Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Light

“Shit, I stubbed my toe again,” Megan said to her husband Tom.
“You and that bed corner are not friends,” said Tom teasing her.
“I know, it’s just… hey, look, it’s that light again.”
“What light?”
“That light in that building across the park. Look, it’s flashing again.”
Tom peered into the dark night at the apartment building across the darkened park between their buildings. “I still don’t see it, babe. I think you’re just making it up at this point,” and he went back to staring at his laptop screen at his desk, continue working.
“I’m not! I swear I am not making this up, Tom. Wait… look! Look now!”
Tom slowly pulled his attention away from his work and looked back across the darkness. “Which window is it? I don’t see it.”
“There! There! It’s like four floors down from the top of the building. Don’t you see it? It’s so bright and flashes randomly. Look!”
“Oh, yeah, there it is. What is that?”
“I have no idea.”
“I honestly thought you were making it up and kept it going as a joke at this point.”
“Did you really think I would keep going for three weeks about a light in a building as a joke? It’s not even funny.”
“True. It’s not funny, but it is strange. Look at that… wait, where’d it go?”
“I dunno. It’s just like that. It goes on and off for a while, and then just goes off. Sometimes it’s on for a few minutes and then off for a long time, and sometimes it only waits a few seconds before starting again.”
“Is there some kind of pattern?”
“I was thinking maybe it was Morse Code or something but I can’t figure out what, if anything. It really just seems random.”
“You’re kinda random, babe.”
“Oh, shut up, you.” Megan said as she playfully hit Tom on the arm.

Tom went back to the work waiting for him on his side of the laptop screen and Megan started to walk out of the room, but took one last look at the building across the way just to see if that light started up again. It didn’t, so she left Tom to his diligent typing on his laptop.

Megan had been thinking about this light for the last few weeks. Ever since she first noticed it she felt drawn to understanding what was its source and why it blinked in the seemingly random way that it did. It was so unpredictable she couldn’t seem to guess when it would be on or off. It had a life of its own. In someone else’s apartment, across the darkened park, there was a light with its own sensibilities. Thinking about the light as if it was alive was a curious thing for the very reasonable and realistic Megan to think. Most of the time, she enjoyed coming up with ideas for why things that didn’t have any obvious explanation were the way they were but this had her stumped. She couldn’t even decide on a single reason why it would work the way it did. Was there a short? Then it wouldn’t be going on for so long. It would blow itself out at some point, and she had noticed it for weeks now. Every night, just going on and off of its own accord.

Maybe it was Morse Code? But it wasn’t any pattern she recognized and she had spent a good portion of the summer after third grade teaching herself Morse Code. That spring she had a memorable ninth birthday party where the lights went out during a spring lightening storm, and received a pair of gray walkie talkies with the Morse Code patterns printed on the front.

Megan decided to leave it alone and consider what to do tomorrow. A full three weeks later, and countless nights staring out the window, Tom finally says, “Megan. Please! Go to the building’s lobby and just ask the doorman who lives there. You have to stop talking about this and doing nothing about it.”
“But I don’t even know which apartment I’d be asking about. And this is ridiculous. I mean, why would a doorman tell a complete stranger anything about someone’s apartment. Even if he could figure out which one I meant.” Megan retorted.
“Listen, which floor is it?” Tom asked.
“Well, let me see. If I count up from the bottom and start with the second floor as the first that looks like it has apartments on it, then it’s… three, four, five… seven. It’s the seventh floor.”
“Okay, so go ask about the seventh floor apartment on the corner.”
“Oh, but Tom! There are probably a bunch of apartments, and maybe four corner units. How am I going to know which one to ask about?”
“Which corner is it?”
“Um, well, this is north,” Megan says pointing to her right while still looking intently at the building across the park. “So it’s got to be the north… north east corner.”
“Go ask the doorman about the north east corner apartment on the seventh floor.”
“Tom, now be serious. If they even have a doorman, he’s going to think I’m some kind of creepy stalker.”
“Megan, you hardly look like a creepy stalker. You’re a lovely, girl from Minneapolis. Lovely girls from the midwest aren’t stalkers.”
“So says you.”
“Look, go give it a try one afternoon. What do you have to lose?”
“I suppose you’re right. I could ask. I won’t be any less ‘in the know’ than I am now.”
“Good. Now stop staring out that window.”

Megan gave a vaguely affirmative answer in the form of a low “hmmm” and walked away, clearly still thinking over how to go about asking for more information about the mysterious apartment light.

