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Powerful pop culture with a signpost of Hasidic (?) mysticism

Wil Eisner’s “The Building”
This is a sentimental but somehow unforgettably real tale, spanning the life of single corner building in NYC. Eisner introduces the graphic short story by saying he is sure that buildings—“barnacled with laughter and stained by tears”-- have souls. He tells 4 residents’ stories, each full of ordinary ambitions, blockades to happiness, struggles to find contact and mutual respect, and lonely decline. Well, as a prophet once said, “You are not required to finish.” But each of these people does heed a still small voice to begin to recover what is lost and scattered, although none reach the citadel. And as a literary prophet (Kafka) wrote, “The possibilities of salvation are as real as the hiding places from it.” Hasidic mysticism at the heart of 4 life-stories that are as melancholy as the four downcast ghosts that the denizens of The Building become.
The first image in this story is of Central Park. Birds fly over the trees, shadowed buildings loom in a triangular shape over the scene. On the grass is a portable radio. That suggests music perhaps, but its two speakers are like huge blind eyes, and it casts uncanny shadows in both directions. The only living things in the drawing are hovering birds.
Monroe Mensh, bachelor shoe salesman, “kept life at a distance” until a drive-by shooting caught a little boy in the crossfire. He qit his job and devoted the rest of his life to helping kids. One, running drugs, dies in a cop shootout. His casework stalls due to parents who would rather slug him than listen. His co-owner ofa Save the Kids society embezzles funds. He dies while giving blood in a transfusion that fails, killing the injured child as well as the donor.
Gilda Green from her high school days, loved Benny, the shaggy poet. They belong together, but she is praacticval, so she marries, sleeps with Benny while her husband finds a lover, and they both age. Still beautiful, still loving Benny, but still living a loveless existrence which neithershe nor Benny have what it takes to destroy, she sickens and does not show up for their Wednesday meetings. After her death, and even after a new building takes the place of their life long home, Benny loiters at the entrance on Wednesdays, eating his lunch and “shuffling off.”
Antonio Tonatti is the most artistic of the four, and gives the most pleasure to his neighbors. Told he will not make it as a concert pianist, he works in construction and plays at the corner of the building. “There was a kind of music in his playing. Ad on many occasions, he could even infuse the weak with resolve.” But not Benny and Gilda, apparently, although they more than others heard his music, every Wednesday. His death coincided with the demolition of the building, where he as thr otehjrs had lived almost all their lives.
P. J. Hammond was a real estate proprietor who, after many years, finally bought The Building and moved his offices there. But he could not handle to costs of keeping the old structure running, and sold, with the promise that the new building would be named after him. But, he does not survive its passing, throwing himself out of the window as the old plaster crumbles around him.
Maudlin. Mawkish. Treacly. Pure schmaltz. But the ending is somehow MUCH more than that, even though it is an epic-sized soap opera. Four ghosts—Monroe, Gilda (Benny is still living the purgatory of Wednesday noons), Antonio, and P.J.-- have survived the fall of The Building. One day, a window washer falls from a great height. His squeegee misses a passerby and a child b/c Benny, seeing the vision of Gilda, pushes them out of the way in an effort to reach her. The washer grabs onto a ledge, which is prevented from falling by P.J.’s strong spirit. Monroe’s ghost grabs a boy to move him out of the way of the falling bucket. And Antonio’s violin gives the workman the strength to hold on until he is rescued. “How ya hung on so long, I’ll never know.” “A miracle.”
So Destiny, and the shining forth of it from the “Real World” to this one, is completed. A sense of community is as powerful as the search for fulfillment outside oneself, and each of these ghosts, so hindered by the fear of breaking free in real life, can project onto the city a kind of small blessing. Even the building itself, Eisner wants to believe, does not completely vanish, for there is a spirit that lives on (This is not Trump Tower). There is a need to persevere, to continue to exist in frustration and squalor. The perseverance seems to be an absolute in itself (something one cannot do without, not b/c of the absurdity of existence but b/c without the perseverance one would degenerate into a sub-human, a corporate entity.
I love Eisner because he is so great at using a splendid Amerivan form of pop culture and saying what has to be said. And graphic artists today are some of our best artists ( Katchor, Fingeroth, Sfar, Eisensein), better IMO than those the NYT Book Review writes of.

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