10 Building Blocks

R.M.’s cell phone summoned him from his labors with the Multiple Listing Service, the MLS. Mostly these labors involved three things: one, researching currently available condos for an interested buyer; two, tracking units either pending or sold in the previous month, record keeping he’d done for many years; and three, trying to keep to an inaudible level his swearing at the vagaries of the computer, now busily withholding these facts from him. At the first two tasks he ultimately prevailed. The third needed additional work. He answered the call, temporarily abandoning all three pursuits; it was much easier to talk to someone, anyway. chapter-10-building

“Hello, I hope you will remember me, though I never introduced myself when we met before, at the sales trailer for The Prospect on Prospect. My name is Dr. Cal Thorne. You very kindly offered to speak with me again about that project and other developments.”

“Yes, I do remember. How are you, Dr. Thorne?”

“Thank you, I am very well. I was wondering if I might now extend the invitation I mentioned then. Would you care to join me for afternoon tea at my apartment?”

“I’d be delighted.” R.M. was not unfamiliar with the ceremony of afternoon tea. It could be quite formal, depending on the occasion, at the very least decidedly polite. “What day did you have in mind, Dr. Thorne?”

“Would Monday be convenient? Perhaps at 3:30, or so?”

*   *   *   *   *

The following Monday afternoon, R.M. was buzzed into the building and met in the hallway by the figure he recalled from the trailer; also welcoming him into the apartment was a lady introduced as Mrs. Thorne, Dr. Thorne’s wife. There was a wildly curious young child, introduced as the Thorne’s grandson Keki, and a highly diffident and not introduced white cat, who pawed at a chair leg and retreated, injured no doubt by the slight.

Mrs. Thorne settled Keki with a pile of wooden building blocks down on the carpet next to his grandfather and asked, “We usually drink Earl Grey. Do you know it? Black, with a hint of orange?”

“Actually I do, very refreshing.” He had enjoyed this tea before, he was pleased to add. In a tea shop with some Thai friends, one had ordered a mulberry leaf tea; he’d liked the sound of that but not the taste, as he tried it. As Mrs. Thorne withdrew to prepare tea, Dr. Thorne walked to the east window of his living room. The shades were wide open, as the sun was by this time of the day to the west side of his building. He gestured for R.M. to join him.

“This is what I wanted you to see.” He pointed across the street toward the lake. “I can still glimpse the lake between some buildings but I wanted you to notice how The Prospect looms up so large.” R.M. looked out. Traffic was streaming northbound on the one-way traffic street below, through a seemingly deep gap between this building and the POP’S building opposite.

“I see what you mean.”

Dr. and Mrs. Thorne, and their grandson Keki, rent an apartment across the street on Prospect

Dr. and Mrs. Thorne, and their grandson Keki, rent an apartment across the street on Prospect

“Please, do sit down. I need to be keeping my eye on the boy.” Keki was already engrossed in the timeless delight of block stacking. Dr. Thorne indicated a single chair most likely out of reach of any errant blocks. “I have often thought about our brief conversation.”

“You raised some questions and I’ve been thinking more about them, especially because of a novel I’ve read, set in New York City about a hundred years ago, a time of building on an unprecedented scale when, according to the writer, the view from the Brooklyn Bridge changed every week. Not only was there construction on a massive scale but, and this is amazing to me, the tearing down of just half-finished structures, as well. New construction methods were making buildings obsolete before they could even be completed.”

“And I suppose it follows that the uses of the buildings were changing as well. It’s my understanding that the invention of stronger steel alloys made the modern elevator possible, and that with this step began the skyscraper.”

“So then the sky became the limit. Although, when you remember that Manhattan is essentially a rock outcropping in a river, the technology for digging deeper foundations must have kept up the pace too, with building literally going in both directions.”

“Keki can only go up.” His grandfather observed, watching the boy. “He has yet to learn that if he began with a wider foundation he could go up much higher.” The blocks were swaying slightly, toppling imminent.

“But to get back to your questions, this is the thing that occurred to me as I read this story. The enterprising city is always in flux. For a drastic contrast, think of a ghost town and consider which is preferable. Let’s assume that the new residents at the Prospect who buy partly for their actual prospect, their fine view, have no concern for your loss of view.” At this, R.M.’s host nodded agreement. “Then one day, and perhaps very soon, another building is torn down next door or across the street from them, maybe even yours, opening a new site for development. They in their turn become the ones losing their view. You meanwhile, might experience an opening in the looming palisade you now face. Perhaps the new design proposal includes a public plaza. Towering perhaps, but less dense at street level.”

As Mrs. Thorne bore in the tea tray, Keki, momentarily distracted, bumped over his tower. Amidst the ensuing wails, the conversation turned to the niceties of pouring out. Besides the tea, there was a platter of tiny sandwiches and slices of both light and fruit-laden cake.

“This is delightful, thank you, Mrs. Thorne, as is your company.” Keki leaned across her knees and she held out a mostly milky mug of tea for him to sip.

“It is the noise of construction across the way that I find so difficult,” she admitted. “I can close the shades to obscure the commotion, but the dust is terrible.”

“We had a similar situation in my neighborhood last summer. The street next to ours was torn up for sewer repairs from early spring to late fall. Heavy trucks roared around our block and because of the dust, we kept the house closed up the entire summer. Our street became the parking lot for everyone on the next block, with coming and going dawn to dusk. It was a highly stressful time. We longed for dark, the only time it ever stopped. So you see, construction is a suburban as well as an urban problem.”

“There is no escape from all this progress, it seems.”

“At least we will never live long enough to see the kind of city in Star Wars. Coruscant, I believe it’s called. An ‘ecumenopolis’, a city-planet, grown impossibly dense and mind-numbingly high.” Dr. Thorne smiled at this idea.

“Yes, that much imagination I do not have. That we will leave up to Keki.”