A few days later, Megan found herself working from home, staring at the ceiling, contemplating a work problem that needed to be solved via email when she’d really rather pick up the phone and tell the other person where to shove his idea for her new marketing campaign. When suddenly the phone rang, and without checking Caller ID first, she carelessly clicked on the phone and said, “Hello?”
“Good afternoon, may I speak to the owner of the home?”
Immediately she mentally recoiled from the voice on the other end of the line and regretted answering. Considering if she should just hang up while the man’s lightly Indian-accented English tumbled around in her mind and listening to a dissonant chorus of background voices in the room from where the call initiated, something told her to entertain this, so she responded, “What are you selling?”
“Ma’am, I’m calling from Central Solar Panel and I’d like to speak with the owner of your home.”
“Well, that’s me, but I don’t see how you can help me. I live in a big apartment building, so there’s no sense in trying to sell me solar panels for my roof.”
“May I inform you that today is your lucky day. For only…” and as he proceeded to read from his script, clearly ignoring the blatant fact that he wasn’t going to make a sale, Megan’s mind wandered from the point when he said it was her lucky day. Maybe this was a sign. Maybe today is lucky and she should finally walk over to that building across the park and see what she could find out.
The man on the other end of the line was still reading his script, “...so for only two-fifty a month…”
“Let me stop you there. Unless you’re expecting to install solar panels on top of the 23rd floor of this building, after getting management, board, and city approval you’re wasting your time with me.” at which point she pushed the Off button on her phone and set it back in its cradle.

Megan promptly walked toward the front door of her apartment, bent down to grab her shoes and put them on -- a habit she picked up from her year abroad while living in Seoul. Taking her shoes off when she came home. The thing she missed most from Seoul, besides the street food and night markets, was the heated floors. Nothing made you instantly feel cozy and home like warm socked feet in the winter.

She lifted her purse from its hook, removed her keys from her purse, opened and closed the door while swiveling into the hallway, and then locked it. As she was striding down the hallway toward the elevators, she started thinking confidently about what she would say to introduce herself to the doorman and considered what things he might say so she would be ready with something in response.

Once in the lobby of her own building, she scanned it quickly to see if there was anyone she recognized. Oddly, the two doormen were both outside helping with packages and a wheelchair, while the rest of the lobby was empty except for the Super and a resident she didn’t know well talking in the corner near the entrance to the maintenance break room. Usually the lobby was buzzing with conversations and people coming and going at this time of day. She shrugged it off and continued out the front revolving door and headed to the left toward the street.

The building in question was only a block away, so in less than five minutes she was walking up to the entrance of the mystery apartment. Standing outside the entrance was a middle aged man smoking a cigarette, wearing a black jacket and matching black pants. She breezed past him, eyes on the door, when he casually said with the gravely voice of a man who has spent most of his life smoking cigarettes, “Can I help you, dear?”
Startled, Megan turned around to face him, waved some stray smoke away from her face, and responded, “Yes. No. I mean, yes. Wait. Who are you?”
“I’m Stan, the doorman,” he replied while pointing to the name badge on his slightly faded black jacket. “And who might you be?” he asked while squinting up at her. His salt and pepper hair highlighted by the sunlight streaming through the tree he was leaning against.
“I’m. I. I just had a question about one of the apartments.”
“Well, there’s a broker who takes care of showing apartments that are available.”
“Oh, no. I’m not interested in buying an apartment. I have a ques… I live up the road on Milford Avenue. Right on the corner of Main Street. I actually, maybe you can help me. I have a question about one of the apartments. There’s one on the corner of the seventh floor. It’s the one on the northeast corner.”
“Well I can’t tell you anything about the people who live here. Like I said, there’s a broker who…”
“No, sorry,” she said as she cut him off. “I really just want to know what’s going on with the lights in that apartment.”
“The lights?”
“Yes, the lights. Specifically lights that face toward the park at night.”
“What exactly do you mean, dear?” he said suspiciously as he leaned closer toward her.
“Well, you see. Look, I know this sounds crazy, but,” she said as she took a deep breath to help collect her thoughts. “But, I live in that building across the park from this one. My apartment faces the park and there are some nights when there is a bright light coming from the apartment on the seventh floor and it blinks.”
“Yes, it blinks. It seems random. I can’t tell if it’s random or not, really. And I’ve been seeing it for months now. All the lights are on in the apartment at night, but there’s this one, closest to the window, that blinks. It’s... I’m just really curious what kind of light it is and who lives there. Like, what kind of person has a light pointed toward outside, going off throughout the night but not turn it off? It seems like a very strong, exposed light bulb or a bright flashlight. Not like a lamp. Do you… do you have any idea about that?”
“About the light?”
“Nope. Can’t say I do.”
“Hmmm… that’s what I figured.” she said dejectedly as she started to turn to walk away. Just before she completed a turn, she heard, “But I could take a guess.”
Megan turned to face Stan and looked directly at him with the expectation of someone about to learn a secret truth.
“If I had to guess, I’d say that was the Crimsby apartment. An older couple. Keep to themselves. Mrs. Crimsby isn’t particularly tidy and might just not notice that a light fell and there could be a short.”
“She should be careful, you know. It’s not safe to have a dodgy light laying on the carpet like that. Could start a fire.” he said, and for emphasis, blew his exhaled smoke directly at Megan.
“I see. Yes. I hadn’t thought of that. I suppose that’s not safe. Are you sure she’s alright? Maybe you could check up on her?”
“I’ll see what I can do. But Mrs. Crimsby, she keeps to herself, like I said. She doesn’t much like people interfering with her home. But I’ll mention it.” said in the least interested but still reassuring way possible.
“Thanks.” she paused to look at her hand, and then away to watch a car turn the corner in front of where they were standing. “Do you… never mind. Thanks. Thank you for your help. I guess I have my mystery solved.”
“Suppose you do, Miss.”
“Well, thanks again. I’ll be going.” she said as she started to take a step back to walk away, and she noticed Stan took the lit butt out of his mouth and threw it to the ground just by his foot and as he began to swivel his toes over the cigarette, she turned to walk away. Quickly turning back once more, she caught his eyes and noticed they were an ashy gray. Dark under his doorman’s cap. More like a shadow than eyes. She gave half a smile and continued to walk home.

