Category Archives: Miscellany

Storm Clouds

As much as I’ve been raving lately about how much I loved the weather in California, one of the few things I enjoy about Midwestern weather is watching a springtime thunderstorm roll in from the west. A few weeks ago I happened to grab a cell phone photo of an approaching storm from my living room window. I don’t consider myself much of a photographer, but sometimes I get lucky.


Truth and fact are two distinct concepts. The story I’m about to tell is truthful, and contains elements that are factual.

The year was 2005, the city was Chicago, and I was on my way back home after building a LEED-Platinum orphanage in Darfur and helping sweatshop workers in a Pakistani rug factory form a labor union. As my Blue Line train from O’Hare pulled into the Damen Avenue station, I put away the tattered copy of Marx’s Communist Manifesto that I had been reading for the 20th time, adjusted my black fedora, and stepped off the train. A group of fellow comrades from the leftist blog site known as Archinect had planned a get-together at a local bar, Rodan, so that we could plot our workers’ uprising against the capitalist pigs and discuss the chances of the White Sox actually making it to the World Series that year (though not necessarily in that order).

Amidst the bourgeois 20-something hipsters filling the impeccably-detailed space of Rodan, there sat a group of fellow revolutionaries who went by the code names of lletdownl, make, postal, and floating tooth. I bought a beer and joined them, and the conversation throughout the evening was engaging and thoughtful.

Toward the end of the evening, our group began to thin out, and looking at the time on my union-made wristwatch, I decided that I too should head back to my modest apartment, located in the nearby shantytown known locally as Lincoln Park. Before leaving, though, I had to made a quick pit stop in the men’s room. After relieving myself and zipping up, a disturbed-looking man-child called out to me from a nearby toilet.

He introduced himself as “evilplatypus”. As I backed nervously out of the men’s room, he followed me and informed me that he was headed to the bar, and asked me if I wanted a drink. I noted that he curiously spoke only in lower-case letters, but never being one to pass up a free drink, I took him up on his offer. “Sure. Extra-dry Tanqueray martini”, I replied.

“whoa!”, he exclaimed. “that shit’s expensive. i’ll get u a pbr instead.”

An hour later, evilplatypus returned from the bar and handed me a lukewarm Pabst Blue Ribbon lager with a hair floating in it. I removed the hair as I considered making a run for the door, but I didn’t want to be rude and decided to stick around just long enough to finish the beer. We were in a public place, so what’s the worst that could happen to me? We found a place to sit down. Rodan’s sound system pulsated with house music, and somewhere out on the street, a dog barked twice.

The conversation with evilplatypus began amicably enough, the same way a conversation with the Jehovah’s Witness on your front porch begins with awkward small talk about the weather. In the back of your mind you know he’s there with an agenda, and evilplatypus was no different. He described his occupation as an architect who makes six figures designing strip malls and toxic chemical factories in poor neighborhoods. In addition to being the architect of record for every Wal-Mart store in DuPage County, he was also the local EIFS product rep for northeastern Illinois.

By this point I was beginning to sense something about the guy that I didn’t quite like, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Finally, he sprung his trap. With my back to the corner and my glass of lukewarm PBR still three-quarters full, he asked, “r u familiar with the writings of ayn rand and the objectivist movement? i’m a registered democrat only because the city won’t approve my building permit applications otherwise, but i really think the libertarians have some good ideas. let me explain 2 u the virtues of a free market economy, u pussy fag douchebag.”

Curses! The classic Lukewarm PBR Bait-and-Switch: the oldest trick in the book, and I fell for it. Must have been the jet lag.

For the next three hours evilplatypus recited to me from memory John Galt’s courtroom monologue from Atlas Shrugged. I was able to get an occasional glimpse of the exit sign above the front door, but evilplatypus blocked my every move as he continued to talk. I tried to gain the attention of the attractive bartender so that she could summon the authorities, but she was too busy admiring the ironic John Deere t-shirt worn by some emo kid at the other end of the room. This time there would be no escape; I was in it for a long haul.

