Opening Above the Palace

(originally appeared in Cleveland Magazine February 1979)

This is the high point of my col¬umn-writing career. Of that there can be no doubt. I am writing this column on the 16th floor of the Keith Building. I have never written a column higher, except once in a plane coming back from Las Vegas and several times when I was study¬ing the martini cocktail school of column-writing — a period I think of with wonder and no fondness.

But despite the fact that I have moved my act seven blocks across town and 16 stories up, the act will probably remain the same. I would like to write a slicker column to match this slicker paper. I would like to write a more thoughtful col¬umn, now that I have a little time to think about things. I would like to be more literate, now that I am writ¬ing for something referred to around these offices as a “book.

It would be nice, I think, to write a column befitting the mildly tar¬nished glory — the housebroken elegance — of this Playhouse Square address where I live now. I have never before worked in a build¬ing that was not owned by my em¬ployer — a building where you have neighbors. “Welcome to the build¬ing,” total strangers say to me as we ride up in the elevator. The building is its own neighborhood.

In the lobby, just off the street doors, hangs a bronze plaque: “This building was erected by Edward F. Albee in memory of his lifelong friend and associate Benjamin F. Keith,” the plaque says. On another lobby wall, near the bright brass of the elevators, is an oil painting of the building in more flamboyant days. “B.F. Keith’s PALACE — Vaudeville,” says the marquee in front. Fierce-Arrows and Packards line the curb dis¬charging theater-goers. It is a nice painting and it gives those of us who work here a proper respect for the history of pur neighborhood.

Our two most visible residents are the Almond Cookie restaurant (on the right after you pass the Albee plaque) and the Roth-Warren Phar¬macy, on the left. The Almond Cookie is run by Paul L. Horn. It features a unique and ecumenical menu that combines Danish pastries and coffee-to-go with won-ton soup and egg rolls. I have not yet met Mr. Horn, but as the new year began, I was presented a lucky coin, in his name, by one of his employes. It was wrapped in red and gold paper with Chinese writing on the wrapper. Good health, good fortune, long life, it said. I took off the paper and found a shiny 1974 Roosevelt dime.

The Roth-Warren Pharmacy is a place that will cash a personal check if they know you or fill a prescrip¬tion if it comes from a doctor. The day I arrived here, everybody in the pharmacy lined up to say hello and good luck. This is in keeping with an amiable tradition. When the maga¬zine first moved into the building some years ago, Floyd Fike from the pharmacy arrived at our door bear¬ing a housewarming gift. It was a huge bottle of aspirin. “I hear you kind of people drink an awful lot,” Fike said. Then, after a pleasant chat, he departed.

Well, these are the surroundings in which I now write a column. I have a small, white office with car¬peting on the floor. I have my own paper clips and my own staple gun. I have a large window which stares at Lake Erie and the Municipal Light Plant. I have never worked so close to nature. The ill winds of a Cleve¬land winter whip along the side of the building past my window and occasionally come in through it — or did until a man showed up two weeks ago to tape the cracks.

It is altogether a more elegant set¬ting than my desk in the Press city room — a desk close to the switchboard where the crazies could get at you. People claiming to be Jesus or His public relations man. It would be nice, I think, if I could change my act to match the decor. But I know better. Life is not like that. You are what you are and you go where life takes you. And if you change at all, you change so gradu¬ally that the change is hard to see and you are the last to see it.

If you know what’s good for you, you go with the flow and savor the ironies. There are always ironies to savor. I can gaze through my win¬dow at the light plant and see in¬stead the bar at Pat Joyce’s on a cer¬tain afternoon some years ago.

I am sitting at the bar next to Mike Roberts. Roberts has just left his job as city editor of The Plain Dealer. His future is uncertain. His present is bleak. I, his friend, am there to offer comfort and advice.

“I don’t know what to do,” Roberts says. “I have two prospects. Jimmy Naughton at The New York Times thinks there might be some¬thing for me in the Times Washing¬ton bureau.”

“What’s the other one?” I say.

“Well,” says Roberts, “I could go and be editor of Cleveland Magazine.”

I reach out and remove a dime from the scatter of change on the wet bar.

“Take this,” I say, handing the dime to Roberts. “Go downstairs to the phone and call Naughton. Tell him you’ll be on a plane tomorrow. You don’t want to work for Cleveland Magazine. Cleveland Magazine won’t last six months.”

“You don’t think so?”

“Who wants a magazine about Cleveland?” I say.

There. That is the kind of irony life serves you. It doesn’t pay to be too smart. Stick with what you know and don’t pretend you’re something you are not.

So, reader, this column — this act — this journalistic showing off — will  not  change.  The  same vaudeville that played at the Press will play here above the Palace, which has seen a variety of bizarre and improbable acts and is still standing. If I knew you from my newspaper days, hello again. If we haven’t met before, I hope we’ll get to like each other.

As for me, I’m feeling fine. In a nice neighborhood surrounded by good friends. Still employed. Still showing off. In an office just down from Mike Roberts’ office. How much can a man want? I even got my dime back — in a red and gold wrapper full of best wishes and good omens for the future.          

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