Footnotes 4 : From Within the City Fortress

August 22, 2009

posted by Caroline Picard

Continuing the Story of How The Green Lantern Got Busted For Not Having a Business License

Upon receiving my ticket from the city I went to City Hall. They sent me to the seventh floor where I waited for three hours. When I finally spoke to an administrator—a chubby, self-deprecating man—we filled out paper work. He didn’t make many jokes but he did laugh at mine, albeit nervously. He plugged the information into an archaic computer and the computer rejected my proposal. He sent me up to the ninth floor.
On the ninth floor, I waited in line again, paper work in hand. When my turn came, I spoke to a woman behind glass. It was difficult to hear her and she seemed to carry on two conversations at once, the one with me and the one with a co-worker sitting next to her. When she saw my paper work she said, “Oh! You don’t need a business license, you need a live/work space. You’re an artist, right?”
“Yes,” I said.
“It’s like a studio, right? You show your own work?”
I waffled, “Sometimes,” I said. (I never show my own work.) I hesitated. “What if sometimes I show other people’s work?”
She smiled. She winked. “You only show your work.” She winked again.
“Oh. I get it. Yeah. I only show my work.”
She sent me back downstairs.
After waiting another thirty minutes I spoke to the same self-deprecating man. Thumb tacked to his cubicle wall were several awards for Customer Kindness spanning almost ten years. “They told me I don’t need a business license,” I said to the award from 2006. Then I looked at him. “I need a live/work permit, they said.”
The computer almost accepted my proposal. At the last minute it said we needed approval from another woman at another desk. This woman asked me twenty questions, after which she shook her head. “You need a business license,” she said. “You need to research the history of the building to see if there have been previous businesses.”
They sent me to the thirteenth floor.
I took the stairs.
On the thirteenth floor, I walked down a long corridor and into a corner office with two baskets—one brimming with paper work—on a front table. Behind the table there were several desks, all finished in faux-wood. The place looked like an office from an 80’s sitcom that had fallen into disrepair: an old set that no one had since paid any attention. I couldn’t see anyone in the office so I called out, “Hello?”
A small, middle-aged woman stood up. She reminded me of the secretary from Ghost Busters. She had short, pink hair and very large glasses. “Can I help you?” she asked.
“I need to request a history for the building I live in?”
She pointed to the basket with fewer papers. “Fill out the form in that basked and then put it in the other basket.” She pointed to the overflowing basket.
“When will I find out?” I asked.
“I don’t know. We’re all backed up,” she said.
It has never before occurred to me to bribe anyone before. I didn’t bribe her, though I think I should have because while waiting on the history of the building I got a second ticket.

After this second ticket I called my alderman. He put me in touch with a higher up at City Hall. Again, the woman I spoke to was very nice. “We don’t want you to close,” she said.
“What should I do, then?”
“You need a business license,” she said.
“Can you give me one?”
“You can’t get one at that location.”
The Green Lantern was unable to get a license because of zoning; the building was not zoned for a business. Yet. Even if I had gotten a business license I would have had to move my apartment out of the space. They told me that if a) more than 12 people visited the space a week, b) objects were sold, c) there were two doors, d) either 100 sq. feet or more than 10% of the living space (whichever was less) was used for the business, then it was disqualified from the live/work permit. If I had qualified for a business license, I could not have lived there at all. Thus, you see? Apartment galleries are illegal.

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