a (board) meeting of the (insane) minds
last night, i attended my first ever shareholders meeting. for those who don’t know, i live in a coop here in NYC, which means that technically, i own shares of my building, rather than truly owning a piece of property (like i would if i had purchased a condo). coop buildings come with coop boards, and every so often, those boards hold meetings where the shareholders (aka, everyone who lives in the building) can come and discuss proposed updates for the coming year.
having never been to one of these shindigs before, i figured it would be a relatively simple affair: people would sit in the community room, the board would give us some updates, and boom! we’d be done, and head back up to our respective apartments to cook late dinners (me) or tuck our kids into bed (other people).
BOY WAS I WRONG. you guys, the meeting was insanity. it wasn’t even a meeting, really, but rather, a multi-hour time block set aside for people to air their many grievances about the building. as it turns out, despite us living in a not really that fancy building, let’s be real, people feel strongly about us having certain things. like a fancy laundry room–one that doesn’t vent dryer air out into the courtyard. like fountains that only shoot to certain heights, lest they be interpreted as lewd (more to come on this. PUN INTENDED).
i walked into the meeting a little bit late, having just gotten home from work (and honestly, having forgotten the meeting was even happening). i sat in the back, careful not to crowd any families or couples or people who seemed to know other people. for the first ten minutes, i scrolled through my emails on my phone, pretending to be busy so that i didn’t have to acknowledge that i was there all by myself. having been in the grand apartment for a year and a half, i’ve mostly gotten past the whole “i’m here alone” thing, but every so often, the feelings of inadequacy and loneliness creep in, and let me tell you: there is NOTHING more lonely than sitting on a plastic folding chair in a busy common room where you’re talking to exactly NO ONE. being surrounded by groups–either neighbors who’d been in the building forever and knew all their floormates, or young families who huddled together, showcasing the latest ‘cute kid’ photos on their phone–was sobering. when i’m up in my apartment by myself, i could care less that i’m there alone. but being alone in a crowded room…WOOF.
but that, friends, is a story for a different day. you’ve heard me wax poetic about my loneliness before, and that’s not why we’re here today. today, we’re here to reenact the ridiculousness that was my first board meeting.
so, let’s set the scene, shall we?
picture about nine rows of plastic folding chairs. they’re white, but dingy, old. people are scattered amongst the rows, some on cell phones, others engaged in conversation. towards the front of the room sit about 5 older men (all men, always all men–the women who interviewed me when i applied to live in the building were nowhere to be found) at a series of folding tables. in front of the tables is a small podium.
7:15 comes and goes. 7:30 arrives. the board president, an elderly man with tufts of white hair and large glasses, makes his way to the podium and clears his throat. he informs us that we haven’t met quorum, but that we can go through the agenda items, and schedule the voting portion of the meeting for another time.
agenda items include very important things like new laundry machines, fountain enhancements, and self-inspections for leaky faucets (yes, that was an actual agenda item; see my photo above).
abe, the president (ha!), calls the meeting to order. he introduces the folks at the long tables, apologizes for/explains an incorrect abatement warning letter we all received from the city, and then launches into the good stuff: let’s talk about the fountain.
editor’s note: we have a fountain in our courtyard. when it’s nice out, the fountain runs, pumping water up and out into a small pool. it’s a lovely feature, one that drew me to the building when i first came to look at the grand apartment. apparently, it’s also one of great contention.
see, earlier this year, the fountain got a little refresh. the previously sad spurt of water was now high and mighty, and one night, i walked by to see it was lit. IN A RAINBOW OF COLORS. i texted our super immediately: what was this ugly, tacky ass shiz?! but beyond that, i didn’t think much of it.
back to scene. abe tells us he knows that some of the shareholders have had “issues” with the fountain restoration, and assures us that they’re still working out the kinks. at this point, all hell breaks loose.
a woman stands up in the third row, and tells abe she’s got a little something to say on that front. as it turns out, she has more than a few issues with the fountain restoration. she finds the “ejaculatory nature” of the water levels to be lewd, she finds the bright rainbow lights offensive (especially in a building that should have landmark status!). at the words “ejaculatory nature” the crowd gasps. there’s silence, but just for a second.
