The owners of the Empire State Building announced last week that the multi-colored lights up on the top will be turned off for the next four months while they do maintenance. Until Thanksgiving, the Empire State Building will have just regular white lights.
This announcement touched off a memory in me. There was a time when this building and I had a very special relationship.
As many readers know, I have published this newspaper over thirty years. I started it in my college days back in the early 1960’s.
In 1972 there appeared at my office two men in business suits who said they had summer homes in the Hamptons, liked my writing and just wanted to stop in and shake my hand. I was appropriately flattered. Then they said they owned the Empire State Building and they wanted me to feel free to be their guests there anytime. I could go up to the top. I could use the telescope. I could take my family or any friends who wanted to go. All I had to do was to call them ahead of time and they would arrange it, free of charge. Normally, of course, you have to buy a ticket to do this.
At the beginning of this conversation I thought these people are pulling my leg, but then after awhile they presented me with their business cards. Now this was twenty years ago and I do not recall their names or the name of their firm, but upon reading the business cards, I was persuaded. They said EMPIRE STATE BUILDING on there, and they said PRESIDENT or VICE-PRESIDENT which was good enough for me.
About a year later, I took them up on their offer. I brought my wife, my three year old daughter and my one year old son. I called ahead and when we got to that big Art Deco lobby there was actually a man in uniform waiting for us, who proceeded to take us past the ticket booth and past the public elevators to the very top for our very own private tour.
A month after that I repeated the experience, this time with a group of friends. I wrote a little story about it in my newspaper.
Shortly after that, in the mail, there arrived a letter from these two gentlemen along with a card, good for one year, that said I was a Special Guest at the Empire State Building and I should be given special courtesies. My name was printed on it, in bold type. This card was wallet size, and it had a picture of the Empire State Building, in faded orange, behind the lettering explaining my privileges. I kept it in my wallet. And I remember on one occasion when I was stopped by a police officer for failing to signal a turn, fumbling through my wallet and offering it up as my first proof of identification.
In the years that followed, I took family and friends up to the top of the Empire State Building three more times. Each time, taking out my card at the ticket booth, I was filled with pride. I was a dignitary. A special guest. I was a personal friend of the owner of the Empire State Building. And my kids, now four and six, occasionally took it upon themselves to tell this to their friends.
Indeed, walking around on the Upper East Side, I could see this wonderful building looming above all others, the very symbol of the City, and I felt sheer delight that I knew the owners and they wanted me as their guest there anytime. In some way, I felt I was part of the Empire State Building team. On the occasions I was there I thought that if I saw anything amiss, any bulb that was out or any paint that was peeling, I would call them and report it and they would say thanks a lot, let us know if you see anything else.
It is such a nice feeling when you own something or are part of the team that owns it. It is said that the collapse of Communism was largely caused because the people never really felt they owned anything, that everything just belonged to the State and they just worked there. They were bored to death.
And then, I received a magnificent invitation to attend a party at the top of the Empire State Building. It was a big fold down invitation, it was in full color, and it announced that at this party the brand new colored lights of the building would be turned on for the first time.
I treasured this invitation. And when the time came, I was there in full formal dress. It was a wonderful occasion. There were hors d’oeuvres, there was a bar and a band and there was dancing and at the stroke of midnight, the music stopped, there was a drum roll and all these beautiful colored lights were turned on, shining outward across the entire glittering city. Everyone cheered.
My official Visiting Dignitary cards arrived year after year. One year they were in green, the next in blue, the next back to orange. Each one had the date of expiration on the top, which was December 31 of the year they were issued.
Then one year, they stopped coming. It might be nice to report that I called the owners and found they had sold the place but the truth is I did not. I didn’t want to know the truth. I wanted my connection to this building to go on forever. And so I imagined that the failure of the cards was just an oversight and if I wanted to go again I’d just have to call and they’d send me a new one, probably by special mail and with an apology.
But my kids grew, the time went by, and the opportunity never presented itself again. After a number of years, I decided the worst was probably true. It had been nice but now I had other things to do. I forgot about Me and The Empire State Building.
Until this week.
What’s the matter with this work crew that they can’t do a little routine maintenance and keep the colored bulbs on at the same time? What has one got to do with the other? The lights will be off for four MONTHS? Where the hell is that telephone number?