The Glossy and the Shiny
I served on a jury in downtown Los Angeles last week and walked over to a nearby area of tall, marble clad office buildings set back on wide plazas on which were planted trees, fountains, sculptures and young professionals.
I was taken back in time, two or more decades ago, to what I thought work meant, when I was young, and fresh out of college, and had watched many hours of “Dynasty” and “Dallas”.
The surface of these white-collar, corporate skyscrapers once seemed so promising. I didn’t know or care about the work that went on inside these buildings, I just knew that the people who worked there had real jobs and wore dark suits with pleated trousers. The women were scented in Opium and Giorgio and their red lips smelled like last night’s gin and tonic.
When Reagan took office, the gleam and the gloss and the shine was on business. The new architecture borrowed pediments and columns and granite but it also applied dark, inoperable windows in horizontal strips and cut away corners in diagonals.
Inside the pages of GQ, tall, masculine, squinting gods in wool suits marched in and out of lobbies looking happy, confident and important.
And along the freeways, highways, roads and expressways of suburban America, office parks were dropped onto corn fields and apple orchards. Forests and woods were carved out with headquarters. Millions of workers drove into great parking lots, alongside new office buildings, surrounded by lumpy, small, grassy irrigated hills of elaborate and repetitive plants, trees and annuals.
Near my parent’s house in Woodcliff Lake, NJ 200-year-old Tice and Van Riper’s Farms were sold off and became home to BMW and Ingersoll-Rand and Timeplex. The Boy Scout camp in Park Ridge became Mercedes Benz. The Garden State Parkway built a new exit to bring cars into the corporate office parks.
I never cared too much about the dull details of what went on inside the glossy and shiny office buildings. I was only imagining that merely by entering those premises, I would somehow enter a world of security, adulthood, satisfaction, prosperity and achievement. I was wrong.
Months after graduating college, my dad encouraged me to visit a career counselor who coached me on how to “present” myself complete with marketable sentences and confident goals.
And I, dressed in a blue blazer with brass buttons, carrying a briefcase, walked along the Avenue of the Americas, and near Grand Central Station, and down on Wall Street, and over to the South Street Seaport; looking up at tall buildings and tall people intoxicated with power.
I was among it and near it all: the stores, the restaurants, the museums, the pocket parks, the yachts anchored in the Hudson at Battery Park City.
What were they selling inside Brooks Brothers? They had tables of silk ties, wool suits and scarves with colors that belonged to British schools which I had never attended.
But I liked to look, and still like to look at what America is selling me. I can still imagine that the best days lie ahead of me, and that the tall, shiny, glossy buildings downtown mean something great. Individual promise, individual initiative, the glory of free enterprise…..who knew that the entire system was gamed and corrupt and that even the judges on the US Supreme Court were bribed?
When I went, last week, to walk around the spotless and slick plazas of downtown Los Angeles, something came back to me of that time when Manhattan and youth and Hollywood and dreams and America were all mixed up in some delicious milk shake full of empty calories, energy and satisfaction and life was most of all about.. anticipation.