The Mystery of the Filthy, Filthy Carpet — PART THREE: Can Carpet Be the Canary In A Depressed Economy’s Coal Mine?
[ Click above to embiggen: Are these stains really mold-spotted canaries in the coal mine indicating we’re in a global Depression? ]
If you’ve been following “The Mystery of the Filthy, Filthy Carpet” you’ll know that on 2/20/2013 I arrived at the downtown Chicago offices of the law firm Hinshaw & Culbertson for a four o’clock appointment I had with Scott M. Gilbert, one of Hinshaw’s young partners, only to find the carpeting in the reception area to be the filthiest I’d ever encountered…and that’s including the gray, poorly-made carpeting I’d seen in Eastern Europe as a kid or the dirty flooring I remembered from the movie The Lost World: Jurassic Park, where very foolish people went to this island that had been years-ago abandoned by an even more foolish corporation engaged in cloning dinosaurs (but the dinosaurs got loose and, among other inconsiderate things, ruined all the carpeting in the abandoned office buildings and labs on the island). I think that movie was supposed to be set somewhere off the coast of Costa Rica, so the carpets were covered in black mold, mushrooms, and nests of all sorts of tropical-climate creepy-crawlies…but it still looked fresher and more inviting than the mystery-stained beige carpeting at Hinshaw & Culbertson in Chicago where, I presume, dinosaurs have never been set loose. I guess it says something about how terrible The Lost World was as a movie that the thing I remember most about it is its stained carpet, because that film really was a stinker. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what lasting impression is left on Hinshaw & Culberston’s actual clients by this filthy carpet.
I’ve received a lot of letters the last few days from people who wonder why I’m so fascinated by the filthy carpeting and extremely unsanitary washroom I found at the Hinshaw firm…and the immediate answer is that bizarre things like this have always fascinated me because I believe they are clues to something we’re missing in the bigger picture. I’m Catholic, and I believe the Holy Spirit nudges us all here and there, wherever we’re supposed to go…and sometimes I think that when something so absolutely bizarre as “The Mystery of the Filthy, Filthy Carpet” is dropped in my lap I’m supposed to learn something from it or help someone who’s involved. In this case, the jarring experience of stepping into the reception area of a supposedly prestigious Chicago law firm in a high-rent skyscraper smack dab in the middle of the Loop and finding the public areas to be poorly maintained and absolutely filthy set off my natural mystery-solving radar…because it made me wonder just how bad things are in our current economy that a firm like Hinshaw would allow its waiting-area carpeting to become so filthy and would essentially let its men’s washroom degenerate into what could easily moonlight as a set for the next Saw torture-porn movie (which, for some reason, are flicks that always seem to have long stretches of plot centered in filthy bathrooms..from which guys like Cary Elwes desperately try to escape).
My mind keeps jumping around to all sorts of movies and tee-vee shows in this particular case, because I’ve just never experienced a waiting-area or washroom this filthy in real life. Many years ago, I worked in a hotel while I was in college and our corporate office would have closed the place down for immediate renovations if we allowed our lobby to become so filthy; even if we were struggling in the dead of winter with 90% of the rooms in the hotel vacant and very little money coming in, we’d still make sure the lobby carpeting was spotless. That was back in Cleveland, where we seemed to have not only more snow and slush than I’ve ever remembered in Chicago…but the wintery precipitation would always be a black, tar-like sludge thanks to the steel mills that still belched dark smoke into the air around the city and the water table that would spontaneously combust if conditions were right (such as someone dropping a match into the river or even looking at the Lake funny). Since Hinshaw & Culbertson’s lobby in a mild, dry Chicago winter was filthier than that of a heavily-trafficked hotel in downtown Cleveland (which was a favorite shortcut for homeless people to use when getting from a pandhandling free-for-all park to the Justice Center for their court appearances), I’m inclined to believe the Holy Spirit intended for me to see this filth and inspired me to contemplate what it means for our country at large.
I truly believe, as a part of my faith, that there was a reason I was meant to be sitting on that couch and left alone by Mr. Gilbert for so long with nothing else to do but stare at and photograph the filthy carpeting in that lobby.
We seemed to forever be tightening budgets and cutting costs when I worked at the hotel, and that was in the late-90s before the Dot.com implosion. Things got especially tight after 9/11, because millions of people were spooked off flying and hotels lost massive amounts of bookings (mostly related to canceled conventions, but also due to people finally making the leap to working from home and video conferencing instead of flying for business all the time). I was the head of security at the hotel and I think my department’s budget was cut to the point where I had to start buying printer ink and other office supplies with my own money, since the hotel couldn’t afford any of it and was reeling from a massive cash crunch due to the sudden downturn in the industry (thanks to “the religion of peace”). And, yet, the hotel was still always spotless, the carpets were forever clean, and the men’s washroom sparkled.