Feeling strange about her encounter but also satisfied she had an explanation for what she’d been watching, she picked up her stride as she crossed the street and reached her hand in her back pocket for her cell phone. Flipping it open and mindlessly using her thumb to press the digits for Tom’s number at work, she put the phone to her ear and strained to hear the ringing as a dump truck drove past her in the opposite direction on busy Main Street.

Faintly able to make out Tom’s voice and the ringing stopped, she said too loudly, “Tom? Are you there? It’s me.”
“Yes, I can hear you.” she heard as she paused from walking and moved to the edge of the sidewalk to let a young mother pushing a pram to pass by.
“Tom, I found out what that light is.”
“Did you finally go to investigate? Did you get into the apartment?”
“Nooo. I met the doorman and he knew whose apartment it is and said it must be a lamp that fell over and has a short, so that’s why it blinks.”
“But why doesn’t anyone fix it? And why just leave it on the floor like that?”
“You know, I’m not sure. I..” she trailed off as she heard an ambulance approaching. “Hang on, Tom. There’s an ambulance.” The siren was getting louder, so Megan waited for it to come by and pass. As the ambulance made its way down Main Street it swiftly stopped at the corner of the apartment building she just left. Feeling strange about this, Megan held the phone closer to her ear and said quickly, “Tom. I gotta go. I’ll call you right back.”

Sensing something pulling her, she decided to walk back toward the apartment building to see what was happening.

Walking quickly, she passed in front of the parked ambulance and jogged the rest of the short way across the street and on to the entrance. She scanned the front area to see if she could find Stan, but he wasn’t outside. There were a number of residents waiting by the front door, while the EMTs were already through the doors with the wheeled gurney. Realizing she had no reason to be there except as a nosey bystander, she succumbed to her curiosity and approached one of the others standing by her.
“Excuse me,” she said in her most polite and half loud voice.
One of the older women turned to her and smiled.
“Excuse me, I was just here a little while ago talking to the doorman. Do you know who the ambulance is here for?”
“Might be one of the older residents. We have an ambulance come pretty often since there are a number of elderly folks here.”
“I see.” she said and then stammered, “Do you happen to know where Stan is? I was just talking with him and I…”
The woman’s expression turned a little flat and her color seemed to drain from her face, she cut off Megan and asked, “Dear, did you say you were just talking with someone named Stan?”
In reaction to the change in the woman’s demeanor, Megan frowned and quickly sucked some air into her mouth and cautiously said, “Yes. The doorman. Stan. I was just talking with him a few minutes about about a Mrs…”
The woman leaned in and lowered her voice, “Dear. That’s not possible. I’ve lived here for 25 years. Stan Crimsby hasn’t been a doorman for ten years. Are you sure you spoke to a Stan?”
“Yes,” Megan said while feeling less and less sure of herself, hesitating she continued, “His name was Stan. I saw it on a name badge on his black uniform.”
“Well, I can tell you they haven’t had black uniforms for a few years now,” the woman said as she pointed to a man nearby in a long blue jacket. “They wear these doorman jackets now. The blue ones. And they don’t have their names on badges anymore, either.”
“I don’t know what to say. I… I just…” and as she stammered to continue, the woman leaned toward her and gently touched her arm while looking at the entrance doors opening up.
The woman covered her mouth with her other hand in surprise and quietly said to Megan, “Miss, that’s Mrs. Crimsby. She used to be married to Stan. He’s been passed away these ten years.”
“Oh, I hope she’s alri… Wait. What? He’s dead? Then how did I…” Megan could barely get the words out with the swift realization that this woman was suggesting she’d been talking to a ghost.
“Dear, I don’t know what you saw, but that’s Mrs. Crimsby right there going into the ambulance and her husband, Stan, who used to be a doorman here, has been dead for ten years.”
“Oh.” Megan said in a quiet shaky voice. She took a step backward and moved her arm away from the woman’s hand. “I... I don’t know what to say, but I should go.” she said while watching the EMTs close the doors of the ambulance. “Thank you.” she said almost as a question.

