Attain

Henry Turenne and his skyscraper. Henry Turenne and his fourth quarter.

The skyscraper has a square footprint. Ninety feet wide, ninety feet deep. Ninety feet of Malcolm X Boulevard. Ninety feet of Central Park.

First floor, shops and a doorman. Second floor, precious little cafe. Third floor, gym, residents only. Residents on floors 4 through 121.

Two apartments per floor. Modern and spacious and each with a view of the Park. Only the penthouse has a floor to itself. Eight thousand square feet, all for Henry Turenne.

I go into the lobby. Check in with a receptionist who’s wearing a suit but not a tie. It’s one thing to have a casual dress code, another thing to have a casual uniform. I feel special for having noticed. Henry Turenne is the man who makes you feel special.

She waves me through. Pass the lift bank, get in a private elevator. Two buttons inside, 1 and 121.

A ding and the door opens. A short flight of stairs in front of me. I take them up and I’m in the penthouse. Nothing between me and a man who built a skyscraper.

I’m here to look at the nothing.

It’s one big room. No dividers, no furniture. No paintings on the walls. The walls are glass, floor to ceiling, end to end. Four little columns, one in each corner, framing the most expensive view in the world.

It’s like living in a fucking airplane hangar.

I’m afraid if I go up to the view it will ruin my life.

I walk over to Henry. He warmly shakes my hand. He’s wearing a cream-colored suit that makes him look like the pretender to a European noble house, fresh from Saint Barts. I’m wearing a two-piece off the rack, because why even bother.

“Cup of tea?” he asks.

“Sure.”

“Domina,” he says to the empty room, “tea.”

“Yes, Henry,” says a pleasant female voice from everywhere.

About twenty feet away – nowhere in particular – a bit of floor rises up. Comes to chest height. Beneath it is a set of shelves. Chatsubo, teapots, little cups. A copper pipe with a spout.

Henry Turenne makes me a pot of tea.

“Four minutes to steep,” he says. “Sit by the window?”

I take a breath. “Not yet.”

“Domina,” he says, grabbing the teapot and cups, “clear, then chess table.”

“Yes, Henry.”

The tea table lowers down into the floor and then it is the floor. Across the room, nowhere in particular, a table rises. Top flips to reveal a chess table. Two little stools rise to either side.

We walk over. My footsteps echo. His don’t. So I bend over and untie my shoes. Step out of them. Then, fuck it, I just leave them there.

Henry smiles at me.

He puts down the teapot. We each take a seat. I look at him and then look across the apartment. The stairs where I entered have disappeared. Nothing between one wall and the other. Nothing to get between Henry Turenne and his view.

There are dozens of things that can come up from that floor. A wine-rack and glasses, a bookcase or two, clothesracks and closet-things, a bathroom and shower and screens to surround them when there’s company. Some say it’s the future of interior design. Some say it’s the future of living-space. Henry says it’s the future of closets. I say it’s about time that the dumb-waiter got a little smarter.

I see the three quarters.

I don’t want to look at them either.

“Her voice sounds so real,” I say.

“It is,” he says. “It’s just a recording. She only says a dozen things, so I had her voice actress record each thing a few dozen times. Subtle variation. Makes it seem more lifelike. Isn’t that right, Domina?”

“Yes, Henry.”

Some magicians would hide their tricks. Some would boast of them. Some would nerd out at whoever was nearest. Henry Turenne is just talking. He’s charming. He finds his life charming. Nothing’s more charming than that.

“You’re trying not to look out the window,” he says.

“Trying.”

“Some people do that to show off. You’re not doing that.”

Four guys go to the top of a hill to see God. First three guys go blind or die, things like that. Fourth guy’s the only one to survive – because when he gets to the top, he lowers his eyes, and looketh not.

“I’m not here for the view.”

“You kind of are,” he says.

“I’m not sure I am.”

He looks across the room.

“You know the other three?”

“Of course.” Statue, sword, and shrub.

“Want to see them up close?”

“Not really.”

He smiles. “Then what are you up here for?”

“To appreciate the space.”

He sips his tea.

“Any ideas?” he asks.

“Not a fucking one.”

He laughs. “Good. Good! Have some fun with it. It’s a hard thing, I’m a hard customer. And I’m just having fun. So I have to hope that you’ll have some too.”

“I always try to.”

“Good.” He sips his tea. “You have the list? Of things that have been tried.”

“I do.”

“And please remember that there is still a budget. I am not as rich as I pretend to be.”

“I understand.”

