Reality Check

April 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Short Story for my Gotham Writer’s Workshop Class:

Reality Check

It started one lovely weekend in September when I first moved in to my new apartment in Brooklyn, and ended on a cold winter night in February on a fire escape in my underpants.

When I first moved to New York City, I arrived with all the gusto and determination of Canadian illegally crossing the border into the States.  I had just graduated from Yale with a degree in business.  I wanted to get a degree in Art History at Berkeley, but my father told me once that “no son of mine is going to become some hippy liberal faggot.  You’ll be a Yale man just like me, and your grandfather, and your great grandfather.  You’ve got quite a legacy to live up to my boy.”

During my time at Yale I traveled a well-blazed trail.  I joined all the same clubs my father had been in.  I took all the same classes he had taken.  I was in the same fraternity that he, and his father, and his father’s father had been in.   I was living a life that had already been lived.  As I approached graduation the question that came most often was, “So, what company are you going to work for after school?”

I hated the question.  There was only one answer they would accept anyway and that was, “Oh I’m going to go work at my father’s firm in New York.”  It was what was expected of a legacy like me.

When you’re life’s path is as well laid out as mine, you have to find creative ways to make your own choices.  I couldn’t rebel in any normal teenage way.  If I had died my hair or joined a band or, god forbid, voted democrat, I would have been shipped off to West Point faster than I could say ‘art school’.  So I found unique ways to rebel.

Once I wrote a paper on why the capitalism model would benefit from more government regulation.  I joined the lacrosse team.  When I got to Yale, I didn’t join the glee club.

And when I finally moved to New York, instead of living in Manhattan in the family apartment, I found my own place out in Brooklyn.  It was small, but nice.  And it was clean.  I was trying to rebel not live in a third world country. Brooklyn was just ‘urban’ enough to ruffle my father’s feathers without him cutting me off completely.  I’d also hoped that being in Brooklyn would allow me to experience art and theater and culture in a way that I’d never been able to experience before.  It was like having a mistress.  A mistress called Art.

I know, it sounds totally pretentious.  But you have to remember; I spent my life being groomed for a world of ‘high culture.’  The Opera, the Ballet, and the Symphony were all acceptable.  Musicals, plays, and rock shows were not.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art was acceptable.  The MoMA was not.  And in Brooklyn I had a chance to experience all of those unacceptable forms of culture without being an embarrassment to the legacy.

When I told my father about it, I expected him to sigh his heavy disapproving sigh and start talking me out of it.  But instead he surprised me.

“What a great idea son! Brooklyn is an up and coming area, and buying a building down there could be a wonderful investment.  I’ll set something up with my real estate agent.  The building will have to be in my name at first, of course, but if you prove yourself, I just might transfer over the title.”

I hadn’t expected that.  It wasn’t what I wanted.  I had no desire to own any property; I just wanted to live in a tiny apartment off the beaten path.  But, there was no arguing with my father once he’d made up his mind.

The day that I moved in to my apartment was the best day of my life.  It was the day that I met Ellie.  It was a warm weekend in September.  One of the last warm weekends in New York before the cold settles in.

She was across the hall from me.  The building was a pre-war six-floor walk up.  My apartment was at the rear, and had a lovely view of the back wall of the apartments behind us.

I’d wanted to move in myself but my dad insisted that we hire a moving company.  I knew that it would instantly mark me as an outsider, but there was nothing I could do about it.  The guys were moving the last of my stuff upstairs when I saw her.

The movers had decided that I was too useless to help them move anything heavy because of my ‘girl arms’ so I had been given the jog of watching the truck.  She came around the corner like the sunrise.  The whole street brightened as she walked by.  She was tall, with long red hair and the most striking green eyes I’d ever seen.  She moved down the street with the type of self-assurance that only comes from not giving a crap about what anyone else thinks of you.  I stared at her, transfixed as she walked down the sidewalk towards me.

As she neared the apartment building she caught sight of me.  She walked over and stuck out her hand and said, “Hey there Suit, you come to buy the building and boot us out?”

For a minute I forgot how to speak. I forgot how to shake someone’s hand.  I stuck out my hand but instead of taking hers to shake it, I gave her a very awkward side-facing high five.  I laughed nervously and stammered, “yeah, in moving me today now yes am.”

She looked at me for a moment, and then laughed.  “You wanna try that again, Suit?”

“Suit?” I said, confused.

“Yeah, Suit. I can tell by you shiny black dress shoes and that finely pressed shirt that you’re one of those corporate types.  The kind who come to Brooklyn to ‘slum it’ with the artists and the hipsters, until of course they can’t pay their rent, and then out they go.” She stared.  I wasn’t sure if I should be offended or not.  She didn’t seem to be mocking me.  It was as if she were giving the weather report.  ‘It looks like rain, and you’re a corporate tool.’  No value judgment, just a statement of facts.

“I…er…I… I’m not here to ‘slum it’, I like Brooklyn!” I protested.

“Oh yes, I’m sure you’re just here to ‘soak up the art.’  And the letter I just received from my new landlord has nothing to do with you?” She was starting to get upset.

“I’m not…well, that is…my father did buy the building, but I…”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” She said flatly.