I think we would have had to be on the brink of closing down the hotel for the General Manager to have ever tolerated filthy carpets or unsanitary washrooms in that building. Literally, if everyone was laid-off due to budget cuts and it was just the GM and a few other managers left on the payroll, that guy would have had his sleeves rolled up and would have brought his own bucket of suds from home to make sure the carpet was clean and presentable to our guests. There just doesn’t exist in any realm of my imagination an image of my old hotel’s carpeting ever being allowed to become as filthy as that at the Hinshaw & Culbertson national corporate headquarters.
And this scares me, because I wonder if it’s a sign that we truly are in the economic Depression that I’ve believed we’ve been in for some time. If a large and supposedly prestigious law firm like Hinshaw & Culbertson seemingly no longer has the resources to keep its lobby carpeting clean and to tidy up its washroom, then I wonder how many other businesses in Chicago could be running on fumes. If things are really this bad in our economy that a place like Hinshaw can’t seem to afford the basics (like proper housekeeping and sanitation of their offices), then how long is a firm like this going to stay in business? And what does that mean for all of the people who count on this place being there…and all of us taxpayers who’d have to shoulder the unemployment benefits or welfare if big layoffs follow the filthy carpets and neglected maintenance of these offices?
I’m scared this filthy carpet is a canary in our economic coal mine and the filth I found last week in a waiting room is an alarm that big firms and other large employers here in Chicago might be dominos teetering on oblivion…and that we could have another massive corporate die-off like we had in the Dot.com crash and the financial apocalypse of 2008 that George Soros rigged to secure Barack Obama’s election.
Don’t forget that the Obamacare penalties and stifling requirements are set to hit employers hard in January of 2014, so we have less than a year until businesses coast to coast need to start carrying the burden of covering health insurance for millions of Mexicans who broke the law and came here for handouts (at the President of Mexico’s urging, of course, because these people then became our problem…not Mexico’s). I’m really wondering if a big firm like Hinshaw & Culbertson is allowing its carpets to get filthy and its washrooms to go uncleaned because it just doesn’t have the resources available to take care of this stuff anymore…and if staffing cuts or reduction in hours directly linked to Obamacare could be a reason for this.
It’s a real shame, too, because all the workers I met at the Hinshaw firm when I was there seemed like very nice people. I especially felt bad for this one firecracker of a receptionist they had, who was an elegant older black woman in a gorgeous cream suit with a shiny, gold rhinoceros broach on her lapel. There she was, so friendly and charming she’d easily be played by Viola Davis if this was a firm in a John Grisham movie…so clearly taking great pride in her personal appearance and doing an excellent job…but the poor woman was forced to sit at a reception desk that was essentially this tiny island of tidiness in a sea of unkempt, dingy, filth. It was like going to see the best movie that’s come out in years (starring your favorite actress), but the theater you ended up watching it in was weeks away from being condemned by the health department and torn down…kind of like that old movie palace in Detroit that’s on its last legs as a ramshackle parking garage. It’s a very disconcerting and uncomfortable feeling to watch someone you instantly like have to force a smile and carry on the best she can, while being visibly embarrassed by the surroundings in which she has to work. I really felt badly for this nice lady because she reminded me of one of my friends’ moms…and I’d hate for them to have to work in a place that was so dirty.
As I waited and waited for Mr. Gilbert to figure out where we were going to have our meeting, all I kept thinking about was “Why on Earth did these people let their offices get so dirty?” and “Why can’t they clean these carpets?”; after investigating this for the last several days the terrifying conclusion I think I’m forced to reach is that it’s because they just can’t afford to keep the place clean anymore.
Honestly, I don’t know what something like this means for our country (and businesses that YOU might work for), but I hope you’ll give me your input in comments below. A few days ago I actually reached out to Ann B. Davis, the actress who played “Alice Nelson” on The Brady Bunch because I wondered if she could give us any cleaning advice that I could then pass on to Donald L. Mrosek, J. William Rogers, and Mr. Gilbert at the Hinshaw firm — but I have not heard back from Ms. Davis yet. At 80-something, I don’t know how often she writes back to strangers asking for cleaning tips (or how much she really learned while playing “Alice”) so I thought about anyone else I might possibly know who has ever dealt with stains as pronounced and prodigious as those I found in the waiting area of Hinshaw & Culbertson.
And then I realized that many years ago I had a chance encounter with a true cleaning expert while working another job I once had in Cleveland….and so I decided to write to her for help today as well.