He looks curious. “What did you come up here for?”

“Not to look at the space?”

“Barnaby Tobin spent an hour just wandering the floor. Huriko stared at the sunset until her contacts melted.Townshend – the younger one – said he recreated the space in a warehouse in Ozone Park. Spent three nights there in a tent. God, I hope he was lying.

“And you?” he asks.

I stand up. “Think I got what I need. Thanks for your time.”

He shrugs, stands up. Opens a side panel on the table and puts the tea-pot and cups inside. Soon as I leave he’ll disappear them downwards, where a human servant will scrub them and put them back in their place.

“Best of luck,” he says. “I’m curious to see what you find.”

“So am I.” And Domina peels back the floor, and I go down the stairs, and down to the elevator, and down to the city.

*** *** ***

I know his story. Helps when New York Magazine did a 23-page spread.

Born Henry Turenne to a pair of schoolteachers. Raised in a pretty little shithole in northern New Hampshire. Skipped a grade, played lacrosse, took three tries to get his driver’s license. Local Boy Makes Millionaire. No wonder the magazines ate it up.

When he was a teenager he saved up and bought an acre of the middle of the woods. Acre of trees, didn’t cost him much. Took a year after high school to cut some of the trees, and strip them, and plane them, and build a house. People in town let him use their tools, thought it was great. Thought it was crazy but they were glad at least one kid with a brain was staying in town instead of moving straight to Somerville, never to return.

Camped out in a tent until he’d built enough house to live in. Took him fourteen months to get it done. Worked all through the winter. It’s a beautiful house. He made it with absolute love. Hardwood floors, hardwood everything, shelves and counters and benches. Wood shutters over the windows because he couldn’t afford glass.

“Worst part,” he said, later, “was the trees. Eighty, ninety-foot maples. Towered above you, and above anything you built. I remember it was a hell of a thing to cut down one of those trees and then live inside its lumber. But I remember thinking what it would be like to look out from above it. To look out your bedroom window over the tops of the trees like the blades of grass in a field, rolling out in front of you.”

When he finished the house he surprised his parents (and forever pissed off his town) by saying he didn’t want to live in it. Asked his parents for two grand as a loan. He bought a bicycle and some gear and rode across the country. Slept under the stars. Got to San Francisco and sold the bike and proceeded to talk his way into Stanford. Had no choice – he’d run out of money.

Made it a year before he dropped out to join some silly startup. Two years later and it’s on its third round of funding and half the founders have left. The other half have no illusions but that they work for Henry Turenne.

Five years later and Henry’s worth five million dollars. A year later and he’s worth a hundred. It’s all paper money, stock in the company he runs; if he sold one percent of his holdings the market would freak and the other ninetynine percent would be worthless. So Henry didn’t sell it. He leveraged it to hell and built a skyscraper. The tallest in Manhattan. The tallest in the hemisphere. Eighty percent under agreement at completion. He made his money back, even turned a little profit. And he kept the penthouse.

He still works twelve hours a day. Does it because he likes it. Same reason he wasn’t content to live in his house in the woods. The rest of the time he spends doing what anyone in his position would do: he eats at the right restaurants, he goes to the opera and the ballet, and he fucks his way across the cream of society on the strength of the line, “Want to see my view?”

*** *** ***

When he moved into his penthouse he was happy for all of five minutes. “That’s who I am,” said Henry Turenne. “There was a book I read at Stanford that said that – in coding projects – you should strive to achieve a simultaneity of minimalism and maximalism. I had done that. But sometimes a slight complexity is necessary to bring simplicity into focus.”

Four walls. Four views. Four foci. The four quarters.

Henry started looking at auction catalogs. Took the better part of two years before he found a single thing that really spoke to him. A Capitoline Aphrodite, probably from the reign of Claudius, white marble, missing arms and legs. Her face is still beautiful after two thousand years of wear and weather and changing notions of beauty. She looks with curiosity at where her arms should be.

Cost him almost two hundred grand. He was shocked. Thought it would be more. She rode up with him in the elevator. He put her in the middle of his north-facing wall. Mounted her on a single tube of carbon-fiber. It spins around so that, on a clear day, she too can see Greenwich. And Henry Turenne had his first quarter.

But that’s when Henry’s interest ran out. So he did what any rich man would do and passed along the problem. And he did what any modern millionaire would do: he crowdsourced it.

