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Most of us only know the illustrious landmark from a distance: It doesn't begin to resemble the Chrysler Building we can recognize until the 57th floor on up. From the pedestrian point of view, it looks like any other cement block among Midtown's concrete jungle. Only after I'd boarded the uptown local 6 train did it occur to me that I wasn't exactly sure where it was—only that it was vaguely somewhere in Midtown East-ish. Turns out, it is directly across the street from the Lexington Avenue entrance of Grand Central Station, which would have been terribly convenient, had I not gotten off the subway at 33rd Street. On the morning of my appointment, I was deep in covert-op mode (having second-guessed, only at the last minute, a silk head scarf and dark sunglasses a la Kim Novak); prepared to submit to fingerprinting and a background check. In the end, all it took was checking my name against a—handwritten!—list folded in a friendly security guard's back pocket to penetrate the fortress. Still, this does not mean that just anyone can waltz on in (I'm talking to you, terrorists): The elevator bank is protected by magnetized turnstiles, and only an employee ID or a security card will open them. After I was swiped through, the first thing I noticed next to the elevator doors was a metal panel with a single keyhole—which I assumed was the second level of defense. At this, I whispered (to myself) "Wow, they mean business" loudly enough that another guard whistled for my attention and pointed to the perfectly traditional elevator call button on the opposite wall.
It is easy to understand why the Times reporter likened "the small city of tenants" at the top of the Chrysler Building "the people of Oz." At 400 meters high—just about a quarter mile—the spire is far enough away from Manhattan's center to qualify as an outer borough. My visits left me with a distinctly Being John Malkovitch impression of this isolated office community. No, you are not required to walk on all fours (although the ceilings in the hallways are rather low), but there is something uncomfortably disorienting about being that high up, in such a narrowed space, surrounded by people who are totally at ease with the off-kilter circumstances—most notably, the frustration of being surrounded on all sides by sprawling sky, but denied much of a view until you can press your nose against one of the triangular windows (with some exceptions: The office on the 70th floor has a large picture window in its waiting room). It is, as it has been written, like looking out at the city through the porthole of a ship; or an airplane window. At around the 50th floor of a frighteningly rattletrap elevator ride, your ears pop no less dramatically than they would on an aircraft's sharp ascent; newcomers might choose this time to glance toward where an inspection certificate would be (tucked safely into an office on the 25th floor, the sign reads). Here, I half-expected to be spit out somewhere in New Jersey. Instead, I was let off on the 57th floor and followed a single, inconspicuously placed sign to the dedicated Tower Elevators, which open up directly to the offices on their corresponding floors; there's not a stairwell in sight. (On a subsequent trip up, I tried a different route to the second elevator bank, and like a mouse in a maze, hit a solid wall—it seems there are no two ways to get to any one place).
Dr. Weiss doesn't look as though he's aged a day since 2005, but he is rather obviously stone deaf, and maybe just a little bit on his way to senile (he is somewhere near 83 years old, give or take). Yet, if any of his officemates are aware of this, they're not giving it away. It doesn't hurt that the elder DMD is a profoundly skilled lip reader, which could easily be one occupational benefit of having spent fifty-something years with his eyes and hands inside human mouths. (If you ever plan on having a conversation with this fascinating man—and I highly recommend it—make sure he can see what you are saying.) And if the passage of time has scraped away some at his immediate recall, it hasn't eroded his long-term memory a bit. His office—which used to be Walter Chrysler's personal gym, before it was a commercial photography studio—is an art (or kitsch) collector's dream, depending on your definitions. The dentist is more than happy to share the stories behind the pieces... except when he's not. (By my third visit, he seemed downright irritated). My personal favorite is a miniature replica of a turn-of-the-century dentist's chair, sold to him not long after the Second World War by a destitute traveling salesman with no possessions other than his wares and the clothes on his back; under a German military-issued winter coat. (Dr. Weiss is Jewish, the son of Austrian immigrant parents).