Winning a Free Canoe

The Landsverk: A Nice Shack

In the lower part of Manhattan, just a few blocks up from Battery Park and Washington Square, stands the Landsverk Building. Built in 1860 by Dutch financier Rjonald Landsverk, it remains today one of the best preserved and best single example of neo-classical Dutch architecture outside of Europe. The building is a quiet, six-story brick building with tremendous sight lines to the South and East and is considered by connected New Yorkers as one of the hippest buildings in the city. The interiors are extremely well-preserved with high-quality plumbing, insulation and the nicest doorman available. It is cool in the summer and warm in the winter, clean and rent-controlled. People have quoted that the most exclusive clubs are either the U.S. Senate or Augusta National but the tenants of the Landsverk building would politely disagree for obvious reasons. Some folks stupidly confuse it with the Haughwout Building but Landsverk tenants just look at those folks with pity.

The tenants have quietly enjoyed their relationship with the Landsverk Trust for well over a hundred years. When a space becomes available, it is quietly dealt with by the board without a hint of participatory involvement. The trustees are not beholden to anyone but have always provided very low, and then embraced rent-control rates as their guideline of fiscal kindness. The tenants were not there due to who they knew but it was because they very lucky and were in the right place at the right time. The collective attitude of the lucky tenants was not pushy or haughty, but damn appreciative of the fact that they lived in the most wonderful apartment building on the Eastern seaboard.

One of the luckiest of the lucky was Kia Weinberg. She was a thirty-something professional that had a wonderful apartment on the fourth floor. Although “having a wonderful apartment” was a redundant description for any Landsverk resident, the apartment was even better than most. The woodwork was more ornate than most and her windows were a wonderful combination of visual beauty and structure with an elegant combination of stained glass and unique window silhouette. She was content with her job but loved her role as tragically hip Manhattan chick with an absolute knock-down, jaw-dropping, roomy and freakishly magnificent apartment.

Living in Manhattan puckers everyone up. The city is a vexing combination of wonderment and survival. Every task, from getting food and staying warm, revved up the survivalist’s personality. Just like her neighbors, she stumbled into her apartment through outstanding timing and dumb luck. Kia was approached by a well-dressed couple one day when she was desperately trying to rent an apartment. Demonstrating a charming combination of friendliness, persistence and ignorance, they waited for her to descend the steps of an overpriced and under maintained building in the crappiest part of the Bronx. She was carrying a large bag of books underneath her arm and struggled to slow her momentum when they began the conversation. She had no idea where she was going to live except somewhere near Manhattan and she was going randomly from building to building futilely introducing herself to Apartment Managers because her Midwestern upbringing taught her to conduct business face to face whenever possible.

The well-dressed couple approached her, asked her if she was interested in a nice place near the Battery and she said “yes” without hesitation because she liked their faces. She had no idea where the battery was and she didn’t care because she just wanted a place to live. Within a few days, she formally moved into the apartment and had been there for five years. Initially, she thought she got a good deal with the place but each day passed with her realizing that she had wandered into something magical.If you are lucky to live at the Landsverk, you realize within the first hour that trying to get friends and/or family via lobbying (subtle or otherwise) into the building was not worth the risk. When an opening occurs, no one tries to switch apartments or manipulate the selection process with personal referrals. The board takes care of it and you stay with your own wonderful arrangement and count your blessings. Legend has it that the selection is done quickly and humanely by someone who finds someone looking for an apartment and offers it to them. The selections have been across ethnicities, ages, lifestyles, occupations and upbringings. There is no pattern to the random act of kindness and absolutely no desire to crack the code. Tenants are so beholden with their personal good fortune that no one wants to risk annoying the great Gods of safe, clean living by helping out someone else. Rare are the gifts that enlightened selfishness transcends the mortal desire to share the wealth. The Landsverk residents were collective in their appreciation and would dare insult the aforementioned Gods.

Kia was a Production Assistant; moving up from self-financed documentaries, to off-Broadway shows, into television movies, through soap operas, short-tenured sitcoms and finally she had achieved a legitimate job for a major network. A production assistant (PA) sounds great but it is basically an indentured servant for an assistant producer who takes a tremendous amount of thankless crap from the power-hungry fascists known as producers. A production assistant does the work that an assistant producer or director decides is not worthy of their time. In other words, a PA does low-priority crap that someone else has decided to not to do. You can choose two paths when behind the cameras: you can work towards higher quality PA jobs or ascend the other path, from PA to Assistant Director to Director/Producer but you will have to stay in the minor leagues a lot longer.