He made it a challenge, for antiquarians and auctioneers, for artists and interior designers, for bright-eyed dreamers and inspired nerds. Henry Turenne would find the best of the best and invite them up to his penthouse. Let them enjoy his view. Let them take a swing at making him happy. They’d bring him a thing to grace his mighty walls. If he shook his head they’d be sent packing. If he wanted to buy he’d pay the item’s fair market, and a million dollar finder’s fee on top of it.

A million dollars. Enough to be a Big Prize, not so much as to gross out the Folks Following Along At Home. But for the dealers and designers it wasn’t about the money. The exposure was worth a pile of gold – if their quarter got picked.

Someone new tries almost every day. Some new face coming out of the elevator, some new pitch, some new quarter. He keeps a film crew on standby for every try. Antiques fucking Roadshow in a castle in the clouds. People love it. Henry loves it. That make people love it more.

A few months into the contest and he bought the swords. Ken van Orman brought them up in a crate, crowbarred it open and Henry Turenne was a boy with a toy. A daishō, three Samurai swords mounted one on top of the other. Katana, wakizashi, tanto. Very traditional. But they aren’t old. They were made that year by a blacksmith and his apprentice, working out of an old auto body shop in Rausu. They made their own steel, worked it and folded it, and hardened it in a slight variation of the soshu kitae. The blades look like running water under moonlight. Henry put them at his south-facing wall, right in the middle of his Parkside view. Ken van Orman cashed his check for a million. And became a household name – in the kind of households that have millions to spare.

Then a year of head-shakes, a year of “Domina, the elevator,” and learned articles were written about the fussiest man in the world. Then a professor at Tisch named Mary Irakoze talked her way into a roll of the dice. She asked her students to think of ideas. She pitched the one she liked best. Henry loved it.

They planted a ten-foot rock maple right in the floor, right in front of the west-facing wall. The space beneath is a hydroponic setup to keep the tree in water and nutrients. The floor comes right to the edge of the trunk, hermetic. Trim the top of the tree to keep its height constant. The tree of the future. A bonsai in the clouds. In October the leaves turn red and fall, just like the trees on the ground below. Henry Turenne admits that he spends a lot of time sitting underneath that tree.

Mary Irakoze split the money with the student, a third-year pre-med who needed some easy credits in the art department. He smiled for a hundred cameras and then went straight back to the library. Professor Irakoze received a positive report from the tenure review board.

Statue, swords, and shrub. They’re the only things in the apartment that don’t disappear. The only things in his world that are worthy of permanence. The only things that improve a view, even by obstructing it. Three quarters full. Just one more to go.

*** *** ***

I’m in a hotel in East Harlem. I cover up the windows with a bedsheet. I sit on the floor with a laptop and do my homework.

I have a list of everything that’s been tried. Found it on a fan site. Most auction-houses don’t have websites this good. There have been over eight hundred tries. Each one logged and categorized. Each one filmed in HD.

Some good attempts. Some very interesting. Some boring, some bullshit. Some that make my eyes roll. But I’m not the customer. Henry Turenne is. The man in the highest castle. The man who just made me a cup of tea.

There are plenty of interviews with the people who’ve tried. And scholarly monographs. And disappointed tweets. People who tried to fill the space. People who tried to tempt the man. People who tried to complement the view. People who just showed up with a shiny thing and prayed.

I looked at the failures, the successes, the everything. I jotted down every thought I had. Woke up the next day and did it again. Made myself a rubric, of all the things the fourth quarter must be.

The quarter must be beautiful. The swords are a frozen waterfall, the finest example of an ancient form of art. The sculpture is the culmination of the classical tradition. They both are. The tree is the natural world in microcosm.

The quarter must be a microcosm. The whole world is spread out before him, the things in his living-space need to bring the world to him. The swords are the martial traditions of the world, the history of technology as it was held in the human hand. The sculpture is the history of art. The forests is the tree.

The quarter must be simple. Simple of countenance, simple of line. The swords in their sheathes are three lines like brush-strokes. That ancient sculpture is just a human form. The tree is a tree like the forest he grew up in. Nothing so simple as a face and some lines and a tree.

The quarter must be revolutionary. Nothing less for the man who built the home of the future. He has an indoor tree, the microcosm of an indoor forest. Sure, his swords and his sculpture are throwbacks to ancient forms. But he has two of of those. The tree is living, the tree is-

No.

I’ve been locked in a room for three days. I’m burnt the hell out. I go outside to find it’s the middle of a day. I’ve been living on granola and espresso, I go to a Hungarian place and eat bogrács and have a beer. I go back to the hotel and look at my conclusions and laugh. It’s all bullshit.