The woman took a step toward Megan and leaned forward as if to impart a secret, “I don’t know what you saw either, but if you did see Stan. I hope he’s watching over her.” pointing to the ambulance pulling away. “She’s been sick for a long time, and never right since he died. Maybe if she finally passes, they can be together. That would be nice.” she said with a weak smile, looking up at Megan.

“I guess that would be nice. I hope she’s alright, either way.” Megan looked away, and then as if struck by a forgotten memory, turned back and said, “I don’t know why, but I feel like I should thank you. So, thank you.”
“That’s alright, dear. You have yourself a good day.”
“Thanks. You, too.” she said and turned around to leave. After taking a few steps, toward the curb, she quickly turned around and noticed the woman wasn’t there anymore. Most of the residents were filing into the front entrance.

After crossing the street, and finding her stride, she took a few deep breaths and fingered her phone to call Tom. She kept her hand wrapped around her phone, unsure what to say and not sure what just happened. Not only was the mystery about the light solved, but a new mystery was opened. Feeling unsettled, Megan decided that this was a mystery she didn’t need an answer to. There are some things better left alone.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Meeting Strangers

“Shit,” she said a little louder than under her breath as she stubbed her toe on a box near the subway doors. “What the hell is that guy bringing boxes onto the subway? Where’s he think he is? Asshole.” she thought to herself as her face got hot and she pushed through the morning commuters to get to the top of the stairs. Getting off one stop early was meant to take up extra time as she was going to arrive at her interview too early, but giving herself a bruise on her toe on the way was not the plan.

Arriving early was never Samantha’s problem. Being on time is something she has always excelled at. Doing her homework, showing up on time, being responsible -- these are things that she lived for. They not only defined her against her unreliable and passive-aggressive older brother, but aligned her with her mother. Her staunch and strict mother whose approval she was always looking for. If she could organize herself into a straight line to get her mother to notice, she’d stretch herself as straight and narrow as possible. Of course this didn’t always garner the attention she wanted. Mostly disregard from her mother and mockery from her brother. But she kept at it. Knowing that her tidy room would get her silent brownie points with the woman in charge. Because if she wasn’t being lauded, at least she wasn’t being yelled at. The way her mother dressed down her brother in the most concise way possible was not only terrifying but impressive.

But that’s neither here nor there at this point, what is important is that she was, again, early. After showing up 30 minutes early for her last interview at the legal aid agency, she learned that being too early was not a good thing. She also learned, very quickly, that a legal aid agency was not the best place for an English major fresh out of undergrad. Helping people at what is likely their lowest moment is not where strong writing and editing skills come to shine. At least today she was called in to a hot, downtown magazine. The internship wasn’t to support the editing staff as she has hoped, it was for marketing and promotion, which basically meant being a go-for for anything the top brass, and any department head, needed done. She wasn’t even sure if anyone she knew had even ever seen the magazine, let alone read it. But, honestly, she didn’t care. An interview was an interview and an unpaid internship was better than nothing.

All her friends were doing the same. No paying jobs and lots of competition. Unpaid sucked but experience was what got you in the door to something better. “Keep reaching up” -- isn’t that what Mr. Marcos her senior seminar prof always said? Reaching up to what, she wasn’t sure, but she was reaching out to anything that even half-way seemed to make sense.

“Where is this place? Prince and what?” she mumbled looking for the address on a slip of paper she shoved into her wallet before she left home. “Broadway, but I’m… here?” she thought to herself, looking up at the imposing, brick building that was so indescript she almost didn’t see it. “163, here we go,” she said to herself as she took a deep breath and stepped into the building’s front door. Squeezing herself into the undersized elevator, she noticed she was holding her breath as the doors closed. She wasn’t sure if she was trying to make herself smaller, lighter or less obvious in the easily overcrowded elevator or if she was really just nervous.

When the elevator opened up on the third floor, she knew it was her stop but it just opened up into a huge loft. She wasn’t sure if it was the right place but it really couldn’t be anything else. Stepping off timidly, she looked around for someone who appeared to know what they were doing. She caught the eye of someone and smiled broadly, saying, “Hi, is this the Fast Pop Magazine office?”

“Yeah, you lookin’ for someone?” replied a half-interested, 20-something white guy with long hair and clearly slept-in clothes.
“Actually, I am.” Samantha replied, straightening herself. “Dotty Phalen. I think she works in HR?” she said while simultaneously thinking to herself how similar this guy was to her brother. She wondered how many more disheveled guys there were with jobs while she was still trudging about looking for even unpaid work?
“Ha. Yeah, she’s at lunch, she should be back in a sec. Why doncha have a seat over there?”
“Okay, thanks.”

