I swung by the office of The Lit (formerly The Poets and Writers’ League of Greater Cleveland) to drop off my submission for a poetry competition. The organization operates out of a loft space in the ArtCraft Building on Superior. The deadline for the contest – write RTA bus poetry – was approaching with vigor, and I thought that mailing my submission was dicey, considering the Leap Year. Plus, my special lady friend was nice enough to give me a ride to work that day, so I suggested that we swing by the Lit’s loft space en route.
After navigating through Asia Town and popping out quite fortuitously onto Superior right in front of the converted warehouse, I told Alexandra to wait in the car and I would run in. Hopping over the crusty snow and slu(dge)sh lining the curb, I strolled into the entryway. Standing inside was an old black man, grey bearded, seemingly derelict. We exchanged glances and I looked around uncertainly, attempting to garner some bearing toward suite 203. I assumed: up.
‘Where you headin?’ asked mysterious old man.
‘I’m looking for The Lit,’ I said to no real response, then: ‘formerly The Poets and Writers’ League of Greater Cleveland.’
‘Oh, Writers’ League,’ he ran aged barky fingers through the aged tufts of his beard, ‘that’s on the other side. Make a left; you go down the hall; make a left; then another left.’
I did not call into question that this route was basically a circle – time was of the essence and my manila envelope needed to be deposited. Plus, my lady friend, waiting at the curb. . .
I stepped through an archway, made a left. Marched down a long hallway, feet gripping against the sine wave of the sunken wood floor. At the terminus of the corridor, I heard from behind, ‘Now left!’
I swung to my weak side once, then again, stepped into another entryway on the opposite end of the building, this one also manned by an elderly black man, sans grey beard. I nodded and made for the concrete steps that led: Up.
‘You got a key for the stairwell door?’ asked the gatekeeper.
‘No,’ I did not.
‘I’m gonna have to take you up.’ He swung open a rusty caged bellows that led into a pressed tin lift – an elevator from the time before they had elevators. I followed him inside and he took up the operator position upon a black leather swivel stool and slammed shut the outer steel door and the inner bellows. The operator torqued the polished brass lever that pneumatically pushed us up and up. Then briefly down, to reach a level keel with the second story.
‘Thank you sir,’ I said, patting my pockets for loose jingles. I found the result lacking treble. No tip this time, sorry.
‘Ungh hungh,’ a gritty affirmative, like a planer in machine shop: this was Old Cleveland personified, working the dusty bellows that feed the relic of industry.
After a dozen or so more lefts, sinking and rising over the undulating floor plate, I came upon, then threw open, the double doors to the Lit. The sprawling loft space allowed, through leaded factory windows, a view of the Innerbelt canal. One woman sat at a parallelogram of conjoined conference tables, munching at a salad. Lunch time.
I provided a brief, in the interest of time, explanation of my intentions; handed off the packet of my finely spun lyrics; commented on the loveliness of the space; took it in for a second; let it resonate for another; then beat it out of there; with vigor.
My lady friend. . .
On the curb. . .
Waiting. . .
Vaulting from the last landing in the stairwell, I waved from the hip at the elevator operator/door man sitting vigil on his swivel stool, said: ‘Thanks again, sir.’
‘Ungh hungh.’ Another day at the office.
I leapt over the mound of dirty snow and signaled Alex to unlock the door. She smiled as if I had been gone a lifetime.
‘That was quick,’ she said. ‘How’d it go?’
An adventure in four and a half minutes.