Monday, December 13, 2010

Ghost Building

Last week my friend Mike and I went walking around the financial district to gaze at old graves and dream of Dutch colonial things but, this being the financial district, couldn't help but crane our necks upward and get carried away by skyscrapers. Inspired by the hollow grandness of the bank buildings, I blathered on a bit about how I love narratives of financial ruin, the sheer drama of histories of crashes and panics. Then we stumbled on a gorgeous Art Deco building at the corner of Wall and Pine, and, well, witnessed history.

Fascinated by its sleek elegance, we trotted round and round the edifice, vainly looking for an open door, but all ingress and egress was blocked off and everything was shuttered up tight. Odd, considering it was five o'clock on a weekday afternoon.

At last we found a single open entrance and passed through a revolving door into an unusually
quiet lobby suffused with warm-colored marble. (I remember it being a gingery gold color, but memory is fallible. I should have snapped a picture, darn it.) A plaque informed us of the building's ownership, and we walked through the hushed, utterly deserted interior to the only people in the place: two uniformed security guards. They stood amidst the silence and half-packed cardboard boxes.

We greeted them and asked, "Is this the AIG Building?"

The kinder of the two guards replied slowly: "Used to be."

We spoke to him some more, and he revealed to us that the building had been sold "to the Koreans." I asked him if he would keep his job. "I don't know. I'm just living from day to day," he replied. (Reverting to a strange Little Orphan Annie diction that overtakes me sometimes, I piped up, "You're real nice, mister, I'm sure you'll keep your job, sure you will!") The other guard stood stoically, as soundless as the empty lobby.

At one point a slim young man with light-brown hair and a sad face came into the building. He was dressed in what I imagine bankers wear on weekends, and had on a backpack. As he passed by the stack of boxes, I realized he was likely going upstairs to pack the last of his work things into that backpack.

We waved goodbye to the friendly security guard (I really do wish I had more of a controlling stake in the universe so I could ensure him a job with the new owners) and headed back into the darkening afternoon. As we left, we saw a lone, white-haired lady, perhaps some ancient secretary, shuffle noiselessly across the floor, swipe her ID card at a golden turnstile, and move toward the elevator bank.


P.S. Did you know there are no happy hours in the financial district? A waitress explained, "We don't really need them down here."