Looking in the direction she was pointed to, Samantha looked for a clean space to sit down. It wasn’t that the place was dirty so much as it was excessively modern and unwelcoming. Everything about the place was discord. The space was clearly an early 20th century factory building that was converted into open space in the 70s when the artists moved in. And now, twenty years later, being used as uber-cool office space for a better-than-you cool magazine. Every magazine cover was framed on the wall. All thirty two of them. She didn’t recognize half the famous people on some of the covers. She really figured she was in the wrong place and was never going to be deemed cool enough to even intern here. Although, looking around, it didn’t seem like there was much order to the place. So, maybe anything is possible.

“Hi, uh, Samantha?” said a woman’s voice so grating it made Samantha spin around to see her.
“Yes, hi. I’m Samantha. Are you Dotty?”
“Yes. Come with me, we’ll get you started.”

Walking briskly to a desk about six feet away, her hair bounced with each high-heeled step, and then Dotty motioned to a clear chair next to her desk; Samantha sat down.

“So, Samantha, did you find us okay?”
“Yes, no problem.” she said as she settled against the hard backside.
“So, says here you’ve got some experience with editing, and a degree in English, but you’re looking to work in marketing? Tell me about that.”
“Well, I’d love to work in writing but there really isn’t much available, so I thought branching out into Marketing would be helpful.”
“So there’s nothing better and you’d like to just get your foot in the door?”
“I don’t mean…”
“Ha ha, that’s fine. I completely understand. It’s hard to get experience when you first graduate. We’re overrun with English majors but having a hard time filling the Marketing and Promotions position. I’ll be honest, no one stays long. It’s not easy, but if you impress them,” motioning to the closed double doors across the room, “then you’re in like Flynn. They make everything happen.”
“Who works in there?”
“Those are the founders. They are brother and sister team, and they’re geniuses. Really amazing. They expect a lot and if you impress, they will make it their business to keep you around. So, do you have any questions?”
“Could you tell me a little about the position?”
“Oh, Tom didn’t tell you? I thought he would have had a chat before I got back.”
Samantha looked confused, to which Dotty replied, “He’s the one who told me that you were here. I assumed he ran down the job with you. He’s the one you’d report to.”
“Oh, no, then. He didn’t tell me anything.”
“Heh. No surprise there,” Dotty muttered under her breath, continuing, “Right well, basically it works like this: There’s no salary, you get two college credits a semester, hours are 8.30 to 6, and all transportation is taken care of.”
“So, still, what would I actually do?”
“Do? You’d do anything Tom tells you. He needs you to deliver a box of chocolates to a studio uptown, you grab some subway tokens from the bag and get to it. You have to pick up a costume from the seamstress and deliver to the photo shoot? Take a token and go. Quick as you can. Anything that needs to happen so that the magazine keeps running, you do it. The bag of tokens is by Tom’s desk in the Marketing and Promotions area over there.”
“And that’s it? I’m a delivery girl?”
“Well, there are events you will work and special promotions, but basically, if it needs to get done -- you do it. Oh, and you get your name on the credits page of each issue that you work. So, what do you say?”
“I… I don’t know. It wasn’t what I was expecting.”
“Then think quickly, because we need someone to start immediately.”
“You mean today?”
“I mean as fast as humanly possible.”
“I suppose I can start tomorrow. But… Well, you know I’m already graduated, so I can’t use the credits.”
“Well, technically, we can give you the internship as long as you’ve been out of college less than three months. And since it’s summer break, you could just tell me you’re thinking of returning in the fall to take some additional classes but haven’t decided yet.”
“I… I’ll think about it. Can I let you know later today?”
“Sure. I have a few others to interview. But just so you know, if one of them takes it, that’s it. I only need one intern.”
“Right. I got it.”

Wondering to herself who on earth is going to even want this job, let alone take it when the HR woman is selling it this way, Samantha wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. She didn’t really care for the magazine, it wasn’t going to pay her anything, she was going to be spending most of her time on the subway -- during the summer -- why bother? But getting to say she worked at a magazine was maybe enough to get the next job. Besides, she would have her name in print and she had only had her byline in the college newspaper a few times. But, man, that did feel good. A kind of validation of her accomplishment that even her mother couldn’t trump.

Walking around TriBeCa she realized she was mulling this over so much she hadn’t had lunch herself, and it was blisteringly hot. Sweat was running down her back and her polyester dress blouse was sticking to her back. She checked her wallet and found only $2.70 in there. Where was she going to have lunch for $2.70? And then she noticed that a hot dog vendor was across the street, $1.50 for a hot dog and a dollar for water? Well, at least she’d have 20 cents left over to make a call home.

“Ketchup? Mustard?” asked the vendor when it was Samantha’s turn.
“Uh, ketchup. Yeah, please. Oh, and a water.”
“You got it. Two fifty.” he says as he smoothly laid on the ketchup and handed her the dog.
Taking the hot dog into her hands, she used one hand to stick her hand into her purse and pull out her wallet. As she tried to unzip it, the hog dog slipped out of her hands and on to her blouse then straight down her skirt and finally landed on her right foot. The foot with the stubbed toe.