undeterred, she soldiers on. she’s a designer, she tells us. she’s lived in this building for 15 years (15 years, people!) and she cannot imagine what the board was thinking. a kind soul passes her a microphone, all the better with which to broadcast her rant.
two rows in front of me, an older man straight out of the shtetl mutters to himself in a thick eastern european accent, but makes no attempt to reach for the microphone. the peanut gallery begins to converse. people agree–the rainbow lights are entirely too tacky for our lovely pre-war building.
abe tries to calm the crowd, and tells us that the rainbow lights are only temporary. even the empire state building is doing it! he says above the din. the empire state building is an art deco building! it’s fun! it’s modern! people like to take pictures of the fountain at night.
at this, the woman with the microphone explodes. THIS ISN’T ABOUT TAKING PHOTOS! THIS IS OUR HOME! i hear her hatred of the instagram generation simmering below the surface, and duck my head instinctively, lest she single me out.
HEAR HEAR! the crowd chants. shtetl man nods to himself in front of me. eez tacky, yes, i picture him saying.
next up on the agenda is the laundry room. we’re getting new machines (this is a good thing!). people fail to see past this; instead, they choose to focus on the fact that our ventilation system is busted–the smell of dryer sheets permeates the courtyard air. a man in the row next to me stands up, and requests the microphone. he tells us he lives above the laundry room, and while new machines are great, he’d rather spend our money where it counts: on venting the dryer air elsewhere. like, out onto grand street.
abe pushes back on this. this type of job would require a mechanical engineer, this type of job would cost tens of thousands of dollars.
he motions to issac, our building manager, a man who i’ve previously only spoken to on the phone and whom i’m overjoyed to learn is an adorable, diminutive, soft spoken soul in a kippah. he’s like every average jewish guy i went to summer camp with, but smaller! i want to put him in my pocket and carry him around to fight my battles in his lovely, soothing voice.
issac, abe asks. how many people do we have living in this building?
issac estimates the number to be around 240, not counting spouses.
almost 400, then. abe says, loudly. he futzes with his sweater, and stares pointedly at the laundry complainer. and how many complaints have we had about the smell of dryer sheets in the courtyard?
issac stares at his shoes. about 4, maybe 5.
FOUR! abe roars. FOUR OR FIVE COMPLAINTS. IN A BUILDING THIS LARGE.
shtetl man gets up from his seat. he’s had enough of this.
laundry man shakes his head. he’s frustrated. if the board would only consult a professional, he says. he’s an architect, and he’s seen these things done, even in old buildings like ours.
a voice emerges from the front row. a woman who’s also lived here for many, many years has a solution. she’d like to tell us about it. may she have the microphone?
the microphone is passed to the front.
the issue with the ventilation, she tells us, is the scent. dryer sheets are toxic, and people should know. maybe, she thinks, the board could tell people to stop using dryer sheets. then we wouldn’t have this problem.
my ears perk up. i love dryer sheets! i love how they make my clothes smell! i am clearly the enemy here. i wonder if i’ll ever come across this woman in the laundry room, and if she’ll scold me when i take out my bounce sheets and put them into the dryer.
abe shakes his head. we cannot possibly control who uses dryer sheets, he says. and if we were to speak ill of them, we could be sued by the companies.
the peanut gallery goes wild. who on earth would sue our dinky little lower east side coop?!
abe persists. we will not ban dryer sheets. when the new dryers are installed, he tells us, he’ll look into fixing the ventilation issue.
we’re now more than an hour into the meeting and only halfway through the agenda. my stomach is growling. it’s 8:45 and i haven’t yet eaten, and i look around me, wildly, for an escape route.
after a few more minutes of uninspired fighting about the laundry room–will prices be raised? will strangers still be able to walk in and use the machines?!–abe puts a moratorium on the conversation. issac, kind soul that he is, offers to schedule an appointment with laundry man to talk to him about his issues living above the dryers, and strategize about ways to fix it. laundry man is unsatisfied, but seems to understand he’s lost the battle for now.
sensing a lull in the meeting, i duck out into the aisle, busy myself with grabbing my packages (they store them at security whilst we’re at work), and head out the side door.
but not before i whisper to my favorite security guard, with the most exaggerated eye roll in the world, THIS. SHIT. WAS. INSANE.
he grins, and shrugs his shoulders. it’s just another day in the life, i suppose.