The PA’s job description is varied: ranging from walking dogs, doing errands, laying bets, chasing down some odd food or cosmetic request. It can be as demeaning as picking up dog crap from a star’s pet to running across town to get the director a hot container of soup while keeping a child star occupied and stable between shots. The tasks can be carrying famous people’s cell phones to avoiding eye contact with one of the galaxy of insane, unstable actors and directors when they are in the middle of a house-clearing tantrum when informed that they are being bumped from Late Night. It took Kia a long time to differentiate the public star persona from the tired, spoiled star sans makeup. Being in front of the camera is a short-lived life and the single, most-important attribute is good looks. Once the looks go, courtesy and approachability quickly go next. Stars are fragile commodities but Kia had always had the gentle touch and a calming personality to keep their combustibility dormant. She actually made friends with legitimate celebrities due to her honesty and appreciation for each day but she would blow away all of them, if the word “Landsverk” would come out. Once they realized she lived in the Magic Kingdom professional respect would be forthcoming as well.

However, if you are going to be a servant, it is pretty cool to be a famous person’s servant. You get to meet famous people, wear black clothes and see magic being made. The PA’s of today will eventually get their chance by jumping onto an independent film and moving up one or two steps in the caste system. The business makes ascension and free fall failure close companions: you can be shot to the top by taking a chance on a friend’s critically acclaimed movie and you can easily be castigated to the hell of industrial films by being involved, albeit in a minor manner, in a series of commercial flops or fall ass-first into a show business cash cow in which you potentially trade in your legitimate stage cred for steady work. Show business folks are a superstitious lot: if you are bad luck, you will be ostracized in no time. Although sweet and kind, Kia’s fatal flaw was her love of clipping words borne of the brutal time constraints that always followed her. At least, she could pick up a few time-rich syllables if she just cut out a few words: “The details are undetermined pen’d [pronounced “penned”, representing “pending’] final design.” Some other of her favorite clips was “in-stent” [pronounced “INT-stent”] for “interstitials” and “obbed” for “obfuscate. She loved developing her own personal verbal iterations to the old shorthand print ad that would declare to the vocationally focus “If u cn rd ths, u cn lrn shthnd!”

As an entertainment professional, she was always surrounded by creativity and flush with urban adventures but felt that life had to consist more of a frantic lifestyle and the claim that her living arrangements were her single proudest accomplishment. And at this time in her life, she was self-actualized with youth, vigor, hipness and everything within walking distances. Kia was robed in the latest fashions, enjoyed the latest restaurants and was the living embodiment of the Manhattan coolness. Things were great but a bit too narrow for long-term contentment but she was confident that when the time came, new priorities would “i.d.” themselves.

She was usually too busy to go shopping for her family and since she was always wired in, she would constantly hit websites and shop, buy and ship people’s presents, all with a custom written and sincere gift note. One holiday season, she shopped for an entire extended family of ten in an afternoon. Her nephew was an outdoors man and she spent a few keystrokes buying him some much needed camping gear from a national retailer’s website. She barely noticed the promotion on the homepage for all customers to sign up to win all kinds of camping equipment; ranging from tents, canoes, lanterns and trips to National Parks. She didn’t have time to look at their offerings and message strategy; she needed to zip in and out as fast as the cyber-transaction would allow.

As she shopped, she flew by the promotions and quickly found the camping gear. She bought the most expensive cooking set, added a sincere “Happy Holidays!” and called her friends to find out where the ideal night spot was chosen for the evening’s activities. Two quick calls and she grabbed her purse, descended in a vintage Wonka-like elevator with glass walls and she strode out the door; beautiful and completely in control of the night. As she walked toward a cab, the Landsverk glowed behind her; a secure safe island of perfection. She had things to do and the last thing she wanted was to stay in her fabulous apartment, she wanted to get outside and walk down the sidewalks of the greatest city in the freaking world and experience all that was New York. She never tired of the atmosphere and she knew that she contributed to the entire experience by looking like she had stepped off a magazine cover. It was not egotistical or inaccurate; she was in the prime of her life, happy and contended, with a great eye for fashion all wrapped up in a perfect storm of class, image, sass and happiness. People in the zone emit a glowing happiness of contentment and the image of Marlo Thomas, as “That Girl” is the closest comprehensible example of Kia at that moment. Her path opened as she walked down the street, people smiled because her image and positive internal energy also made them happy. When she came into view, people saw a living embodiment of a movie or television star at the start of the show. She didn’t have many years left in which she could pull off the role so she wanted to be immersed in the city, saturated with the entire urban vibe. Kia and her friends always got together at a mysteriously new restaurant and enjoyed the latest cuisine, drinks and trends not even on any list yet. By the time the restaurant came into the traditional press’s radar, the group would be long gone and looking back at the experience as “so last month.” This group was not vacuous or vain; they realized that their age, income and taste level demanded an aggressive level of social interaction with the city. The days would come in which obligations, both planned and unplanned, would force their hands to reduce and then, eliminate their freedoms. While in the eye of this perfect social storm, the group was obligated to take in any and all offerings that were available to them, and embrace the offerings with both arms.