“Shit!” she exclaimed to no one in particular.
“Are you alright?” asked a soft voice from just behind her. Samantha turned half around to see who spoke and found herself eye-to-eye with a stooped-over elderly man. The man had on a brown suit and brown striped tie, a faded fedora over soft, white hair with kind eyes and a warm smile.
Taking a breath, Samantha replied, “Not really, no. I’m covered with ketchup, I just dropped my lunch, I’ve got twenty cents left, no job and my prospects are worse than I thought, it is hot as hell out here… I honestly can’t make this day get better and it keeps getting worse.”
The vendor reached out with some napkins for Samantha and the old man took them and handed them to her.
“You look like you could use some help. Can I help you?”
“No, really. Thank you,” taking the napkins from the man and started to wipe the ketchup from her blouse. “Really, I’ll be fine. I just need a break. But thank you. Really.”
“It’s no problem. You know, my mother would say, When it gets too hard to breathe, take a look up and close your eyes. Take a deep breath and God is on your side.”
“Well, that’s really lovely, but I don’t believe in God. But that’s nice.”
“Well, even if you don’t believe in God, he believes in you. And even if you don’t believe that, you can still look up and take a deep breath. Nothing ever got worse by giving yourself a moment.”
She sighed in exasperation, “I suppose you are right.”
“Here, let me get you another hot dog.”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t. Really. It’s alright.”
“No, please. We don’t want you losing all faith in humanity in one hot afternoon… Two dogs please, one with ketchup.”

As the man hands the hot dog with ketchup to Samantha, he tips his hat and smiles and says, “Keep looking up, dear. No matter what you believe, just keep looking up.”

After thanking the man again, and wiping off the rest of the ketchup from her clothes, she started looking for somewhere to sit in the shade. At least getting out of the direct sun would be an improvement. Noticing a bus stop across the way that was in the shade of a building, she headed straight toward it. The bus stop was overrun with chatty kids after school and grownups sweating in the summer heat.

She took her hot dog and water and went to lean against the building just behind the bus stop. Eating her dog, surrounded by swirls of people walking uptown and downtown, waiting, yelling, sweating, complaining, it was all like an unending tide of everything. Everything she could think or feel was happening all around her. While the sweat snuck down the back of her neck and her temples, she realized she loved this. Loved the bustling of it all. She was absolutely surprised at herself. There was nothing tidy or neat or organized about any of it. It was all out there, messy, and still, still there was a dance to it. People coming and going, and somehow staying out of each other’s way even as they bumped into each other. There was a beauty in the unspoken choreography of it all, and she wanted in. She wanted to dance with them, even if it meant she had to race uptown to deliver a hat to a photo shoot in a place she’d never been to, or hail a cab in the rain to get a delivery of flowers to her boss’ stylist.

There were stories to hear and tell, and maybe that could be the next move up. The next step up the ladder. Observe people around her and create their stories, or maybe find out their stories and tell them. She had to be able to turn this into something. If no one was going to pay her to do what she was trained to do, she was going to have to find a way to get paid to do what she could do -- to keep reaching.



The screaming kept happening, it was completely unhinged screaming from a woman down the hall that was clearly in very real pain.

“Make it STOOOOOOOOOOOP! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!”


“My God, that woman is screaming loudly enough for everybody to hear,” I thought to myself. “I hope my wife is alright.”

Sitting in the Maternity Ward’s lobby at the local hospital, John was waiting for his wife’s mother to come pick up their daughter, Emma. They were about to have their second child, but he needed to get his “big girl” to grandma so that he could get down the hall and be with his wife. Since they’d done this once before, he was pretty sure he knew what to expect but even though there are a lot of women in pain but this one sounded really bad. Every few seconds she wailed in agony. John looked around nervously every time the woman screamed, and kept checking the time on his watch. Willing it to go faster and for his mother-in-law to show up at the doors.

“Why is that lady screaming so loud, daddy? Is she okay?,” Emma asked.
“Yes, darling, she’s okay. She’s just in pain. She’s going to have a baby like mommy.” John replied.
“Is mommy in pain, too? Is she okay? Can I see her?”
“I’m sorry, sweetie. I mean, mommy is fine. She is not screaming like that lady. She is okay. She is not in pain. She’s going to have your sister and everything is going to be fine.”
“She sounds bad, daddy. Are you sure she’s okay?”
“Yes. Yes, she will be fine. I promise you. And grandmom is coming and she will take you out to have lunch. You can order ANYTHING you like. You just tell grandmom what you want and she’ll get it for you.”
“Is grandmom coming soon, daddy?”
“Yes, sweetheart. Yes, she’ll be here any minute.”

Just then the grandmother came. John kissed Emma goodbye and promised her when she came to visit mommy tomorrow, she could meet her new baby sister, too. Just as Emma took her grandmother’s hand in hers, a man blew through the lobby doors and nearly ran Emma over. John was about to say something to the guy but he hurriedly apologized to Emma and continued toward one of the nurses.


