrea beign dating (tunnels on a date)
My room was the gathering spot for the four freshmen living in the northeast wing of Prather Hall. Almost nightly bull sessions covered all the topics that are standard for freshmen away from home for the first time. We felt so adult and wise. One night, we talked about the movie 2001. About the time HAL’s name came up, Marty burst into the room, flushed and excited.
“You won’t believe where I’ve been. There are tunnels under the campus, large enough to stand up in.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I can show y’all. Come on. Let’s go exploring.”
We were intrigued and curious; we followed Marty back to the tunnel access he had just come from. Next to a power plant, we saw the open utility door, about four feet square. We climbed through it. What lay before us was just astounding: a network of utility tunnels running in multiple directions, probably connecting every building to the steam and power plants located around campus.
================= Several nights over a period of a couple months, different groups of dorm mates would go spelunking. Jim had met Andrea in a freshmane class. They went to UT football games together. They became closer as a couple while going to fraternity parties. Andre oftwn went by Andy. On an early date, I told Andy about the tunnels and suggested they go exploring. An unusual dat. Andy was intrigued.
"Oka,y I'm game." Once underground, They stopped to talk about something, We don't remember what. Lit by a few bare bulbs strung along the ceiling above some pipes, there were eerie shadows and pockets of dark. When they turned to go back the way they came, there was a man standing about twenty feet down the tunnel, just still and silent, standing there and staring at them. They were spooked.
“Damn, who’s that? Hello.”
Absolute silence, other than some drips of water echoing off the concrete. They turned to escape out of there. A few steps later, Seth turned around and looked back in the tunnel. Were they being followed? The tunnel, as far as Seth could see, was completely empty.
“Hey, guys, there’s no body there. Look.”
They slowly retraced their route, but saw no man and no other means of egress other than running straight ahead down the long tunnel and they would've seen somebody running away. They stumbled into each other to get out. They were through exploring for that night.
The Macy’s Parade was more spectacular and larger than we imagined. Building size balloons towered high overhead. So surreal that it didn’t make logical sense. But, there they were, right above us. Trey, a travel partner, and I were in New York City for Thanksgiving week. So far this trip, we experienced the city from the deck at the World Trade Center, a taping of Letterman, and American Buffalo with Al Pacino. One brisk and blue Manhattan afternoon, walking to the Fifth Ave Public Library, we passed the Chrysler Building. Looking at each other, each of us confirmed our desire to go inside. ========= Trey was more hesitant, but Trey’s confidence drew her in and she followed. She was glad she did. The lobby and the elevator doors, each inlaid with wood from all over the globe were meticulous in their detail and execution. On a whim, they got in one and punched a button for the top floor. How cool would it be to look around the private club or the observation room that was once in the spire, where stainless steel arches were punctuated by triangular windows.
Trey grew up in Texas and was one of the brightest students in her large urban high school. Of the scholarships she was offered, she accepted the one to study at Columbia University in New York City. The city slowly grew on her, she made good friends there. With a good job offer from a company in Midtown, she decided to look for an apartment in the city. She never returned to Texas, except to visit her family. The fear instilled in her by her fundamentalist conservative childhood had encouraged Trey to obey, play by the rules, and avoid confrontation. However, the openness and diversity of the city helped her see that most of her fears were not based on rational thought. She became a new person in the energy that drives Manhattan.
Trey was a Professor of Design History in the upper Midwest, an amateur off-site NYC historian, and a New Yorkophile. He fell in love with the big city within hours of his college study tour. He felt grounded - these were his people, this was his place. If not for a teaching job that he loved, he would have moved to the city. He was enveloped by fundamentalist roots in Texas, similar to Trey. But, he went the other way - he rebelled. Trey was more open to exploration and discovery. He was proud of being a rulebreaker.
Trey & Trey did make a great team. Trey admired the steadfastness and stability Trey enjoyed. Trey respected Trey and admired his zest for life. This helped her overcome her resistance of going into unauthorized places.