Every time I saw her after that it was a mixed experience.  I longed to catch sight of her, to see her smile or catch a whiff of her perfume.  But every time I actually interacted with her she would ask me something like, “How does it feel to rape the lower class?” or “How many pensions did you steal from today?”  And it was still said with that strange tone, devoid of angry judgment, just a harsh statement of facts.

It went for months. And yet, I longed for those moments.  I tried to work up a real amount of courage to talk to her for real, but her questions cut me to the core.  Was I really as awful as she made me out to be?  I didn’t feel like I was raping anyone, and I know I wasn’t stealing from anyone’s pensions… I wanted to tell her that I wasn’t like the other ‘suits’, that I was just doing it because of parental pressure and that I really wanted to be an artist.  But it always felt like such a cowardly thing to say.  So instead we continued with our ritual.  She would ask me when the next rent hike was coming, and I’d assure her there wasn’t going to be one.  Occasionally my father would make me ask her to pay the rent when she was late and she’d tell me that she’d pay up when this that or the other thing was fixed in the building.

Once I did manage to work up enough courage to ask her if she’d like to have dinner with me.  She stared at me as if I had three heads and said, “Everything about you is fake.  You pretend to be poor by living in this building.  You pretend to love art and culture.  But you’re a suit.  Tell you what; if you ever do anything real, then I’ll get dinner with you.”

One cold February evening I was sitting in my apartment watching re-runs of the Jeffersons when I heard a strange *scritch scritch scritch* noise coming from the kitchen.  I looked over just in time to see a small brown mouse dart out from under the fridge and go under a bookshelf.

Now, I should mention, I hate mice.  I don’t know why.  Something about them just creeps me out.  So a mouse in my house was the very last thing that I wanted to see.  And with all the other crap going on in my life, this was one thing that I was not going to stand for.  I was going to take control of the situation.  I was going to get rid of this mouse.

At the same time though… I didn’t want to kill it.  I’m kind of a big old softy.  I don’t even like killing bugs.  So I came up with a plan to capture it and release it outside.  I began constructing a mouse-proof barrier that would guide the mouse out from under the bookshelf and force him into a cup that I had set up as the ‘cage.’  As I was nearing completion of this mish-mash contraption, the mouse made a run for it.  The trap at the end wasn’t set up yet, and the mouse bolted straight under my front door.

Despite being ill prepared for it, the chase was on.  There was no way I was going to let this mouse win this fight.  I needed a victory.  Still holding a cup that I was going to use to fill the last small gap in the anti-mouse wall, I took off after him.  I think he was as surprised as I was that I had actually given chase that rather than try and get under the doors of another apartment, he just continued on down the stairs.  Flight after flight I chased him, periodically trying to catch him with the cup I was holding.

The building has no apartments on the ground floor.  You enter from the sidewalk and you go straight into a flight of stairs.  When you get to the second floor, you go through a second—locked—door.  I chased that little bastard right through that second door and got halfway down the stairs when I heard it slam shut behind me.

The sound of that door slamming was deafening.  The screech of the hinges, the rushing sound of wind as it cut through the air, and the heavy thud as it locked into place—that sound rang throughout the building and shook me to my core.

Then came the awful realization.  I didn’t have my keys.

Because that mouse had bolted before I was ready for it I had forgotten to grab my keys.  And my shoes.  And my robe.   So there I was, running down the stairs in my underpants with no way of getting back into my apartment, chasing a little mouse who, in a way, had outwitted me rather than the other way around like I’d hoped.  But, by damn, I was going to get rid of that mouse!  I followed through and chased him the rest of the way down the stairs, opened the door, and let him run off into the cold February night.

That did leave me with a pretty big problem though.  The building didn’t have an intercom system or doorbells at the entrance.  It was the middle of the night so it was incredibly unlikely that anyone would be passing through anytime soon.

I banged on the door for a solid twenty minutes.  I banged on the walls.  I even banged on the exposed water pipe that snaked its way past the doorframe.  But it was a futile effort.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do at this point.  I really didn’t want to wait 4 hours for someone to finally come through on their way to work.  Besides, what would I do?  I sure as hell wasn’t going to sleep.  And being in my underpants and sans shoes, walking around the city was out of the question as well.

For about twenty minutes I sat there on the steps trying to figure out what to do.  Then I had a thought.  If I could someone get to my window, I could get in, as it wasn’t locked.  All I needed to do was get to the rear of the building.  It did mean that I had to go outside though.  I psyched myself up, got my blood pumping to stay warm, and headed outside.  I used the cup that I had brought with me to prop open the door so that I didn’t get stuck in a worse predicament.  I walked up and down the block, looking for a pathway to the back of the building.  I even checked to see if the cellar was open.  No luck.  Then I tried the fire escape.

It was a little tricky, as fire escapes don’t go down to ground level except by way of an extendable ladder that was just out of my reach.  I had to drag over a trashcan to even have a remote hope of reaching it.

My hope was to climb up the fire escape to the roof, walk across, and then head down the other side to my apartment.  What I didn’t realize before I’d climbed up was that the fire escape didn’t go all the way to the roof.  There was no way I’d be able to get to my apartment.

I was stuck. On a fire escape.  In February.  At three in the morning.  In my underwear.  Things couldn’t possibly get any worse.

And that’s when I hear Ellie’s voice.

“Well, if this is your way of doing something real, I hope you’ve got a good explanation.”

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