VIA US MAIL — 2/23/2013
Ms. Ponce Kiah Marchelle Cruse Evans
aka “Heloise”, The Conqueror of Stinks and Stains
San Antonio, Texas
I’m sure you don’t remember this, but I met you many years ago while working at the Brentano’s bookstore in downtown Cleveland’s “Galleria” mall, back when there was still a bookstore in there and the building was itself still used as a mall (for the last few years, it’s been a largely-abandoned “urban farm” with hydroponic tomatoes haphazardly soaking in buckets and little bugs correspondingly flying around…but the latest cockamamie scheme is to turn it into a giant YMCA gym and flood the whole lower level for a swimming pool…which is sort of the screwball type of pipe-dream solution to a longstanding problem that makes Cleveland forever next in line to invest in monorails at some point; honestly, all that’s missing in my former hometown is a Krusty Burger and a dance number inspired by “The Music Man”).
I remember all of our home improvement and gardening books being in the rear of the store, back in those days when people still went to bookstores and “Amazon” was most recognizable as a river in South America that few in Ohio had the slightest inclination to ever visit in person (“Why do we have to get on a plane and then deal with Spanish-speaking people when we have a perfectly good river right here in Cleveland…and ours can catch FIRE! Bet that Amazingzon can’t do that and so it isn’t all amazing after all” would have been essentially the attitude you’d find in Parma, especially). “Dot Com”, back then, was also more likely to be associated with the perky wife of a shop teacher or plumber, whose buddies no doubt ribbed him mercilessly for a last name that lent itself to riffs on “Commie” (or even more vulgar jabs, if locker room barbs switched a vowel in the “Com” and took us into PG-13 territory). In Cleveland, this sort of banter amongst straight male friends is called “funnin”, with the “g” missing like that (because it’s a Cleveland thing). I don’t get it, and I never did, which is largely why I’m gay and live in Chicago now.
Around 1994 or so, you were in Cleveland for something (maybe you came to see the house from A Christmas Story, because the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame was not open yet and those are often the only two reasons people willingly come to Cleveland) and somehow found your way to my Brentano’s…where a customer excitedly raced to the register to tell me that “Some woman with white hair is writing in all of your books!”. I think I was mad at my manager Laurie for making me work that day when I was supposed to be off, so I took my time investigating…but, sure enough, there you were sitting on the floor with a Sharpie and a smile, beaming “I’m Heloise!” as I approached. “I’m Kevin,” I told you, and then asked if you were okay or if I needed to call someone to help
restrain you. That was a nicer way of my asking if you had escaped from someplace, since you were too nicely dressed and friendly to be a vagrant…and your penmanship was just lovely. “I’m Heloise!”, you repeated…which made me wonder if that was, in fact, the only thing you could say.
But then you flipped a book over and held your photo up to your own head and I realized you were just being incredibly nice and autographing the copies of your books we had on our shelves (instead of simply being a very pretty white-haired lady with a Texas twang who vandalizes in the home and garden section of upscale bookstores that no longer exist). We didn’t have much interaction after that, since I had work to do up front and you were busy writing your name a bunch of times with a marker on the floor, even though no one asked you to do that.
I believe one of those books was called “Heloise Conquers Stinks and Stains”, or something like that. Looking over my own resume and list of life achievements, I’m jealous of your conquering of both stinks and stains, whereas I’ve thus far only managed to mildly irritate a few people here and there and publicly shame those with filthy carpets.
That’s actually why I’m writing you today, because it’s not like we promised to stay in touch all those years ago when we met in Brentano’s. As I’m sure you’ve been following, this week I launched an investigation into “The Mystery of the Filthy, Filthy Carpet”…which I was drawn into on February 20th when I arrived at the law offices of Hinshaw & Culbertson in downtown Chicago and was floored by the filthy, stained carpeting in their reception area. Later, when I needed to use the men’s room, I discovered standing water on the floor, clogged toilets with feces floating in urine, smears and grime on the water-splashed mirrors, and lights flickering overhead like in a torture-porn horror movie (such as those in the film series Saw, which has about a dozen installments at this point…but has never featured a men’s room as gross as the one at Hinshaw & Culbertson). Needless to say, there were a great many stinks in that washroom…but none that you couldn’t conquer, if your books are to be believed.
Part of my investigation into “The Mystery of the Filthy, Filthy Carpet” is figuring out why, exactly, this law firm allows its waiting area to be so filthy and why its men’s room is so unsanitary (and full of stinks!). That’s really something I doubt you’ll be able to help with…and I already have a letter in to the firm’s Senior Partners basically asking them why this is happening. Since I have yet to hear back from any of them (due, no doubt, to it being February and I bet a lot of people get divorced after Valentine’s because husbands give lousy presents most of the time and that starts fights), I’ve prayed on the matter and have decided to operate as a Good Samaritan, concerned citizen, and local busybody to see if I can find any cheap and affordable cleaning tips that could “conquer” the stains and stinks that I discovered in the offices of Hinshaw & Culbertson.