The Chrysler Building opened in 1931 with Celestial, a star-themed observatory on the 71st floor, at the base of the spire. There were views of the city from all four sides for 50¢. Celestial closed in 1945. Below the Celestial, on floors 66 to 68, was the Cloud Club. Initially designed for use by Texaco (Texas Company), only men were allowed to enter. The club had a barber shop, lockers for members to store their own alcohol, and a wood-paneled bar that hid the alcohol during Prohibition. There was a stock ticker for the high powered financiers. The Cloud Club closed in 1979.
As shown in maps and satellite views, the footprint of the Chrysler Building in Manhattan has an odd angle on its eastern boundary that doesn't respect the alignment of the Manhattan street grid. Most unusual. This piqued Trey’s curiosity. Most people weren't aware of the angle and those few that were did not know why that side of the building was at an angle.
Historic maps show a country road angling right where the Chrysler would later be built. That was the old Boston Post Road, which snaked up past the farms and pastures on the east side, mostly between today’s Third and Second Avenues. Along this road was carried news of the Declaration of Independence to Connecticut and Boston. After the street grid was established in 1811, the city transferred titles of the abandoned roadbed to buyers. When the map of the streets around the Chrysler Building was overlaid with the older map - it was a perfect match. For some long lost reason, the owners of those adjacent lots kept their shared property line. Thus the odd angle on the side of the building. The Streetscapes columnist for The New York Times confirmed Trey’s research, assumption, and conclusion.
The top elevator button read 82. Wow, that has to be up in the spire, Trey surmised. Trey reservedly nodded, although she, too, was excited by their potential destination. They were close to the very top. On 82, they stepped into a hallway that was only large enough to hug the elevator shaft. They realized they sure might be in the crown of the building. They tried a door - it opened (this was well before increased security). Trey stepped in, Trey right behind him, and they wandered through the abandoned spaces. There were remnants of Art Deco details in the wallpaper, on light fixtures, and randomly peeking through the worn carpet. The soles of New York’s elite and powerful had once walked on these very fibers. Trey, and soon, Trey, gazed out the triangular windows to the city below. They felt honored and humbled when they realized how few people saw the inside of this iconic spire.
The Yucatan Observation deck dating partners
In Cancun, on the first day of Spring Break, Trey & Trey rented a car and drove inland to see the Mayan ruins at Chichén Itzá. They checked in at the hotel next to the site and spent the afternoon exploring the former Mayan complex. Dominating Chichén Itzá is the Temple of Kukulcán. The step pyramid stands almost 100 feet high with a 20 foot high temple on the summit. A Pre-Columbian observation deck.
Around the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, in the late afternoon, a corner of the pyramid casts a series of triangular shadows against the balustrade that evokes the appearance of a serpent wriggling down the staircase, which some scholars have suggested is a representation of the feathered-serpent deity, Kukulcán. Today, a sound and light show replicates that phenomenon.
Back to the hotel for Corona cervesas, dinner, and later that night, the Sound & Light show for an entertaining view of the Mayan grounds and buildings. Mexican time is often on its own schedule. Things happen when its time, not always when the schedule dictates. This, however, was an unusually long wait. Suddenly, all the lights went out. Trey & Trey thought the show was beginning. Staff appeared and apologized. Several times. Finally, someone stepped up to announce that they were unable to restore power. Turns out, the outage covered most of the Yucatan peninsula. Amid the groans of the crowd, Trey & Trey started to walk back to the hotel with only moonlight guiding them. As they got closer to the large pyramid, Trey looked at the staircase and turned to Trey,
“We’ve gotta climb to the top.”
There was no barrier or signage stopping them. It might not have mattered even if there were. Trey paused to consider the decision, but was encouraged by Trey who was already several steps up the stone staircase. She followed. She felt more at ease when she looked back down and saw the line of tourists who were following them up the steep steps.