Finally, after finishing my lukewarm PBR and agreeing to spec 100,000 square feet of EIFS for my W Hotel project in downtown Prague, I was permitted to leave. “u should come here for brunch sometime,” evilplatypus said as I donned my trench coat. “there eggs benedict has the best traditional hollandaise sauce i’ve ever tasted.”

I nodded and hurriedly walked out the door. Shaken, but now more determined than ever to overthrow the shackles of greed and oppression that enslave the world, I lit a Gauloise and made my way down Milwaukee Avenue. I glanced back toward Rodan to see evilplatypus kick a homeless man in the kneecap and tell him to get a job, and then disappear into the dark streets of the city.

I vowed never to look back again, but deep in my heart I knew this wouldn’t be my last encounter with evilplatypus.

Well, Bless His Heart

In the criminal justice system of Cincinnati, the people are represented by three separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime, the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders, and the goddamn Shadow Hare.

These are their stories.

If the Shadow Hare and his friends are really serious about fighting crime, they’ll need a good Hall of Justice.

Et Spiritus Sancti

All my life I’ve been searching for the Holy Ghost with varying degrees of success. Turns out he’s been living in a box in Central Park all along.

Boo! Happy Easter!

That was fun. Now back into the box until Pentecost…

He seemed a bit young to be a real bishop, although I can think of an Episcopal diocese or two that might be desperate enough. At least the box makes him easy to ship.

Confessions of a Mall Rat

I just have to share this photo I recently found online:

Florence Mall, Kentucky, sometime in the late 1970's.

Ah, the memories. I was born around the time this mall opened, and practically grew up in it. I can still smell the greasy Karamel Korn and soft pretzels from the food court, and I can still hear the analog electric organs that used to be sold from a piano shop not far from where the photo above was taken. Just imagine: This is what shaped my architectural sensibilities for the first decade of my life.

Florence Mall’s primary claim to fame is the red and white water tower looming over I-75, adjacent to the mall’s parking lot. It was originally painted to say “FLORENCE MALL”, but legend has it that the Commonwealth of Kentucky didn’t appreciate public property being used to advertise a private business. So, rather than spend considerable funds to repaint the entire water tower, the city of Florence simply modified the “M” into a “Y” and added an apostrophe. The rest is history.

After my family moved to North Carolina in 1984, we’d take periodic road trips back home to Cincinnati. After driving up I-75 all day through Tennessee and Kentucky, the “FLORENCE Y’ALL” water tower was our official sign that we had finally entered the Greater Cincinnati area and were getting close to home.

However, the delights waiting inside the mall was far more interesting to me as a child. Up near the food court was a Murray Brothers store that had all sorts of coffee, tea, and candy. Kay Bee Toys had an impressive store on the lower level, and of course there was the obligatory Spencer Gifts. Scattered throughout the mall were these giant granite sculptures of various animals for kids to play on, including an alligator and a pair of hippos. I usually played on the escalators, though, and I remember being fascinated at how you could stand on the upper level and look down and see the lower level shops. John Portman, eat your heart out.

The only thing Florence Mall was missing was some sort of a water fountain in the central court. For that, you had to go to either Eastgate Mall or Northgate Mall on the Ohio side of the river. Each of those malls had impressive water features, and more often than not, my brother and I would end up soaking wet at some point during the shopping trip. In retrospect, maybe that’s why we usually shopped at Florence Mall.

As I grew up and moved around a few more times, other malls would come into my life: Regency Square and The Avenues in Jacksonville, Woodfield Mall in the Chicago suburbs, King of Prussia outside of Philly. I still wear the leather jacket I bought at Cherry Hill Mall in South Jersey. Even on subsequent visits to Cincinnati, I find myself at fashionable Kenwood Towne Center more often than dowdy old Florence Mall. In fact, it’s probably been at least 20 years since the last time I was inside Florence Mall.

