Sunday, February 27, 2005

The glass tower

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I read recently, in this very newspaper, that the city of Providence is resolved -- nay, determined -- to do its part to solve the southern New England housing crunch.

Don't rent the U-Haul yet. This is from the Associated Press story: "The 32-story glass-paneled tower on Westminster Street, adjacent to the Arcade, will include condominiums priced at $500,000 to $2.5 million."

Which is fantastic. Be cause, as it turns out, there was a dreadful shortage of places where filthily, stinkingly prosperous people could live.

Now, thanks to a couple of real estate developers from Boston -- and I guess the people who will make 32 stories worth of glass panels -- you, too, can find a little slice of Earth you can call your own.

If you've got money coming out of your bazoo.

My wife is in charge of the money in our household. So the other day, I made an appointment with her and asked if we were rich.

"Honey," I asked, "do we have $500,000 by any chance?"

After she recovered from her laughing fit, my wife said, "No."

"All righty," I said. "How about $2.5 million?"

We didn't have that, either.

As it turns out, we have nothing in that ballpark -- not even in the nosebleed seats. Or the parking lot. Or the highway rest stop near the parking lot. From our distance, that ballpark appears to be a little greenish dot on the other side of a very large, deep river and a thicket of smokestacks, and we can only see it when the smog clears more or less. In fact, that might not even be the ballpark. Now that I've stared at it for a while, I think that's actually just some water tower.

And it's not like we're poor, either. We worked hard to get good jobs, and we save more money than most. We don't smoke or do drugs, so right away there's -- I don't know, what's Marlboros and pot come to per month? About 200 bucks?

We refuse to give any money to those despicable human bacteria at the cable company, so there's another 50. Also, I buy whatever deli meat is on sale that week, which tends to add up given the way I make a sandwich.

In short, we do well. We can't do the backstroke in piles of cash like Scrooge MacDuck, but neither do we have to wash and reuse the plastic forks we get with Chinese takeout.

Which is pretty good for somebody my age. Many of the people I know in my generation work in coffeehouses, bookstores, or bookstores with coffeehouses in them. Me, I don't get paid by the hour and finagled myself a fancy-sounding job title with the word "executive" in it. My wife has a career creating books, which then get sold in bookstore/coffeehouses.

I want to live in a nice place in downtown Providence. I hate the suburbs and the country -- I'm a city mouse. I want to live right by the river and everything, within walking distance of the mall. Within driving distance of Caserta Pizzeria on Federal Hill. Lots of interesting stuff to do and nice things to see.

Somebody with the word "executive" before his name should be able to live in a nice place in Providence.

But I can't, because I'm not rich.

Why am I not rich?

Here are 10 better questions:

1. With this shortage of living space that regular people can afford, where are we supposed to go?

Let me guess: To hell, right?

2. And what about all the wealthy people who are scheduled to fill 32 stories worth of a glass-paneled tower -- where are these jerks coming from?

3. More importantly, where have these steel barons and Internet gurus been hiding? Because, no offense to anyone, but Providence isn't exactly easily mistaken for Upper West Side Manhattan.

4. Can there really be that many scandalously well-to-do people in or around Providence? If you are a scandalously well-to-do person in or around the Providence area, and know of other scandalously well-to-do neighbors, please let me know. E-mail me your name, address, daytime and evening telephone numbers, bank account information and ATM password (for confirmation purposes) at

5. Speaking of banks, a while ago, when my wife and I were pre-approved for a mortgage, the bank was nice enough to give us a free pen. What do they give you with a $2.5 million mortgage pre-approval? A Staples franchise?

6. If the building's owner can't find enough gazillionaires to fill the joint, will they put some of the condos on sale? "Slashing prices," "everything must go," and that sort of thing? I could see myself and wife and our dog and cat relaxing in a marked-down condo, looking out of our cheap glass panels onto downtown Providence. Maybe we'd have a view of the spot where that goofy traffic cop dances.

Of course, it would have to be marked down quite far. I still couldn't afford even half-price.

7. Another question: Could I work off my $2.5 million mortgage at this condo? I'll Windex all 32 stories worth of glass panels. I'll chase away the traffic cop when he bothers the rich people. I'll even clean out the stables -- all the moneyed jerks at this high-rise will have to keep their polo ponies someplace.

Last questions before I retreat back to my middle-class life:

8. These people buying the condos -- where do they work?

9. What the hell job could it be that pays enough to meet the mortgage on a $2.5 million condo? Question 9a.: Is it one of those jobs where it's impossible to explain in five words or fewer what you do, and in fact it turns out you don't do
anything at all except move paperwork from one end of the desk to the other, said paperwork representing imaginary money or imaginary companies or imaginary people? Because I can be trained to do this.

10. Does this company have any immediate openings for short, chubby, hairy Portuguese fellows with experience writing jokes for newspapers? You know -- court jester or something? I feel pretty foolish already. Might as well get paid for it.

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