She sat on the top stone step next to Seth, who shared that, according to urban folklore, there were likely sacrifices right where they were sitting. Although later archaeologists found no evidence of that - sacrifices were more likely at ground level where sacrificial boys were thrown in a cenote, a sinkhole, thought to be the portal to the underworld. They sat mesmerized by the still night, a dome of bright stars overhead, and the treetops of the Yucatan jungle lit only by the full moon. The experience of looking over the top of the jungle by moonlight was so worth the climb and the effort. (Climbing the pyramid has been banned since 2008 by the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History.)
On the gargoyle balcony Friends, travel partners.
A decade later, wide-eyed students huddled up against the Chrysler building. Some New Yorkers get a bit perturbed if too many tourists block or impede their hurried movement to wherever they’re going. So the students flattened themselves against the wall along 42nd Street. Guiding a NYC Study Tour of college students, Professor Trey spoke briefly about the history of the building.
Trey had been up into the spire at the top of the building and he wanted to try it again, this time with the college students. He shared that plan while on the sidewalk.
• He described the lobby layout, the location of the guard station and the shortest route to an elevator.
• They had to look like they belonged in the building. Trey often gets into unauthorized areas by simply appearing that he belongs there or that he is authorized.
“Put away all cameras, maps, food, and anything else that labels ‘tourist’.”
• Act professional, as if they were heading to a meeting in the building. Avoid eye contact, appear engrossed in thought. Walk briskly with a purpose.
• Notice the surroundings, but do not gawk.
Once they were ready, Trey held open the 42nd Street door, let the small group enter, and walked to the front to lead them through the lobby. They made it past the guards. As they approached the bank of elevators, Trey heard the familiar ding announcing the arrival of an elevator. This gave him a sense of urgency and purpose. Only a couple of people got off and the group slid inside the cab while Trey hurriedly punched the top floor button. The sooner those doors closed, the sooner he would sigh his relief. They rode up in awed silence. Floor 82 was no longer accessible, the button did not even light up. Nor did any of them between 82 and 71. On the 65th floor, the button Trey finally pushed, was the Tunisian Consulate, which later moved to Beekman Place. The door was locked. There was an intercom to speak to someone - receptionist or security. Trey stumbled over his unusual request and emphasized the notion of students in the big city. No luck. Dejectedly, he turned to the students,
"Well, we tried.”
They went back to the elevator.
On the way down, two professional women joined them - they were sympathetic to their mission - design students seeking to explore the top of the building.
"Oh, we work on the 71st floor, go back up and ask Colleen.”
Colleen was the receptionist in their office. On the 71st floor are the balconies with protruding gargoyles that help distinguish the Chrysler Building from the other skyscrapers. Excitement showed in their thanks to the women. Approaching the lobby level, Trey urged the students to squeeze into the corner that was least visible to the guards. Seeing a group get off the elevator and go right back up would be a red flag that he didn’t want to risk. No one else got on, He rapidly punched two buttons, Floor 71 and Close Doors.
On the 71st floor, there was no hall or lobby, the elevator doors opened directly into the reception desk and Colleen. She looked at them, somewhat surprised by the group and somewhat bothered by the interruption. She was reluctant to let anyone onto the balcony. The only access was through the boardroom windows, and she was preparing for a meeting there in a few minutes. Trey and the students, of course, cared about none of that and continued their plea. Trey let the students do the pleading. Colleen relented, asked them to keep the visit to a few minutes, and led them through the boardroom to the window access to the balcony.
It was spectacular. The sun was setting on the towers of Manhattan. The huge stainless steel gargoyles were magnificent in their majestic Deco styling. It was a breathtaking treat. Trey had promised Colleen they would not stay out there long, so they climbed back through the open window into the boardroom, apology shrugged to the two early arrivals in their suits, and thanked Colleen profusely. On down to the lobby, walking smugly past the guards and back to the streets of New York City.
The Ed Sullivan Theater Just Jim
I walked by the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway in New York City, and noticed an open side door on 53rd Street. Curious, I went right in. The auditorium was somewhat of a mess - wood, tools, and debris - clearly a construction site. I stepped up to the stage. As I took my first stop onto the mostly barren stage, a voice called out,
I played dumb and didn’t answer. An unassuming security guard walked down the aisle and joined me on the stage. He declared that no one was supposed to be in there. Ignoring that silly statement, I began asking him questions; referring to the construction and mess,
"What's going on here?"