There are some very nice people working there, including a very friendly woman with a rhinoceros pin on her jacket and another nice lady with white hair like yours, only she wears it “up” more and is kind of heavy-set. That lady was sweet and when she saw me staring at the stains in the carpet and taking pictures of them with my iPhone she mouthed “It’s so embarrassing!” as she hurried through the room with a bunch of papers. I don’t really know any of the people working there besides this really nice lawyer named Scott M. Gilbert, but they all seem like good and polite people who deserve a clean office and stain-and-stink-free working conditions.
I ordered your book “Heloise Conquers Stinks and Stains” and I’m asking my readership to pick up a copy too…because I really believe in you (even though I could never remember or pronounce your real name if my life depended on it) and you’re technically the first published author I ever met, if you don’t count Patricia Highsmith, Madeline Albright, Erma Bombeck, John Grisham, or Maya Angelou (all of whom I met before you at various, separate events while in high school, but the story of meeting you on the floor in Brentano’s while you were writing in the books is much more interesting than running into Bombeck at the Phoenix airport or whatever).
Since it takes a few days for Amazon to ship a book and it will be about a full week before I’d be able to find the time to read all of it, I was wondering if you could just look at the pictures I’ve enclosed of the filthy carpet in the Hinshaw & Culbertson law offices and then give me some quick pointers on how these people can clean up their stains. I did not take pictures of the unsanitary and poorly-maintained restroom at this firm (because there was a Hispanic man in there from the Blue Plate Catering Company changing his clothes and I didn’t want to either embarrass him or make him think I was posting the photos to Grindr or Scruff or whatever without his permission); come to think of it, though, since stinks don’t really photograph even if I took pictures of the restroom it would just be shots of water on the floor and feces bobbing in urine…and there’s enough of that on the Internets if you really need to see it to be of help in this case. In a cartoon, the animators would have drawn green, wavy lines depicting the stinks in there…but I don’t know how to use photoshop and I couldn’t even begin to imagine how to do that.
I plan on passing along any advice you can give for cleaning the filthy carpets and tidying the men’s washroom to the Senior Partners at Hinshaw & Culbertson the very next time I am in their offices for a meeting with Mr. Gilbert, so I bet you’d have a week or two to get back to me before I’d have another appointment there. No doubt, they are anxiously awaiting my return so that I can help them with all their problems.
Before I close I do want to thank you in advance for your help in providing some advice to Hinshaw & Culbertson on how to clean their stains and stinks…because I suspect they might not have a lot of money to spend on things like cleaning, since they allowed the carpeting to get this bad and they leave the washroom so filthy in the first place. You are a very busy columnist, author, and Conquerer of Stinks and Stains…and your writing has brought a lot of joy and good in this world. I almost want to suggest it’s time for a sequel to your book, which could be written cover-to-cover about how to clean up the stains and stinks in a law firm such as Hinshaw & Culbertson. I don’t want to tell you how to manage your own successful brand, but I’d call it “Conquering Stains & Stinks Part Two, the Sequel, Written About the Filthy Lobby and Men’s Room at A Chicago Law Firm” if I was you. But, then again, I never was good at finding simple, rolls-off-the-tongue titles for things. You are no doubt better at that than me. But, wouldn’t it be a hoot if you’d team up with John Grisham and maybe even do a book together on all this? The next time I run into him at something I’ll try to connect the two of you (though I only saw him that once, twenty years ago, so I don’t know how long a wait this would be).
With thanks in advance for your help in this important matter regarding stains and stinks found at Hinshaw & Culbertson’s Chicago offices,
HB NOTE: “Heloise” is probably my favorite source for household hints outside of the “FlyLady” forums and eBooks and things my grandmothers or my friend Abbey taught me back in Cleveland. Amazon.com has a big selection of Heloise books, on all sorts of topics. Her tips really work, and she really was a super nice lady when I met her twenty odd years ago…so I assume she’s still just as nice today. I have no idea if she’ll write back or if she has the time to help solve “The Mystery of the Filthy, Filthy Carpet” but stranger things have happened with my investigations for this site.
QUESTION for COMMENTS: What tricks have you used to remove filthy stains in your own carpet or conquer stinks in the washrooms of prestigious law firms you’ve visited that have neglected their cleaning duties?
What other experts should we contact for more assistance with our investigation into “The Mystery of the Filthy, Filthy Carpet”?
To read the rest of this “Mystery”, click HERE.
© 2013, Kevin DuJan. All rights reserved.
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