They must be beautiful? There’s a broken sculpture, a tree, some lengths of sharpened steel almost unadorned. They must be simple? A Roman bust is simple? The 23 parts of a Japanese sword, simple? And none of the things are revolutionary. Or if they are it’s because they’re in that apartment, up against that view. I am imposing false dichotomies. I am making shit up. I am not going to win this. I pull back, have another beer, and another espresso from the machine in the lobby.

This isn’t a problem to be solved. There are no absolutes here, no rules to find. This is a customer looking for a buy. A hell of a customer. But nothing more.

What’s the rule of selling to a customer? Take away every reason he has to say no.

What does he like? Simplicity. Elegance. Nothing too big. Nothing that can’t fit in his elevator. Something he can be proud to own. Nothing that he has already. That’s the big thing. Something new.

But not so new – aha! – that it’s very different from the other three. Can’t have three Zen-ass trinkets and then throw in a big neon Eat At Joe’s. The four quarters have to be in harmony with each other and with the space and the views and their owner. But they have to be in harmony with each other. Four quarters, making one whole.

So what do we have, really?

He has two handmade things. One’s old. One’s new but in an old style. No, the sculpture’s not old; it’s timeless. No; they both are.

He has one thing that’s alive and two inert.

He has two things that just sit there, and one thing that’s designed to be picked up in the hand.

He has two things that are pure, one all wood, one all stone. And he has one thing that’s composite, laquer and ray-skin and folded tamahagane steel.

By this logic his last thing would be alive, or at least not-intert. It would be natural, not handmade. It would be movable, perhaps have moving parts. It would be composite.

There’s one thing that’s alive and two that aren’t. But another alive-thing just seems redundant. What’s he going to have, a bear in a cage? Besides, the tree is across from the sculpture. The sculpture may be crafted but it shows the human form, a natural thing, same as the tree. The fourth quarter will be across from the swords. Thing that are entirely geometric, but which are made to fit the human form.

The wood reminds me of his childhood. Of his first accomplishment. It’s potential. This is a guy who used to cut down trees, every day he must look at that tree and think, Do I make something from it? Do I make another thing? Am I done?

Something that makes him think of where he came from, and also where he’s going. Something living, or at least moving. Something simple, functional, nothing extraneous, nothing but what it is. Something composite, crafted from different materials. Something of the human form, or else-

I spend an hour laughing, rolling around my hotel room.

I have it.

Oh, God, I have it.

*** *** ***

I just have to get it.

I’m in the redwoods. Playing private eye. Tracking old mortgage records. Then, prison records. Then I’m up in Ashland. Slipping fifties to a farm supply salesman. Then I’m in the Goodwill. Then I’m nowhere.

I try the police station. Nothing. Of course. Try nearby cities. Come up aces in Portland. A registration. Then a police report, stolen goods. Turned up a year later. Couldn’t locate the owner. Not worth selling, I guess. Donated to charity. A nonprofit out in Astoria Bay. Five hundred to the nonprofit and they grudgingly check their records. They’re pretty sure it went to a small town in Guatemala. And I’m on a plane.

Down to Guatemala. In Sipacate on the Pacific coast, white sands and brown grass and ocean melted under a hot silver sun. All deliveries made to the church for distribution. They don’t really keep records. Don’t need to. I give the priest five hundred dollars and he kisses me on each cheek. Tells me it’s with a man named Salou. Works at a surfboard-shop. Rides it to work every day.

I go to the shop. He’s waxing a longboard, an Argentine with dreadlocks looks on and they shoot the shit. I introduce myself and say there was a mix-up. Offer him two hundred and a replacement. Five hundred would have been too much. Would have made him suspicious. Can’t have that.

He nods. Baffled. Leaves the board and the Argentine and brings it out front. It’s all scuffed up and fucked up. But the chain’s fresh and oiled, he’s done his best. I give him a new one, with wide knobby tires and a suspension saddle. Much better for local roads than the road bike on which Henry Turenne road across the country.

*** *** ***

I sit in my hotel-room and watch the video.

The elevator opens. Minji Pang comes out, dressed to the nines, wheeling the bicycle. Henry just looks at her, cocks his head a bit. She says what I told her but she says it better than I ever could.

“A bicycle?” he asks.

“No,” she says. “Your bicycle.”

She walks him through it in just a few words. You build a house with your bare hands, but did you live there? No. You were ready for your next adventure. You always would be. So you borrowed some money from your parents and bought a bicycle. This bicycle- but by then Henry’s already crying.