I had read that security guards in empty buildings often get lonely and hungry for human contact and conversation. Engaging him in banter, I hoped, would allow me more time to look around.
The guard tersely explained that this was the new set for David Letterman. He seemed a bit surprised that I didn't know that. Letterman had just left NBC and had recently signed a contract with CBS which promised remodeling the theater just for David’s talk show. The security guy was younger so he was fascinated and starstruck by the Letterman set. I, too, was somewhat fascinated by Letterman’s set, but not nearly as much as I was by the fact that I was standing on the very stage where The Beatles held their first US performance in 1964. I looked out and recognized details in the theater auditorium that I had seen on the Ed Sullivan show on that Sunday night. Sure enough, the guard seemed to enjoy talking with me and our conversation lasted long enough for me to embrace this special auditorium.
An abandoned Megamall
Prestonwood Town Center, a mega-mall with 5 anchor stores, ice skating, and movie theaters, had closed and was abandoned. Seth and a friend, Casey went into Neiman's (the last store to move out) to a temporary plywood wall blocking the entrance to the mall. A gap, just large enough to squeeze through, begged their admittance. It wasn’t an entry - there was no statement, Authorized Personnel Only. The gap was likely left by a construction crew or a security guard. They scanned for witnesses, then slid on in through the opening, just wide enough to let one in, if they turned sideways and exhaled. Entering the open, two-story space, they had the full run of the large mall in its quiet neglected state. They each shared fond memories of the busy mall and were walking the same paths, but now with shops and walkways completely empty; with only the sound of their footsteps and their echoed voices. Even the large clocktower in the center court was silent and still. The natural light coming in from the skylights cast a soft ambiance; eerie, and fascinating.
Casey wrestled with concern about getting caught.
“Shouldn’t we get out of here?”
“The odds are good the worst that will happen is they ask us to leave. And we will. We can talk our way out of any other consequence.”
Casey admired Seth’s bravado. He felt better believing that Seth would take care of any trespassing issue. Just then, they heard a door open, and hard staccato footsteps, like from some authority figure. Seth suggested,
“It seems to be coming from the side entry, about 6 or 8 stores away.”
They ducked into a gap, a recess between J Crew and Banana Republic, to hear which direction the mystery intruder was going. Casey was eager to get back to Nieman’s and out of the space. It didn’t feel as enthralling as it did earlier.
The footsteps got quieter. Seth and Casey each exhaled relief. Noting Casey’s discomfort, Seth suggested they go. Casey was already on his way to the opening in the plywood.
The Yiddish Theater District
“Hold it. That’s Philip Glass.”
Sure enough, through the second floor window of a nondescript low-rise building near Second Avenue, Seth and Seth could only see his head and shoulders for brief glimpses as he walked in and out of view. Glass seemed deep in discussion with himself or another person, unseen, but likely. Philip Glass is a prolific composer whose compositions exude minimalism, a music format based on repetitive phrases and rich layers of calm joy and introspection.
Seth had pointed him out as they walked the Lower East Side, heading uptown. Philip Glass was one of Seth’s favorite composers and pianists. He was like a child seeing Santa or any other person bearing toys. The gawking pair must have looked like any number of tourists seeing a celebrity in the city. Though most tourists would not recognize this one by sight, or even by much of his music. His huge library of work is for orchestras, ensembles, soloists, piano, and films: the Koyaanisqatsi trilogy, Hamburger Hill, The Thin Blue Line, A Brief History of Time, Candyman, The Secret Agent, The Truman Show, and Dracula.
Seth had to get a photo. So, he did. They had overcome the awkwardness of peeking into someone’s personal space. Continuing on their exploration uptown on Second Avenue, they got to Sixth Street and suddenly stopped. On the busy sidewalk, a recognition struck Seth. The banking lobby in front of them was originally for the Fillmore East, rock promoter Bill Graham's companion to the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. This very corner was the center of east coast psychedelic music culture from 1968 to 1971.
