The Palace at Land's End
Sutro Baths, San Francisco, California, c. 1900
by hiromi suzuki
A melody lulls him to sleep. It echoes at the bottom of an empty public bath, abandoned and dried up. In this semi-basement glasshouse, particles of sunshine are pouring down. The melody, which is round, without thorns, just sweet, hurts nothing. The musical notes repeat, floating and falling with the dust in the air. Before disappearing. As fast as in a daydream.
He works for an indoor plants leasing company. His surname is Ando. He signs “&O” for his delivery notes of potted plants to hotels, restaurants, cafés, hospitals, department stores, complex facilities and so on. Weeping fig. Pachira. English ivy. Adiantum. Golden cane palm. Rubber Tree. Yucca Elephantipes. Spider Plant. Saint George’s sword. Dwarf umbrella tree. Peace lilies. Dracaena. Monstera. Driving the Toyota HiAce – a light commercial vehicle –, each month he goes around the buildings under contract to replace the potted plants, which are about his height. His main areas are Shibuya, where many large-scale commercial facilities are closely built together, and Shinjuku, where hotels such as the Hilton and Hyatt are concentrated in the west.
“Hello, Mr. &O.”
At the ground floor lounge of a high‐rise condominium in Shinjuku, a young lady resident called out to him. She was wearing a thick knitted dress. The maxi dress accentuated her body line. “Good afternoon, Mr. &O. What is this? Very creepy, isn’t it?” She let her eyes drop shyly like a girl who stopped growing at the age of fifteen. Yellow mushrooms were growing at the root of the potted Monstera on the marble floor. It was Leucocoprinus Birnbaumii usually called “Flowerpot Parasol”, common in the tropics and subtropics. An ephemeral species that disappears in a short time because the mushroom cap liquefies. He replaced it with a potted Pachira unloaded from the Toyota HiAce. “Why did you break up with the guy you were dating?” he asked. She replied without answering his question, “Can you help me help out with moving next month? This condo is on the verge of land subsidence. Though my luggage can be left in the room until next September. Thus far, I have moved many times and thrown away a lot of memories. Could we ride together in your van? Please, Mr. &O, please!” She sobbed her guts out and then in a perfectly natural manner she left the main entrance of the building as if she suddenly woke up from a dream. Residents were looking back at him with suspicious eyes, coming and going in the lounge. Without bringing the potted Monstera, which is home to the yellow – creepy – mushrooms, back to the office, he went down the emergency stairs and took it to the semi-basement of the condominium. He knew there was a huge empty public bath abandoned by people, closed for business.
In the past, Shinjuku Jūnisō Natural Hot Spring was a one-day bath facility located in the western end of Shinjuku, Tokyo, which closed on March 29, 2009. The doorway was on the ground floor of the condominium. From the 1700s to the 1800s, Jūnisō-pond used to be a scenic spot in Edo with abundant spring water. It prospered as a tourist destination lined with inns and teahouses. It was also known as a pleasure district, with a number of brothels. In 1968, the pond was reclaimed and disappeared due to the Shinjuku urban development project.
Sutro Baths offered visitors many other attractions including band concerts, talent shows, and restaurants. With several railroads providing transportation to the area by the late 1890s, a visit to Sutro Baths crowned an all-day family excursion to the shore, including stops at Sutro Heights, the Cliff House and Ocean Beach.
In 1964, developers with plans to replace the Baths with high-rise apartments bought the site and began demolition of the once great structure. In 1966, a fire destroyed what was left of the Baths.
― The Ambitious & Magnificent Sutro Baths*
The complex hosted events from swimming competitions to beauty contests to dwarf boxing matches. Sutro Baths was a popular Lands End destination for many years, yet the great expense of its upkeep and maintenance made it an uncertain business proposal.
― Vestiges of Sutro Baths**
&O had neither ambitions nor desires, but it was his secret pleasure to water the potted Monstera and the yellow mushrooms at its roots. It became a daily routine for him to visit the abandoned public bath at the semi-basement of the condominium in the western end of Shinjuku between patrols. He was loading water in the delivery van in addition to the houseplants. The water supply of the semi-basement had been cut off, so he brought in four two litre bottles of mineral water every day. Through the glass windows of the semi-basement, particles of sunshine were pouring down along with a sweet melody in – his skull – to the potted plant. The Monstera was bathed in plenty of water making the leaves bigger. It was just about to transform itself into a true Monstera, named from the Latin word for “monstrous” or “abnormal”. However, he did not know that in order to define the “monstrous” or “abnormal”, it was necessary to define the “normal”. After that, the leaves of the Monstera gradually lost their energy. Finally, its roots rotted. After spreading their spores and adding to their family several times, the yellow mushrooms melted into the damp soil. Then they disappeared.
Overwatering is the most common cause of sickness – and, sorry, death – in houseplants. It’s a common mistake to think that more water will make your plant happier, but too much water will drown them.
In short, simply loving your plants too much.
― How to stop overwatering your plants***
Oxygen is insufficient. &O has recognised this reality. He recalls her – who stopped growing at the age of fifteen – saying the condominium is on the verge of land subsidence. The boat carrying him – an empty bathtub in the semi-basement where many other attractions including band concerts, talent shows and beauty contests had been held – was floating and falling along with the laughter of visitors in the air. Listening to these excited voices, he feels the boat sinking into groundwater quietly. As fast as in a daydream.
About the Author
hiromi suzuki is a poet, fiction writer and artist living in Tokyo, Japan. She is the author of Ms. cried – 77 poems by hiromi suzuki (Kisaragi Publishing, 2013), logbook (Hesterglock Press, 2018), INVISIBLE SCENERY (Low Frequency Press, 2018), Andante (AngelHousePress, 2019), Found Words from Olivetti (Simulacrum Press, 2020). Double solo exhibition with Francesco Thérèse visual HAIKU | OLIVETTI poems was held in Rome, 9 ～30 September 2021. Her short stories have been published at 3:AM Magazine, RIC journal, Burning House Press, and various literary journals on-line. Her Twitter is @HRMsuzuki.
* National Park Service: Sutro Baths History
** National Park Service: Vestiges of Sutro Baths