This group was not unique as groups of single females, with money and taste, were busy harvesting experiences and expanding their cultural and social horizons. However, living in New York made the crusades crusades more challenging and exotic than their thirty-something counterparts in Portland Maine or Lincoln Nebraska. The group’s desires to grab life by the short hairs of the infinite adventures of the borough of Manhattan made for the creation of the Mother of All Urban Interactions. Going to the opening of the new T.G.I. Friday’s in Lincoln is a good, rural effort, going out with foreign correspondents and this year’s Grammy winners was a bit more interesting and worthy of Kia’s time. Almost every night, the group would go out and have an adventure that no more than a few hundred people in the world could experience. Broadway openings ran into private gallery showing that ran into intimate dinner parties full of the rich and famous. Roughly equivalent to the life experiences of any two-term U.S.Senator, life was a genuine and fascinating cabaret where all dances were full-on tangos and each meal was an epicurean ejaculation of ecumenical proportions. They were completely and totally part of the moment, embracing and loving everything that moved. Kia was seeing everything and surrounding herself with experiences that would keep her warm and smiling well into her golden years.

A few months after the holidays, Kia wandered into the Landsverk building around midnight after drinking the evening away with her friends and a few Broadway stars. Politely inebriated and happy to walk back into the friendly confines of the Landsverk building, she reviewed her mail and discovered a handwritten note in her mailbox from the doorman. It said that there was a large package which had arrived for her and would it be all right if he brought it into her apartment tomorrow. The doorman always asked permission to drop off things in her apartment and she appreciated his respect. She got many scripts sent to her overnight but the size was never called out as an issue as the doorman had never commented on size before so this message was a novelty and mystery of this unknown package intrigued her.

She wrote on the note that it would be fine and went off to bed. The next day, coming home from work, she opened her door and walked in and discovered an eighteen foot canoe lying diagonally in her apartment. It was a dark green elegant work of art, laying three dimensionally on the floor. The pristine shiny bottom, untouched by rock or branch, peeked up from both sides to invite Kia to sit down in her new prize. Unable to move it, Kia did sit down on the middle thwart and was appreciative of the recessed seat’s accommodation. Sitting in the middle of her living room, in the latest working women’s fashion while being surrounded by the most wonderful apartment in the greatest city in the world, was the world’s newest (and best dressed) canoe enthusiast. She had originally sat on it out of curiosity but it felt so nice, she decided to eat her dinner in the bow.

In the morning, she awoke to see the large green vessel patiently awaiting her next command. She quietly approached the canoe, since it was Saturday; most of the locals were still asleep so she did not want to generate any sound as she prided herself as an outstanding, quiet neighbor. She continued to study the lines of the gift and determined through detached study, that the canoe was a classic example of efficient elegance. It was aerodynamic enough to float, sturdy enough to haul fifty times its own weight in supplies and timeless enough to withstand hundreds of iterations. It was very poor form to call anyone before noon so Kia had more time to review her options with the canoe but she could give it to her nephew, donate it to the city or a youth group, use it as a piece of art or actually try to use it in the water. The note enclosed in the canoe’s gunwale explained her luck and the on-line purchase jumped to her conscious thought. She couldn’t even imagine how the thing navigated the steps and nooks of the building but it certainly made an impressive entrance. She placed an rug underneath it and felt she had made it feel appropriately at home.

Kia was raised in the and had been to camp as a child like most children of well-meaning parents but she hadn’t been in the great outdoors for at least a decade. She had to endure long summers with dormant but brewing pre-Title IX camp counselors and to her credit, she endured the obligatory nature walks, morning swims and canoe basics. She never showed a flair for anything outdoors but she was also beginning to view this canoe as a new opportunity to salvage her less-than-successful experiences during her formative years. As she unpacked the associated box of paddles, she discussed with herself out loud the basic premises of the canoe. The paddles were taken out and placed symmetrically near the canoe and her efficiency allowed her to re-awake in some yet-to-be-determined manner.