The theatre was originally built in 1926 as the Commodore. This section of Second Avenue was the Yiddish Theater District, which once had more than a dozen theaters. When Bill Graham took over the theatre in 1968, it was unused and had fallen into disrepair. A few of the bands that played in the theater where Seth & Seth stood: Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Chicago, Ike & Tina Turner, Led Zeppelin, Iron Butterfly, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, and The Who. Most were accompanied by psychedelic light shows. The Fillmore was razed for an apartment building, now only the marquee and lobby remain, used as a bank.
Harrison Wiseman, designer of the Commodore, designed another Yiddish Theater, now the Village East Cinema. Seth & Seth stopped to admire the ornate old theater. They were at the corner of Second and 12th. This was the last surviving theater from the Yiddish Theater era; alumni include composers George and Ira Gershwin and Irving Berlin. Admiring the building was not enough, though, Seth had to get inside. He confidently opened a door and walked up a brief ramp to the ticket taker standing in an opening in the velvet rope swags. Seth stayed in her comfort zone and hung back at the entrance. She knew New York City better than her friend - he won’t get in. She knew that strangers don’t get to just walk into closed spaces without a ticket or authorization. Seth had neither.
Seth was glancing around the ornate entryway when she noticed a well-dressed woman walk out from the left and up to the ticket taker. She could see the arms of the three of them gesture their concerns. Sure that the manager was explaining why Seth couldn’t go in without a ticket, even to ‘just look around’. Seth was about to smugly go back out to Second Avenue. Seth gestured to her to come on up. He had a slight grin. Seth was unconvinced. Maybe they just want to share some theater stories with them. Before she could get halfway up the ramp, Seth and the manager were already walking towards the auditorium door. Seth waved her on to join them. Seth was still in awe that he had pulled this off. This kind of thing just doesn’t happen in New York City. She got to them to hear the manager share the story of the theater.
This was the Jaffe Theater, built in 1925-26 by Louis Jaffe, a lawyer, developer and prominent Jewish leader. It was once the home of the Yiddish Art Theater, which produced many creative figures of the American stage. Actors, directors, writers and designers. It had a major influence on theatrical form and content. Later, the theater was a vaudeville house, then an off-Broadway theater, housing the original productions of“Grease” and “Joseph & the Technicolor Dreamcoat,” which both went on to Broadway.
She knew her stuff, maybe she had done this before. The three of them turned left and walked down a dark hallway to a pair of entrance doors. She was about to open the door when Seth whispered to the manager he was uncomfortable interrupting the movie in progress. He didn’t want to disturb the viewers. The manager nodded her understanding and, while in the hallway, shared some more history. “The 1,252-seat theater was completed at a cost of one million dollars. You’ll see ornamentation with a variety of motifs - Moorish, Islamic, and Judaic references. The most significant sight, however, is the ornate and colorful ceiling, regarded as one of the most remarkable works of plaster craftsmanship in New York City.” It seemed to Seth that this lady was proud of her theater and enjoyed showing it off. They hit upon the right person.
Stepping inside the auditorium, Seth better understood why the manager wasn’t too concerned - the rear orchestra had been walled off to form two additional theaters. They were standing in front of that wall, right beneath the balcony overhang. The audience was back and above their heads. They weren’t visually disturbing. Seth looked up to see the beautifully restored ceiling detail. An elaborate circular medallion within which is a Star of David and an elaborate double-tiered metal chandelier. Seth relaxed and enjoyed the beauty and craftsmanship of what they were able to experience.
When they stepped back into the city, she asked Seth,
“How do you do that? How do you talk your way into places that are off-limits?”
Seth was already heading over to the Astor Place Subway station. Seth didn’t get an answer.