At some point, Florence Mall was renovated and now looks like just another exercise in 1990’s postmodern suburban schlock. This is hardly surprising, as shopping centers are always having to re-invent themselves in order to keep up with current fashion. Kenwood Towne Center was formerly an outdoor strip mall, but literally turned itself inside-out (or outside-in, more accurately) in order to take the crown from Florence and become Cincinnati’s shopping mall of choice.

In looking at the photo above, though, I can’t help but imagine the retro appeal Florence Mall would have today if they had left the original 70’s decor intact. The hipster crowd would certainly be beating down their doors. Maybe in a couple more decades, historical preservationists will succeed in declaring Florence Mall a landmark, and restore it to its former earth-toned glory. Can they bring back Pogue’s and Shillito’s while they’re at it?

I’ve always had this weird fascination with suburban shopping malls, maybe because of my formative years spent at Florence Mall. As a liberal city person currently living in Manhattan, I’m supposed to look down my nose upon the mall and everything it stands for. But as much as I loathe their bland homogeneity and negative impact on urban centers and formerly-productive farmland, I still have a hard time resisting the urge to explore some mall I’ve never been in before. I guess you could consider it one of my guilty pleasures.

Maybe one of these days I’ll write a coffee table book that explores the development of the typical 1970’s indoor mall, including diagrams about how the malls changed and grew (or withered and died) over the years. Then I’d follow it with a survey of maybe a hundred or so malls from all over America, with a brief history and some past/present photos and plans.

I wonder how many people who grew up in the 80’s would see that book in Borders, flip through it, and say, “Hey, me and my friends used to hang out in that mall!”

Just Give Me My Damn Coffee Already


I need to rant for a minute about Starbucks.

I generally like working in this particular location in Manhattan: Many subway lines are nearby, there’s ample options for lunch break, and Central Park is two blocks away. Not a bad place to spend 9+ hours a day, five days a week.

The biggest problem, though, concerns my choice of coffee purveyors in the morning. Every day I climb the stairs out of the subway, stop to grab a large cup of coffee (our office coffee is terrible), and head into the office. The total distance between the subway station and the office is about half a block, which limits my coffee options unless I go at least a block out of my way.

I don’t particularly care for Starbucks coffee, but unfortunately they seem to be my only convenient option. There are no less than four (count ’em) Starbucks locations within a block of the office, and one of them lies directly on my path between the subway and the office. This is the one I stop at every morning, if only for the sake of convenience, and every morning it’s the same routine:

1. Open door to this Starbucks, and curse under my breath when I see how long the line is. The end of the line is usually right at the doorway, sometimes even extending onto the sidewalk outside.

2. Roll my eyes at the insipid music they have playing. It’s always the same stale collection of crowd-pleasing, over-played oldies or, at this time of the year, hokey holiday music that they put into rotation sometime during the last inning of the World Series.

3. Look at what’s going on behind the counter. There’s always 6-8 people working there, and they’re yelling at each other, bumping into each other, tripping over each other, and/or socializing with each other. You’d think with that many people working there, the line of customers would be moving rapidly, but instead it creeps along slowly, as the dark green sea of humanity behind the counter froths with confusion and dysfunction.

4. As I slowly make my way to the front of the line, I have no less than three different Starbucks employees yell at me from across the room, asking me what my order is. Nothing complicated, just a large coffee with room for cream. Each time I give them my order, it gets barked to another employee, who relays the information to somebody else, who is usually busy talking to somebody else and not paying attention. Then yet another employee will ask me what my order is, and the cycle repeats itself. Bear in mind that this isn’t happening just to me, but to every other customer in line as well.

5. At some point I finally get to the cashier, who asks me what I’m having. Just as I begin to answer, she turns her head and begins talking to another employee behind her, ignoring me. She then asks me to repeat my order, which now is the fifth time I’ve told a Starbucks employee that I’d like a large coffee with room for cream. She then barks my order to the people behind her, and the whole cycle described in Step 4 repeats itself. I pay the cashier and wait for my coffee.

6. I then wait with the other customers who are still waiting on their own coffee orders. And I wait, and wait some more. You’d think that there would be five large cups of coffee rapidly coming my way, but no, all the yelling and confusion in Steps 4 and 5 appears to have been in vain.