This was a large and beautiful canoe: a wide hull and flat bottom that graciously offered the driver stability. It would easily skim over shallow gravel bars without making any noise and the image of gracefully gliding across these unknown senses excited Kia. As she explored the canoe with her open hands, Kia hefted one of the paddles and began to practice strokes long forgotten in her apartment. She immediately liked the grip; it was designed to permit positive control over the angle of the blade and her lower hand instinctively grasped the paddle shaft low at the throat which permitted her greater leverage and impart more power to the stroke. In the middle of Manhattan, a surreal image existed while a wispy blonde was play paddling in the middle of her magazine quality. Kia was draw stroking, c-stroking, power stroking, j-stroking, pry stroking without knowing their names. The epithetical ballet of efficient movement contrasted nicely with the vessel sitting on top of an oriental rug, not moving. Kia continued to maintain an assertive social life and every time arrived at Kia’s door, they would say something stupid.

“Kia, there is a canoe in the middle of your living room.”

“I know, isn’t it beautiful?”

“What is it doing in your living room?”

“Awaiting my decision.”

“I don’t have the slightest idea what you are talking about.”

The canoe sat in the apartment for several months while Kia allowed the reality to sink in. She actually accessorized the canoe by placing plants across thwarts and made an effort to learn about the art and the science of piloting a canoe. It never left her apartment and she found herself sitting in it for longer periods of time and reading book after book on canoes and expeditions. The canoe was a nice safe place to spend time; it was certainly wide enough for Kia to comfortably sit in and still not feel too constricted. None of her friends knew what to do with this new interest; her eccentricities were odd but not without a certain amount of genuine charm.

Eventually, Kia had to move the canoe but wasn’t mentally ready to bring it outside. She contacted the doorman to better understand how the thing appeared in her apartment and was impressed with the doorman’s ability to use his decades of skill to manipulate the canoe through the Landsverk Building.

“I just went slowly with the canoe and up the stairs it went.”

“Is it a nice canoe?” asked Kia.

“You know Kia,” said the doorman with his usual sincerity, “I don’t know much about canoes but this one sure looks like a beauty.”

He let the word 'beauty' drag out a bit, like 'bee-yoo-tee' and she appreciated the charming touch to his story.

Proudly Kia smiled, “I agree. I think it is beautiful.”

“Are you planning on using it outside?”

“I am not sure,” said Kia. “I don’t want it to get dirty.”

“I see your point. We have to ease into this project carefully.”

Kia began to think that she had come a long way. There was a time, not too long ago, that she was actually entertaining giving her canoe away. It arrived at an interesting time in her life. Things were going just fine, her priorities were in order and she couldn’t have asked for anything more in her life at that time. All of a sudden, an eighteen foot green canoe magically appears in her living room and now she is concerned that it gets dirty. It was clear to Kia that things have evolved quickly in her life and where this journey was going wasn’t quite clear yet the she was enjoying the meandering.

She began to refer to the time prior to the canoe as “B.C.” (Before Canoe) and again, her lexicon expansion was still be viewed as harmless by her friends. She never tried to explain why she loved her canoe and only answered questions that came up from the group. There was enough unusual behavior to go around in the group, so Kia’s predilection with non-motorized watercraft was socially par for the course.

“How is your canoe,” would ask one of her friends.

“The canoe is well....just fine,” said Kia. “I have it pulled up to the ceiling for the week. The cleaning lady is coming and it scares the hell out of her.

“What do you mean, ‘up to the ceiling?’” asked any of the non-regular cabal.

“I had two pulleys fashioned in the ceiling that allowed me to get it out of the way.”

“Really,“ said one of the group, “how does the mighty Landsverk landlords feel about that customization?”

“It was their idea,” smiled Kia. “They also think it is a beautiful canoe. We found a way to elegantly place the pulleys and everyone is happy.

Kia would change the subject by this time so the focus on the group was not on her and her canoe. It was strange enough story to continually rehash but Kia also felt that she didn’t need to continually defend her actions or the canoe’s presence. She continued to read about canoes as the stories and the research provided her with important caprices of mental relaxation as well as a reassurance that life continues no matter the fashion or the pace of the times. There would come a day very soon when Kia would take her canoe out but it was still time now for quiet thoughts and distractions while floating down imaginary rivers, safely surrounded by a new found friend.

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