Of course, it is not a lobby. It is a meaning. It is a marble advertisement crafted to communicate the following message: you are small and we are great.
Workers quarried stone from as far away as Italy. Others carried it onto ships and hauled it from the docks, trucked it to Manhattan, and installed it on walls and ceiling and floors. After walls and ceiling and floors, Citibank ran out of surfaces on which to place marble.
Not one of those workers anywhere along the intercontinental assembly line keeps his money in a Smith Barney Wealth Management account.
For the people who do, the marble mausoleum has a clear message. You don’t matter. You are an ant. You are lucky to have your money watched over by the geniuses who run the world, the financial lords who ingeniously manage the algorythms of finance, the men who manipulate the secret levers of world economics so that the rich and in-the-know stay rich and in-the-know.
Suddenly, I didn’t wonder if I was dressed well enough to enter the building. I didn’t hope the security guards would consider me worthy enough to merit a pass that would allow me to go through the turnstiles, up the chrome elevator to another mausoleum on the eighth floor, walk across this floor with absolutely nothing on it, and take another elevator into the clouds where I could finally pick up my check.
I always knew that this architecture was just a stage-set, like Mussolini’s fascist architecture, vast spaces of stone designed to intimidate the masses and evoke the awe-inspiring power of the state. But never did such empty and tacky architecture seem so hollow.
As the economy melts down, the colonial antiques on the fortieth floor of a Manhattan skyscraper and the two-tone white shirts with initials on the sleeves of money managers suddenly no longer hide a ridiculously simple truth. They don’t know what the f-ck they’re doing and they never knew what the f-ck they were doing.
Smith Barney is happily leaving Citibank in a month. They are going over to be part of Morgan Stanley.
Maybe they should just take their marble and go home.