Union Square roof dome
Seth didn’t need to text that she was in Union Square - that is where they met every time Seth was in the city. Often at the sunlit statue of Mohandas Gandhi, but this time under the shade of the trees around the statue of Abe Lincoln. Seth lived farther uptown and it was an easy train ride to Union. Not named after the Union army, or work unions. It was simply a reference to the open area where several streets and avenues joined and passed on through. A union of streets. It was a beautiful New York day in the park, a welcome respite from city bustle. Seth was sitting on the bench closest to the statue. She was Watching. People watching is one of the main social events in the city.
Walking along 14th Street, Seth passed the site of the Jefferson Theatre, a vaudeville venue that featured the Marx Brothers, Mae West, Jack Benny, and Fred Allen. George Burns called it "the toughest house in New York.” He nodded recognition, even though it is now just an empty lot. He entered Union Square by the chess players, lunchers, and activists; along the tree-lined sidewalks up to the border with the Union Square Market. He turned towards the Abe Lincoln statue and easily spotted Seth. They sat on the bench and covered current events, personal updates, and what to do with the day in the city. It had been a while since Seth was last in the city; they had a lot to catch up on. After about 10 minutes of back and forth chatter, Seth turned to look at Seth, but he was distracted by something he hadn’t seen before. On top of the three story building just beyond his gaze was what looked like a partial geodesic dome.
“Look at that!”, he said, interrupting Seth. It would be the starting point of that day’s adventures and he knew they would later continue their conversation as they wandered the neighborhood.
Seth had an app that gave concise histories of buildings along major Manhattan streets, such as this one on Union Square East. The Tammany Hall Building, erected in 1929 for the Tammany Society, was an influential club for Democratic officials. Named after Chief Tamanend, a lover of peace and friendship, of the Lenape who originally occupied New York City, Tammany Hall extensively used Native American titles and terminology - their headquarters was called the Wigwam. To appear more majestic and important, the building design was inspired by Federal Hall in Lower Manhattan. Tammany Hall built a loyal, well-rewarded core of precinct leaders, but also was a base for graft and political corruption, most famously under William "Boss" Tweed.
Often, the Wigwam was used for other unions' events: firefighters, sanitation workers, the United Federation of Teachers, newspaper deliverers, drivers of taxicabs, and Teamsters unions. That may be why many people think Union Square was named after the unions. Tammany Hall lost its influence in the 1930s; the building was sold to the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union in 1943. The auditorium became the Union Square Theatre; the Theater District was on its decades-long march from Second Avenue uptown to 42nd Street.
“Let’s see if we can get up there.”
Seth’s reaction was to squelch this notion. As usual, she felt sure that they wouldn’t be able to gain access. But she also knew that Seth had a way of getting what he wanted. So she smiled slight approval to the plan. They crossed the street while simultaneously avoiding cars and gazing up to the roof. Seth noticed that the first floor was vacant with For Lease placards in the windows. Seth checked a couple doors. Seth explained that the way to the roof would not likely be along the street as that footage facing Union Square was prime retail space. There were some signs of construction but they could see no people inside. They walked along the side street and Seth guessed their way in would be through the last door towards the back of the building. That door was propped open. Seth walked right in. Seth held back for a second.
The deep rectangular room was empty except for a desk that looked like any desk from a public education institution. Sitting at the desk was Celia, wearing a security uniform and busy eating her lunch. Seth acknowledged her authority and, after introductions said,
“Hey, this is a great building. And, there’s a dome on the roof.”
Celia was nodding - she seemed pleasantly sociable. They all chatted a bit. Then, Seth got back to the dome.
“Can we go up and see the roof space?”
Celia apologized and said the building was only for workers.
“I can’t let you up there.”
Seth, as he often does when he enters forbidden zones, didn’t let that sway their mission. He simply responded,
“Sure, you can.”
That was a bold move, even for Seth. It wasn’t a planned tactic. It was just one of positive affirmation, like a mysterious Jedi force, and it worked. They all chuckled, maybe due to discomfort or maybe because of Seth’s brashness and determination, but still a chuckle. They had made a connection. Celia paused and smiled,
“Okay, I’m gonna take you guys up there.”