“Wait, what do you mean you’re in labor? I thought you were fine?” Gerald asked anxiously.
“I am… ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… I am fine. Shit this hurts. I… ahhhhhhhh… I have to go. Gerald. Meet me at the hospital… I have to… ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Shit. I gotta go.” Molly said.
“Wait! Molly! Wait don’t hang up. Where is the hospital?”
“ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS? YOU’VE BEEN THERE! Christ, Gerald, I can’t…. ahhhhhhhhhhhh…. I can’t deal with this right… ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… now. Shit. Shit this hurts.”
“Molly, seriously, what is the address? I’ll get in a cab right now.”
“It’s Broadway and…. ahhhhhhhhhhh…. FUCK YOU GERALD. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH… shit, shit, shit. Broadway! Fuck, it’s Broadway… ahhhhhhhhhhhh.” and then she hung up the phone.

“I can’t believe I don’t know where I’m going. Where am I going to get a cab this time of day?” Gerald thought as his mind was racing. He was searching the streets for any available taxi and they were all taken. He started walking very quickly toward Sixth Avenue, “Maybe there will be one there”, he thought. At least they’d be going uptown.

Spotting a cab pulling to the opposite curb, he ran across the street through traffic to get into a cab that some elderly lady had just left, he pushed his way into the cab and told the cabbie, “Columbia, uptown. And go quickly!”

As the cabbie took off as fast as possible in after-work traffic, Gerald nervously settled into the back seat wondering if Molly was going to bite his head off for taking so long. He started texting his family to let them know that Molly was in labor and he was on the way to the hospital. Everyone had been on “baby alert” for the last two weeks as Molly had been experiencing labor pains every couple of days, but they were all false alarms. Gerald was half expecting the pains she told him about this morning to just be that, but, clearly, this was the real thing. At least she was already in a cab and nearly at the hospital.

Then Gerald was filled with extreme panic at this thought: “What if she delivers the baby in the taxi?” And at that moment, he asked his cabbie to “Go faster! I have to get there quickly.”

To his surprise, the cab driver told him that they were there.
“Wait, we’re not there. Wait, where are we?” a puzzled Gerald nervously asked.
“Columbia, just like you said.” replied the cabbie.
“Wait, this isn’t the hospital. Where are…”
“Hospital?!”, replied the cabbie, “You just said Columbia. This is the University, not the hospital.”
An overly panicked Gerald asked, “Oh, my god. No, no, no. Oh my, god. Can you get me to the hospital?”
“Yes, but which building? There are a dozen up there.”
“Just drive. I’ll find out. Just drive.” Gerald said as he quickly tried to pull his cell phone out of his pocket. He Googled “Columbia baby hospital Broadway new york” and came up with the address. “Thank god,” he mumbled to himself, “Molly would have ripped off my head if I called again to ask for the address.”
“165th Street,” Gerald blurted out to the cabbie. “Broadway at 165th St! And as fast as you can. My wife is in labor and she is going to KILL ME if I’m any later.”
“I’m going, I’m going.” replied the cabbie.

Ten minutes later they pulled up to the building, and Gerald quickly threw some cash at the cabbie while thanking him even faster, and jumped out of the taxi. Sprinting toward the entrance, he stopped long enough to get a visitor’s pass at Security and then up in the elevators. His heart was beating so fast he could feel it through his chest. He was so nervous and excited that he thought he was going to pass out. As soon as he got out of the elevator doors, he was in the Maternity Ward lobby and nearly ran over a little girl and her grandmother, “Oh, sorry. Excuse me,” he said hurriedly and then immediately turned his attention to the anguished screaming from down the hallway.

He checked in with the nurse at the front desk and she asked him to sit down and wait a moment. While listening to the woman screaming, he remarked how much like Molly she sounded but not quite. His heart was slowing down a little as he was able to catch his breath, and started to think about the baby coming. Their first! He was so terribly excited. He was also so very nervous. He had been ready to be a father for as long as he could remember, but now, at the precipice of it actually happened, he was overwhelmed by the nervousness and excitement of it all.

“Mr. Lopez? You can go down the hall now.” the nurse said as she motioned to Gerald toward the double doors, beyond which the woman who had been screaming so loudly had now stopped. As he pushed through the double doors, he was so pleased he thought he would burst.


“It’s Broadway and…. ahhhhhhhhhhh…. FUCK YOU GERALD. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH… shit, shit, shit. Broadway! Fuck, it’s Broadway… ahhhhhhhhhhhh.” she screamed at him and then hung up the phone as hard as she could. She wished for the old days when she would’ve been able to slam down a heavy “Ma Bell” landline. She wanted that satisfying release of aggression, but pushing the button to hang up the call on her cell phone was going to have to do.

Molly was too busy screaming in pain to be of much use to the cabbie, who seemed to be more nervous than she was. She wanted to tell him to take a different road but every time she started to get the words she just screamed.

