Condo Wars

Paul Lowinger


Cotter Downs, a taupe eight story building on San Francisco's Sutter Hill has one hundred and seventy three condominiums, each twelve hundred square feet with a nine foot ceiling, a balcony and a view. The circular structure won an architectural award according to the sales brochure.

I shut the door of my condo and walked into the sunbright noon hall where I heard a woman's voice broadcasting in a rising turmoil , "This paint sucks. It's whorehouse pink."

"Zzzz, zzzz," the painters' voices were like cattle lowing.

The raw voice with a Scandinavian accent continued, "You can't paint this crap on the walls. I live here. I'm an owner. This is my home."

The disembodied voices disoriented me for a moment before I realized that they were from a hallway on a higher floor. I them heard through the center well, the hole in the donut. I was angry about the walls and pillars which were newly repainted from taupe to pink. I hated the ugly wall color glowing outside my front door so it was time for a nosebleed if not a hemorrhage. Anyway, I enjoy a fight.

When I got to the fourth floor, I discovered a loose jointed women who said, "I won't have it looking like a brothel. This color is Miami Vice." She waved a paint brush at the pink wall slashing it with brown floor paint. The sepia colored painters who wore white uniforms huddled like a quarry at bay. They grumbled in response although a language bar rier insulated them from the harsh words.

The foreman surveyed the brown Rorschach on the pink wall and led his men in a retreat to higher ground explaining, "We'll paint on the fifth floor and I'll call the boss." To his crew he said in Spanish that this bitch was trouble and he hoped she caught a disease.

"I'm glad you are fighting the pink flamingo," I said. "The floors are trash too." I looked at the slick floor, newly dark brown and now I remembered with nostalgia the old cappacino floor with its rust red border.

"I'm Helga Bergen. I've been here for seven years," she said as I noticed a tic of her right eye.

I introduced myself adding, "I'm the new owner of 204. I bought it from the florist who died last fall."

Then she announced, "This is fascism. The condo Board didn't consult the owners. Maybe I could have stopped them if I'd gone to the Board meetings but I have to go to Mexico every month on business."

The strategy session next day in Helga's ap Kartment began with an obligatory view of downtown and the bay. Small crystal figurines of flowers and animals crowded living room shelves, and I counted fifty glass fish.

A pixie in a black jumper urged we write a letter to every owner explaining our position, "Tell them that the present Board should be removed in the election next month."

A bald head fringed with gray said, "I'm only here for the summer months from Brazil. Let's talk to the Board. They want to hold up the values too."

A woman with purple hair sucked on her water bottle before she spoke, "Color is very emotional. We need a color consultant, maybe we should do Feng Shui."

"Huh, what's that? " a retired teacher asked.

"Earth divination from China that invokes the forces of nature and color. It's been used for thousands of years and it controls adversity. qIt helps the power of fortune," she replied.

Helga looked grim as she spoke, "Let's get back on track. We'll get a petition to demand that the painting be stopped immediately."

Frank Wu moved into the center of the room and spoke softly, "I want harmony to prevail but the Board acted improperly by ignoring the desires of the condo owners. We need a poll of the owners about their wishes."

A short man with a buzz cut and a gold earring explained, "I run my clubs and music business and I'm gone till eleven every night. I need cool neutral colors that reduce my stress when I walk through the halls. I'll be in Bangkok for a few days but after that I'll help." His almost identical companion smiled.

Helga summarized, "We'll contact all the owners and ask them to sign a demand that the Board stop the painting. It's especially important to reach the absentee owners ."

We agreed as a latecomer announced, "Even at Cotter Downs, we don't have clean water anymore. We're all being punished like Waco and Ruby Ridge." He and his wife wore hiking boots and sixties' peace insignias. As they exited she said, "This is a republic, not a democracy. Don't let the dope- sniffing dogs in the building."

Next week the fourth floor of the building had stripes of different paint samples in a confusing array on the floor and walls. A lively discussion was in progress when I arrived for the decorating committee meeting at ten am.

The Board President with her Hillary Clinton haircut spoke, "No one came to the decorating committee meetings so I had to choose the colors myself. The decorator liked sagebrush but I chose pink , the color of my daddy's Cadillac. Actually the painter helped choose the brown floor color."

"I think the pink had pizzazz, the color of the nineties," a m an wearing rope sandals said. "I'm tired of the old colors."

"I heard that someone is trying to get the ballot translated into Chinese. That's a mistake," a women with a small dog on a leash said to the sandaled man. "I'm a Libertarian, not a Liberal."

Communal drums pulsed as the next meeting of the decorating committee approached. The Mercedes and BMW's in the garage trembled, my Volvo was nervous and even the Toyota and Hondas were restless. I wondered if we should call the Community Mediation Service.

My phone rang and a woman was in tears, " I can't choose the wallpaper before the meeting because they won't be able to drop the samples off in time."

The next day the phone rang at noon. Helga said, "We have seventy one names on our petitions already and I'm just starting to call the out of town owners."

I received e-mail which defended the Board's pink decision. "We worked on the decorating committee for nine months and don't appreciate your last minute NONSENSE."

I replied but soon there was another e-mail, "Let's all work for the good of Cotter Downs. Reelect the tried and true Board."

I distributed campaign flyers under doormats, taped some to front doors and used snail mail and e-mail. "Flush the old Pinko Board, NEW BLOOD is needed. Fight aesthetic pollution. Vote for your first ever integrated slate. This time all the levels will be adequately represented so we can avoid lower floor tribalism and upper floor chauvinism. Also we have a Chinese candidate in a complex where over a third of the space is owned by Asians. Power to the owners! Trust us."

I was not elected but my vote total was just after the two reform candidates who won, Helga and Frank. Three members of the old Board remained. The new five member board was often gridlocked because one member was usually out of town. The meetings were loud when Frank told the President to piss off and the rope- sandaled man talked about his service in Vietnam. Someone called Helga's phone number at three am a few times, cursed and hung up.

The pink walls were repainted taupe to match the outside but now faux wall paper, distressed Southwestern furniture and ornate aluminum ceiling fixtures began appearing in the halls. My condo wars are still on.

@ Paul Lowinger 1998