You rode this bicycle across the country. From Maine to Marin, from sea to shining sea. It was a good bicycle. It still is. Lugged titanium, touring wheelset, brifters and calipers, full Dura-Ace.

But it’s more than that. It’s every bike. It’s a triumph of design, the bicycle. There’s nothing there but what needs to be. It’s simplicity. It’s elegance. It’s as perfect a technology as the samurai sword. It speaks as much of the human body as a marble sculpture. It’s not alive like the tree is – but if you were to get up into the saddle, it would be.

It’s as good a bike now as it was when you were young. You could get on it today and leave here and never look back. But you won’t. Because you’ve built this. Because you’ve finally gotten where you want to be.

She pushes it towards him. He breathes once, twice. He goes towards her. Right past the bike. Grabs her and hugs her. Then takes the bike to the wall and leans it against the glass.

You know – doesn’t look half bad.

*** *** ***

Minji Pang owns a gallery in TriBeCa. She’d been doing quite well for herself. But nothing like this. She found the fourth quarter. Tens of millions saw the video of her making Henry Turenne so happy that he cried. She went the extra mile for her client. Now every sappy billionaire in the world would be coming to her shop. Before she had a gallery. Now she has a name.

I gave her the bicycle. The bicycle gave her the name. Henry Turenne gave her a million dollars. That’s only a fraction of what she would give me.

A few weeks later Henry throws a party. For the three who succeeded, and for all of those who failed. Not all of them, some were crackpots, some just didn’t make the cut. But a few hundred people, going up that elevator ten at a time.

I got an invitation. I couldn’t turn it down. I went out and bought an even duller suit. I needn’t have bothered. Minji is the hero of the hour. Ken van Orman and Mary Irakoze raise their glasses to her, shake her hand. Henry Turenne walks around his room, talking to everyone, smiling at everyone, shaking hand after hand. He’s done with them. He’ll never buy a damn thing ever again. But he likes them. He appreciates them, he really does. Nobody appreciates someone like Henry Turenne.

I find my way to the maple-tree. Looks like it’s doing well. Better than most trees in New York City. An inspired choice. You can’t fault Henry’s taste. Statue, sword, shrub, and cycle. Four quarters. All complete.

“Sorry you lost your chance,” he says. I turn around and there’s Henry, holding a flute of champagne. I wonder how many servants are in the maintenance corridors below the floor, scurrying about, sending bubbly up to the guests above.

“It’s alright,” I say.

“A few others in your shoes.”

“Bet they feel like shit too.”

He laughs. “I really am sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“But there will be other opportunities, I’m sure. I’m not the only rich fuck with a man-cave. Plenty of work for everyone. Now that I’ve got my-”

“Are you done?” I ask. “Are you finally satisfied?”

“Satisfied? No. I mean, I am, personally. Hell, I was satisfied with the house I built of wood. Could have been very happy there. That’s not what I’m about. I’m – I’m an asshole, I know – but I’m trying to set an example. Reach for the stars and all that.”

“You think-” I start, then stop.

He finishes my sentence: “Yes, I do think this is an attainable example. There’s a lot of cloud in this world. Plenty of room to build castles for one and all. I would like to see towers like a curtain-wall. Their tops in the heavens. One after the other. So that everyone has a view of the world. So what, I’m obsessed with a view. Because everyone deserves space and light and something to look at and it’s the best thing there is. Best thing in the world. And if you ran that wall of buildings along the spine of Long Island then there’d be enough housing for everyone, and we could plow the fucking suburbs right into the soil. And everyone would have a view of trees and the sea and the sky.”

He pats me on the back. “You should look out the window,” he says. “It’s a hell of a view.”

He leaves so I can make up my own mind.

I turn around. Put my hand on the tree and look. The tree faces east now, I notice. So the bicycle can be to the west. Facing cross country. The route that Henry took, and will not take again.

I look out the window. Across the river. Across Long Island. Up the coast of the Sound. It’s nothing but glow in the night. A meadow of lights, like the amplified heavens. All the twinkling lights of mankind.

Henry’s right. It’s a hell of view. But I couldn’t do the work I do from up above. Some of us do not reach for the sky. We run in the shadows, because they let us run. So long as there are skyscrapers there will be shadows too. So long as there are men like Henry Turenne, there will be men like me.

But I do have to say – it’s a hell of a view.

I walk to the elevator, and am on my way.

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~ by davekov on 1 January 2016.

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