UNITED STATES—The Palmer House got all gussied up with the help of a threat from the city. Then came the big day of the inspection. I was busy that day showing rooms and spreading flyers around USC. I stopped by the office we shared with the boiler company on La Brea. Cheryl and I had a chuckle, “It’s Jim’s big day,” Cheryl, the secretary said. “I hope they don’t chain him up for not being up to code.”
Wylie didn’t get chained up. He came through smelling like a rose. The process that started in April with me picking up two five-gallon cans of insecticide to combat cockroaches at the hotel, culminated in a juicy offer for the hotel. That charity, which had the hubris to think they had solved the city’s homeless problem, gave Jim Wylie the biggest payday he’d seen in a long spell. He salivated at the multi-million dollar offer and boasted about it to Cheryl and his fellow property owners, Mrs. Bendix and Rizzo.
Then came the discovery that the old fleabag was a pawn in a very big Skid Row real estate chess game. It represented the final parcel on Wall Street that the charity needed to carry out its master plan for 100s of rooms for the homeless. Soon as Wylie got wind, he wanted out of it. Because it was the final piece, Wylie could have pretty much named his price, and made far in excess of the initial offer.
Part of the sale depended on the delivery of some contracts to a downtown office, which as it turned out strictly stated the terms should one of the parties decide to cancel the sale. I had delivered them, signed, sealed and delivered. The buyers claimed they had never been delivered. And if I know a thing or two about property deals—at this late stage in the Palmer House game—already a million Xeroxed pages that had never been read, would never be read, but molder and yellow in forgotten archives, had been initialed by Wylie and the charity. There was no wiggling out of it. But Wylie was brilliant, and if anybody could wiggle out, he could.
There were the mysterious papers that had not been delivered. I was in the dog house—and this was a hallmark of property management: I was always in the dog house. At least I chronically felt that way, and therefore disinclined to ask confidently for a well-deserved raise for duties as publicist, troubleshooter, priest, gofer and paralegal. Time has given me a gentler perspective on all this: I wasn’t in the dog house because of any conscious tactic of Jim Wylie, but my Presbyterian childhood and upbringing, with its expanded concept of guilt, often brought me there, a self-imposed punishment. The Presbyterian suffers a predisposition to soak up others’ troubles as well as stew in their own.
Was it my fault that the new cleaning lady, Josefina, was late on her first day cleaning Wylie properties? Or that Lawrence Brown lit a crack pipe and blew up their new life and glimpsed salvation to smithereens? Was it my fault that the niece of the ghetto bard Donald Goines couldn’t pay the rent (“Mr. Miller, I’m surprised that such a fine person as yourself would even know about my uncle’s books,” she said in a theatrically shocked tone.)
Yeah, blame humanity at large, I guess, despicable and beautiful and hemorrhaging its dignity at every turn.
And into this mix Wylie made me think that I had misplaced or lost this valuable document. It slipped under my carseat; I left it on the counter in the bank. It dropped out of the cylinder for some homeless person to use as a fanny wipe. But I knew better. When I deliver, I deliver and forget. It’s done. Mission accomplished. The mythical lost papers never did turn up. Wylie and I humored to no end the mind’s penchant for believing true the most improbable loss and putting all the imagination’s foot soldiers to work.
One thing was for sure: those charity folks who had smugly designed the solution for the city’s homeless—they were lying. But, hey, all’s fair when it’s in the name of a righteous cause.
Grady Miller is a humorist. He is author of the Hollywood humor collection, “Later Bloomer.”