The homeless man is shaving this morning. He stands out on the sidewalk, no water, the cream on his face a shock of white against his brown skin and layers of clothing all the same dark gray-green color. He uses a cathedral window covered in a black iron grill as a mirror. There is nothing in the air but the smell of shave cream, held in place by cold, gray clouds.
The tropical plants are now mixed with poinsettias and oversize Christmas decorations and a pattern of golden light shimmers on the low ceiling above the fountain. The reverberations of voices mix with water that here gushes up, there falls down over blue tiles.
Sometimes small birds fly into the lobby and for a while live in the Ficus trees and find crumbs of food on the restaurant floor. Often they fly up, up high above to the windows that look out over Fourth Street, maybe to their old home, and they sit on the ledge and watch. Then one day they have disappeared.
The walls of the lobby are covered in a thin veneer of travertine, as any Louis Kahn influenced building would be. Behind that a harsh, rough gray concrete, behind that the offices that surround this lobby of restrained tropics and giant Christmas tree ornaments. The water and glass and stone are all carefully orchestrated to create a place, a mood, maybe a feeling of self satisfaction that not even a tiny bird lost on the inside looking out should disturb.
It seems in an effort to fashion a decorative theme to create a calm environment, the opposite happens. So it is with hospitals and so it is with this office. Tan may be considered a neutral color but once it is the repository of so much dissatisfaction it becomes anything but neutral.
To see the same color on walls, on partitions, on desks feels claustrophobic; the only reprieve for the eye is the carpet which is a couple of shades darker than everything else and scattered with flecks of red and purple.
The windows, if one is lucky enough to be near them, are almost always filthy, a quality that is enhanced on dark and dreary days of which lately there have been plenty.
The windows are like many other features, meant only for certain people. So are real walls and doors, and furniture made with solid wood.
Those that reside in these special places are primarily men, overwhelmingly white, with wives and children, of which they often complain about, and are so deep in debt that they will never escape.