Posted by Grady Miller on May 24, 2013 - 7:51:00 AM
Rosa Parks was no wimp. I was.
HOLLYWOOD—Its Friday in downtown Los Angeles, due to a postponed rendezvous in the lobby of the Hotel Biltmore I became heir to that uniquely human delusion of having time to kill (fact is: we don’t kill time—it is killing us). Migrated from the noisy lobby to the restroom—itself a porcelain-glazed oasis of peace and stillness where I could relieve my kidneys and douse water on my face. Now I had reading material to devote my eyes to, and upon exiting from the men’s restroom, disembarked from a hallway into an isolated loggia. Perfect. Not a soul in sight, plush carpeting spread gaudily at my feet below a medallioned ceiling, nor were there chairs handy; nevertheless, I elected to sit myself down forthwith in the loggia that gave the dingy appearance nobody had passed this way in many moons.
Indian fashion, I sat, cross legged, and commenced to read in the sepia light. Before long, a tall man strolled into the precinct. There was a sudden tension in the air, suddenly, as when two walkers approach on an isolated midnight sidewalk. I stared up at the figure in a worsted navy blue suit and off-off-the-rack tie, set off by a clean but cheap white shirt, dreading that he had come to mess with me and yet half-entertained awaited signals that his path was going to swerve away from an encounter with me and leave me in peace.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, capsizing my cheerful anticipation of preserved solitude.
Reading and resting,” I replied. His name was Eric. His voice had a foreign lilt that belied either the Virgin Islands or an
AfricanRepublic. At any rate, my position in the duel was leveraged by knowledge the Eric came from a place where it is no crime to sit one’s carcass down on the ground or plush carpet, as the case may be.
“Are you a guest at the hotel?”
“I’m here with the film festival people.”
“The lobby is that way, and there are chairs you can sit in.” Eric pointed to where I’d come from. If the Biltmore had road signs, the sign would read: Lobby Â¼ mile ahead.
“I wanted to go to a bookstore corner,” I advancing cheerfully, hoping that Eric might be able to confirm its existence. I stood my ground, that is, I continued sitting. I stood just at that point when he was about to say, “You can’t be here,” and soon we were strolling amicably down the descending carpeted stairs and the faint cloud of light coming in from Grand Ave. I stopped midstride and said, “We really need to correct the world and make it possible for people to sit down where they like.”
He looked at me, truly listening, and said after a reflective pause, “I just do what they tell me to do.” That chestnut, betrayer of petty tyrants, and people incongruent with their jobs, fell effortlessly from the tree of abominations. I hadn’t really pressed the point, and there it was, reminiscent of the oft-voice rationale at Nurenberg: I was just following orders. I was both amazed and embarrassed for Eric.
“I understand,” I said, implying I knew he had a job to do and feeling wimpy for not holding my ground till security ejected me, kicking and screaming from the deserted loggia.
“There is a Starbucks around the corner,” Eric suggested sunnily. “And there’s the Central Library across the street.” He succeeded in opening my eyes to an amazing bibliophile’s temple a few short steps from where I was being rousted. We parted on a cheery note at the glass door on
Grand Avenue, genuinely happy to refuge in the library and yet woefully aware of my complicity in a sinful injustice: being deprived of the sacred right to sit where I damn well please.