7. After a few minutes of waiting, I inquire as to the status of my order, and usually a large coffee with room for cream will somehow appear in front of me. Meanwhile, there’s always a steady pile of miscellaneous other coffee drinks that I didn’t order being placed on the counter in front of me. Apparently no other customers ordered them either, because nobody is claiming them despite repeated announcements.

That’s on a good day, if they didn’t get my order wrong.

8. I get to the condiment bar which, nine times out of ten, has been depleted of creamer and/or sweetener with nary a refill in sight. Assuming I haven’t given up the will to live at this point, I flag down an employee, who, after a long wait, will hastily shove some creamer and/or sweetener in my general direction.

9. I finally make my escape out the door, back to the relative calm and relaxation of Midtown Manhattan at the peak of morning rush hour. I marvel at how such a badly-managed operation can somehow stay in business, until I remember that I just paid almost $3 for a cup of coffee that probably cost about a nickel wholesale.

Finally, after going through this ordeal on a near-daily basis for almost six months, I write a long treatise about how I’d give my left testicle for a better coffee option — anything other than Starbucks — within a half-block of my office.

In the Elevator with Peter Eisenman

In lieu of the “Architecture Sucks” t-shirt I was considering, today I wore a t-shirt that I had bought online some time ago. It’s black with white lettering, and has a silhouette of George Costanza of Seinfeld fame and some text. I don’t have an image of it, but imagine something like this:

Vandelay Industries

Latex, Architecture,
Importing & Exporting

For those of you unfamiliar with Avery Hall, our studio is on the 5th floor. The administrative offices are on the 4th floor, and the main auditorium is in the basement. The floors are connected with one very small, very slow elevator.

My classmates and I were up in studio, and around noon, began to head downstairs to the auditorium to hear Mark Wigley and Peter Eisenman give their talk. Some of us decided to grab the elevator, and we pretty much filled it up. The doors close, and the elevator begins its descent.

We stop on the 4th floor on the way down. The doors open, and none other than Mark Wigley and Peter Eisenman decide to squeeze on, and the conversation in the elevator comes to an abrupt halt. I end up standing belly-to-belly with Eisenman, with Wigley behind him, looking over his shoulder. Both of them are obviously reading my t-shirt. The elevator doors close, and we’re moving downward once again. Nobody speaks.

After a couple seconds, Eisenman simply says, “George Costanza.”

I try to smile politely. “Yep,” I manage to utter.

What follows next is about thirty seconds of awkward silence as the elevator makes its way to the basement. I’m still belly-to-belly with Eisenman, and Wigley is still looking at my t-shirt from over Eisenman’s shoulder.






Finally the doors open, and that’s the end of the encounter. I can’t help but wonder what the conversation would have been like if I had worn my “Architecture Sucks” shirt.

As for the talk itself, all the heavy theory and discourse was a welcome change from two years of listening to my former boss yammer on and on about “strategic design” and marketing. I won’t go into detail what the talk was about (theme: corners), but I generally found that Mark Wigley was witty, engaging, and seemed to make a lot of sense, listening to Eisenman talk pretty much made me want to shoot myself in the face.

In other news, I’ve heard back from one firm I contacted in response to an ad on Archinect, and they want to interview me. Not a moment too soon, as I never cease to be amazed at how easy it is to piss away money in this city. Stay tuned.

Beverly Hills Supper Club: May 28, 1977

Today is the 30th anniversary of the Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire, which killed 165 people just down the street from where I grew up. I was too young to remember it at the time, but my family’s church lost several members in the fire. Even today, the area remains haunted by memories of the fire, and the building site remains empty.

The fire was especially tragic because it was largely the result of multiple building code violations and could have easily been prevented. Such a stupid waste.

Take a moment to remember the victims of the fire, as well as those left behind who remain haunted by the memories of that terrible night.

Why You Never See a Cat Skeleton in a Tree

The setting: About 1:00 AM on a rainy night in Brooklyn, New York. A series of strong thunderstorms have just moved through the region, and it’s still raining heavily.

