Ecce Scaffold!


Just got to my office at the Chamber after a short Saturday stroll down Main Street. Never mind that I work down here all week. Because I'm not on stage, Saturdays give me liberty to shlump around in an old sweatshirt and jeans -- most folks on the street are totally unaware that I'm that Chamber dude.

I'm downtown today to look for a wedding gift (preferably created by a Vermont artisan) and to cash in on a great fragrance deal at the Hotel Pharmacy. My reason for popping into the Chamber? To do just what I'm doing -- writing this piece.

Gotta tell ya, this particular Talk of the Town's been long a-hatching. With the Vermont Downtown Action Team and the post-Vermont Yankee confabs setting brilliant minds to task, a king's ransom of comment and commentary have been the order of these days. Good discussion. Excellent analysis. ‘Nuff said, said I.

That said, even as I write, I'm not sure I'll get anywhere at all, which you'll judge for yourself if you stick with me.

So since I'm not particularly on target I'll pull out an old trick -- connect with the moment, "be here now," as they taught us in est back in 1975. Notice "what's so." Pay attention to those prompts that haunt to this day.

I did the "est Training" (est for Erhard Seminars Training) in Los Angeles and, it's being LA, my "class" was noteworthy for a couple of industry names in it.

One would soon be starring in a spin-off that had just become "one of my shows," -- a program I'd been assigned to promote. Apparently star and I'd become "business friendly" enough for her to ask me to help decorate her dressing trailer. Gee, what a moment. What a claim -- if not to fame, than to personal validation! All those years at House Beautiful had added up to that whodathunkit career moment when a big-time star asked me, me, about color and pattern and placement. This is big in Hollywood. Big!

That heady time's been with me these days because I've seen in the media that Star hasn't been well. While our paths will most probably never cross again, if she feels even the slightest bit better for even a moment, say when she laughs, maybe it's because she feels the love of someone, somewhere, who knew her -- sometime way back when.

So here I am, "being here now" about my old friend, this great lady I'm still crazy about after all these years. And I've discovered that "what's so" for me, Dear Reader, is this: I haven't been nearly as crazy about downtown Brattleboro in the more-than 17 years I've lived here as I am right now. Crazy, indeed, because our Downtown Star, our great lady, isn't yet in full performance mode.

What we do have is her promise. And a sense of life and pulse and beat and buzz and edge that I've frankly never noticed around Main Street and the sides. We have scaffolding, man! Scaffolding on the Brooks House! The same fitted piping and planking that makes any trek through NYC an adventure these days.

See, no matter where in Manhattan, no matter the season, Uptown or Down, East Side or West, it's impossible to get from here to there without following the temporary trail, often winding (take that, Retreat -- live with that, Pisgah!) over urban terrain that's suddenly magically mysterious. It's like you kinda know you've trod that path before, but it had been a straight shot and you were comfortably out in the elements with the sky's sun or rain on you, and there was a building hugging the sidewalk and doorways, and curbs to the street and vendors and people, confident in their knowledge of getting to where they want to go.

But scaffolding? Well, that's the stuff of a brave new world.

Brave? Sure. You're along for the ride -- or should I say the walk -- as you hand yourself over to them's who've carved out the trail you have to take. Suddenly you're in the actual street, then back on what had been the sidewalk and then, and this is the cool part, you're within the building itself where -- oh, what was here before? -- A bank? A store? The lobby?

Not until a couple of weeks ago when the Brooks House scaffolding went up had I felt this feeling in Brattleboro. Every so often as I passed one of the street-level shop doors would be open -- and there it was: that cool. That delicious dampness -- as though the very inside of any building is really cool, really damp, when left alone -- left without us -- and the heat we bring to it.

As I pass another, cool comes to mind, and that's the cool under the boardwalk of summers of my youth in Brighton Beach just east of Coney Island. The incredible cool. The silty, soothing sand (face-treatment quality, I tell you!) that never sees the sun, never feels its baking rays, there underfoot to cool your hot dogs.

With every passing day the scaffold structure takes on more complexity, more texture, a beautifully crafted sculpture, a work in progress -- like the building itself. (We were down as Mass MoCA a couple of weekends ago and The Brooks House Under Scaffold would rival any construction exhibited in that wonderful space.)

Ah, but we have it here. And for free! Our scaffolding is life as art, industry as art, the future ... as art.

The Brooks House tower has never soared more energetically nor with more majesty. And while someday soon our star attraction will have been fitted from the inside out to within an inch of its remarkable life and the scaffolding will be carted off, the memory of our time with it, under it, looking up at it, will stay with us. It will with me.

And yes, with new life and lives moving in and doing, the cool may fade. But like the sand under the boardwalk ... like the cool work-in-progress caverns on seemingly every other street on my beloved Manhattan Island ... it will not disappear.

So thank you, Brooks House Development Team. There's even more dimension to the story than you'd imagined, isn't there?

And be well, dear Val.


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