Miller Time
The Duel
By Grady Miller
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 African Republic. 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 ¼ 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.


Grady Miller can be reached at

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