I’m working at my computer when I hear the heart-wrenching cry of a kitten somewhere outside, near my apartment. As opposed to the sound of a garden-variety cat meow, the sound of this kitten’s howling indicates that he is in serious trouble somewhere. It’s the type of howl that says, “Help me, I’m dying.” This goes on for several minutes.

I go to the front window, but don’t see anything. However, it’s a neighborhood of densely-spaced brownstone apartment buildings, so the kitten could be anywhere. Also, my view is obstructed by the trees in front of the window.

The cries continue. Being a good Episcopalian and animal lover, and having a bishop and one close friend who are third-order Franciscans, I decide to do something. I log off my chat room, put on my shoes, grab my umbrella, and head out onto the street.

A passing neighbor has also stopped to find out where this kitten is. After some searching around, we discover that the kitten is stuck on a third-floor ledge on the building across the street from mine. Hell if I know how he got there. The windows on that floor are dark, so we assume nobody is home in that apartment.

What to do, what to do….

A guy comes out of the building, but he lives on the ground floor and has no access to the top floor apartment.

We notice a large extension ladder propped up against the building next door. As soon as we plan a rescue operation, we realize the ladder is chained to the adjacent window grate with a large padlock. Damn.

Remembering there were a couple long ladders in the basement of my own building, I run downstairs only to find that they’re gone. Shit.

A lady comes out from the building where the ladder is, but she doesn’t know whose ladder it is, nor who has the key to the lock.

What to do, what to do… It’s now been almost an hour since I first heard the kitten crying. Time for outside help.

I grab my cell phone and call the ASPCA (the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). Their offices are closed, and the voice mailbox for the emergency line won’t even let me leave a message, because the mailbox is full.

I call 311, which is the city’s non-emergency help line. The guy at the other end says the department in charge of cat rescues (there is such a thing?) won’t open until 8 AM.

Finally, I call 911, hoping somebody will send a fire truck down to the place to rescue this poor kitten. It’s still pouring rain, and he’s obviously scared out of his mind. The ledge he’s on is barely four inches wide, and it’s about thirty feet above the ground. The 911 operator tells me this is not an emergency, and directs me to call 311 before she hangs up on me.

The lady from the building next door suggests walking to the fire station up the street and seeing if they can perhaps perform a rescue. Good idea. I walk up to the nearest firehouse, which is only about a hundred yards away, and ring the doorbell.

A guy runs down the stairs and answers the door, and I explain the situation to him. He goes on the loudspeaker, notifies the dispatcher, and next thing I know, it’s a scene from the movie Backdraft. Within seconds, about a half-dozen of New York’s Bravest™ come running down the stairs, get suited up, and get on the fire truck. The garage door opens, and the truck takes off with sirens wailing and lights flashing. I’m thinking: This fucking cat better still be there when these guys show up.

I run after them, and get to the scene just a few seconds after them. They’ve got their flashlights out, and have located the kitten. The guy turns to me and says, “A kitten? I thought you said there was a kid stuck on a ledge.”

I feel a sudden desire to change my name and move to a new country.

Well, the cat is still there, so now what? Neighbors tend to get curious when they see a fire truck outside their apartment building with its lights flashing, so a guy on the second floor of this building peeks his head out to see what’s going on. He lets the firefighters inside, and they march up to the third floor to see if they can get inside the apartment to let the cat in.

Meanwhile, I’m outside with a couple other firefighters. With the aid of the flashlights, we see that the window behind the cat is actually open a few inches. And what does the cat do, after sitting on the ledge and howling for an hour?

Naturally, he turns around and goes back inside the apartment.

The firefighter standing next to me turns to me and says with a thick Brooklyn accent, “You know, there’s a reason you never see a cat skeleton in a tree.”

With that, Ladder Company 114 is called down from red alert, and the guys get back into their truck and return to the fire station. I return to my apartment soaking wet and with my tail between my legs.

And now, as I write this, the kitten is back out on the ledge howling.

(Originally posted on the message board at