She made it to the hospital curb before the pain got REALLY bad. The porter at the entrance heard her coming and got a wheelchair to the side of the cab before she even had a chance to open the door, and, gratefully, he opened the door for her and helped her out. Whisking her up to Security and then to the Maternity Ward.

Molly reached into her back to get the papers she had already filled out so that the nurse on the ward could just process her quickly. At this point she could barely speak and barely breathe. All that practicing over the last two months her Lamaze breathing went out the window with every wave of pain getting more and more intense. She thought she was going to pass out when they helped her out of the wheelchair and wanted her to get up on the examination bed. “They must be crazy,” she thought to herself. But she managed to find a moment between contractions where she was able to get strength to get on the bed. When they asked her to pull down her pants, and another wave of extreme pain came over her, she just screamed. Mostly out of pain but also out of frustration. When it stopped she cried and said, “I can’t. I just can’t. I can’t do this.” and as the pain washed over her again, she screamed, “OH MY GOD! MAKE IT STOP! PLEASE!” and started crying again.

They got off her pants and the nurses did a quick exam, noting that she was seven centimeters dilated but not quite ready to deliver. They explained that her water hadn’t broken and if she proceeded this quickly, she would tear her skin, so they wanted to slow it down. Molly processed this information as another wave of pain came on and screamed in agony. She was beginning to realize that probably everyone in the hospital could hear her scream. She actually couldn’t believe how loud she could scream. It made her a little more nervous but at the same time, every scream was a relief to the pain she was experiencing. It was now surging all over her body, and each unbridled scream was a release on the pain valve.

On the way to the delivery room, one of the nurses asked Molly if she wanted an epidural. Molly just had enough energy and focus to shake her head yes. The nurse asked again and said that Molly had to verbalize it before she could give it to her. So Molly held her breath, grimaced, and got out a breathless “Yes” before yelping through another wave of pain.

As she was wheeled into the delivery room she realized she was alone. Her husband, Gerald, wasn’t there and it was just her with the nurses. She wanted to cry but the pain coming again was too great, so she just screamed out “I WANT TO DIE. PLEASE MAKE IT STOP. MAKE IT STOP.” And as if on cue, the anesthesiologist rushed in. The nurse started to explain what stage I was in and he cut her off, “Yes, I can hear her from everywhere. Let’s get her up.”

“Now, I need you to sit up and not move. You must hold yourself perfectly still.” he said to her in a reassuring voice.
“Okay…” Molly mustered, but meanwhile she started the shakes some women get in labor and couldn’t stop. This frustrated Molly that she couldn’t control herself for a few seconds so the anesthesiologist could get the epidural in her spine, she was afraid she wouldn’t get relief and the baby would come and it would split her and… she had to stop. She realized she desperately needed to get a grip, but still, she started crying out of panic.

“I can’t stop moving. I’m sorry. I… ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…. I can’t. Please. I’m trying.” Molly said in almost total anguish.
The nurse who was helping hold her upright, grabbed one of Molly’s hands and looked her squarely in the eye and said calmly and with confidence, “I need you to take a deep breath.”
“I can’t,” Molly whimpered.
“Yes. Yes, you can. You can do this. Do it with me. Breathe.”
And they both took in a deep breath and let it out through their mouths. After they did this a few times, the nurse kept encouraging Molly to keep going and assured her she was doing a good job. The anesthesiologist acknowledged that he could give it a try.
“Okay, now hold still.” he ordered Molly.
And for a few seconds, she could hold herself still. She felt a sharp pain enter her spine and some movement, and then heard the anesthesiologist say to the resident, “OK, put it in.”
The nurse reminded Molly to keep breathing, while the anesthesiologist’s resident administered the epidural medication.

They quickly finished taping up Molly’s back and let her lie back down.

Slowly, Molly realized the pain was subsiding. The anesthesiologist left the room.
“I think I scared him with my screaming,” said Molly -- realizing she was finally calming down.
The nurse leaned over to Molly and said, “You should be fine in a second, I’ve never seen him give so much to someone so small.” Then patted Molly on the hand, explained what was happening and that she’d be right back.

At that moment, Gerald walked in -- all smiles.

“Hey,” he said gently, “How’s it going?”
“Better,” Molly replied. “Did you hear that woman screaming down the hall?” Molly asked him.
“Yes, actually.” said Gerald, “It sounded pretty bad.”
“Yeah, that was me,” Molly said as she laughed to herself. “Your wife scared the hell out of the anesthesiologist and he doped me up, so I’m better now.” And Molly then felt the full effect of the drugs and allowed herself to be enveloped into the wobbly, feeling-free sensation of her lower body and take a few deep breaths.

“You’re doing great, honey,” said Gerald as he took Molly’s hands into his and kissed her on the forehead.
“Thanks,” replied Molly. “I’m glad you got here when you did.”