She put her fork down, walked around the desk, and removed the small concrete block that was holding the door open. The door clicked its status as Locked. She led Seth & Seth to the elevator in the back corner. While riding up, Celia revealed that, once the building got its preservation status, renovation preserved the facade while gutting the interior for office and retail spaces and adding a glass dome to the roof. She was sounding like a tour guide now, and, for the moment, she was just that. The dome has more than 12,000 square feet of glass; and was designed with classical proportions when observed from Union Square. The dome was completed a year ago, but no one has yet leased the space.
The doors opened and within two steps out of the elevator the majesty of the space overwhelmed them. They could only manage a stuttered
It was beautiful. The views of the sky, a large column-free room in the city, and the nature from the park ahead of them. One could see no cars, trucks, or busy sidewalks. Just freedom, sun and sky, and trees. They stepped over a few tools and a small stack of drywall to let the space intrude upon them. They were on top of the former Tammany Hall and across the park was the Decker Building where Andy Warhol had his studio, The Factory. During the trip back dow, Back in the elevator, the three of them raved about such a unique space for the Union Square neighborhood. Thanking Celia and letting her get back to her lunch, they returned to the chaos of the city.
They crossed Union Square to a coffee shop nearby for their afternoon jolt. Something was on Seth’s mind, but she refrained from sharing until they found a table. The line wasn’t too long. They placed their orders and sat in the back area that has a view of a courtyard. They barely sat down when their names were called. Seth picked up their Americano and Cold Brew, each with oat milk, and two oatmeal raisin cookies. Seth didn’t want to talk about more current events or the city. She sincerely wanted to know what gave Seth the confidence to get into places where he shouldn’t. Where he’s not allowed. Where he’s not authorized. Places that are forbidden.
“How do you do that?”
She caught him mid-bite - a muffled,
“We just got into a closed construction site in Manhattan. Hardly anybody can do that. You did it with ease. How do you do that?”
Seth hadn’t really thought about it before. It just seemed to be his nature. Seth’s question made him curious,
“Maybe it is from teaching problem solving and creativity for 25 years. Creative people must be willing to try new things, take risks, and see the world differently. They go places they’ve not been before. That help?”
“Yeah, a little. You do seem to have maintained a sense of wonder, curiosity, and discovery. Not many adults still have that attitude.”
“Things that are easy for children - awe, wonder, explore. But how do you get past the barriers?”
Seth paused to take another bite and a sip. Seth waited patiently. Seth often authorizes himself to enter forbidden spaces. The signs never clarify Authorized by whom? To Seth,
“The words Forbidden and Prohibited are just descriptors, not regulations. Is it that our fears that hold us back and encourage us to follow the rules?”
“But, great experiences often happen outside one’s comfort zone.”
Seth was looking for something more specific,
“We’ve been to some great places: inside the Chrysler spire, the old Yiddish Theater, Tammany Hall roof deck. Think how few native New Yorkers have been to any of those places, much less all of them.
“I also try to convey a non-threatening demeanor. To help put the person at ease. And I smile, sincerely.”
“Okay, sure, that makes sense.”
“Here’s a tip: When seeking permission, find and speak with the decision maker who can authorize. If you can’t find that person, then do it anyway.”
“Like the old phrase, it may be better to beg forgiveness than to seek permission.”
“Sure, but I rarely have to even beg forgiveness.”
Seth paused again, ignoring his coffee. This dialogue was more intriguing.
“I also try to get people to laugh. Laughter provides a connection and eases some tension.”
Seth had lots to think about. She knew she often held herself back. She has probably missed out on some great adventures. They both sat in silence, enjoying the background music and the snacks. After a while, Seth offered,
“Lets head uptown to see what we can find.”
Chrysler Building angled plot line:
Inside the spire:
The gargoyle balcony:
The pyramid at Chichén Itzá by moonlight:
The clocktower at Prestonwood Center in better days:
The tunnels under campus:
Green Park and the fence at Buckingham Palace:
Tammany Hall roof, upper right:
© James Robert Watson Email Text
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