Death & Life
Wonder how long would it take me to reach the ground if I jumped? Ted thinks as he swings his legs in the light breeze. How many bones would I break? Which part of me would hit the sidewalk first? He won’t of course, would have thought about it a year or so ago but he’s turning his life around, working hard, getting off the booze. This is his last bottle of old JD. Mr Daniels and Ted go way back. JD was there when he needed him or thought he needed him but instead of going to the liquor store, he’s started going to the café next door. Hadn’t even noticed it before, in a world of his own, but it’s real cute, a real homely atmosphere with damn fine cups of coffee.
He sits looking at his colleagues, eating their lunch next to him on the girder, chatting away, not a care in the world and thinks, They’re lucky – probably have swell homes, loving wives… gals who make their lunch pails and kiss them off to work. Someone to meet them, hold them, have their supper ready on the table when they get home, someone to care for them… think about them when they’re not there. The ‘old’ him would have felt all bitter and twisted, but he takes a good hard look at them then at himself, and sees they’re no different; just men trying to be happy, getting through life as best they can.
Things on the outside are improving too; the Depression’s easing and the mayor’s got big plans for the grand city of New York. “Do something about the smog,” he says – breathe it in and it chokes you – gonna be a thing of the past. “Look to the future” he says. More high-rise buildings as far as the eye can see, right up to the clear blue water of Rhode Island and out to Martha’s Vineyard. So the city is on the up, literally, and that’s gonna keep Ted in a job, so he’s all for it. Maybe he’ll even get out of the Bronx and move to Queens… and one day Manhattan!
So they’re constructing the great Empire State Building. Making a new piece of history – John Raskob’s vision – he reckons there’ll be a million bricks by the time they’ve finished. Had to be higher than Walt Chrysler’s Building. That Raskob fella must be mad, Ted thinks, doing all this just to outdo his rival. Hey, maybe one day I’ll even be able to buy one of their cars.
This girder is boiling – Ted feels like his arse is burning. Fred’s got the right idea, bare chest and all.
Ted looks down, at all the people, the worker ants, crawling about their business, never talking to their neighbours. Up here, they’re a world away. Ted then spots his apartment block. Could do with a lick of paint.
His mind wanders to the girl in the coffee shop yesterday, thinks maybe he’ll speak to her tomorrow. “What? Yeah, Joe, it’s a fantastic view. Thanks, I’d love a cheese sandwich.”
The hospital doors fly open and a woman is screaming out “where’s my husband? Where’s Matthew?”
Twenty blocks away a man kneels down and takes a picture. Little does he know that this innocent snap will be famous worldwide for many years to come. Right now he’s thinking about getting the job done before he rushes home to his expectant wife. Their first child is due any day and he can’t concentrate. So he continues staring through the viewfinder, hoping for clear shots before getting his equipment together and going home. He looks at the people that compile his picture. Eleven ordinary men but with nerves of steel. He marvels at how they could sit on a tiny, narrow ledge hundreds of feet up in the air. He expects them to look fragile – as if a gust of wind could carry them over at any point – but they’re as strong as the girder they sit on. His eye, then lens, focus on a solitary figure at the end. Although he’s sitting next to his colleagues, he seems detached – a bit of a loner – and a liquid lunch it would appear. Looks like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. The photographer wonders what the man is thinking. He puts down his camera and sighs.
The heat of the day hits him. He had thought that it would be cold so high up but it’s baking. The white vested guy manages to look cool, clearly used to the heat. Apart from the outsider, the rest of the group seem very relaxed. One lights up a cigarette for a colleague, two others shut their lunchboxes and get to their feet and all but four head back to their site office, casually strolling back along the solid iron tightrope as if they were part of a trained circus. The four remaining men chat for a while, then to the photographer’s amazement, swing round to face each other and lay length ways along the girder and go to sleep! He carefully takes more pictures – the shutter sounds deafening as it closes. Today has been one of the best of his life.How many people have the opportunity to see life so raw. Up, natural above the clouds? He feels privileged. Here he is…over a thousand feet off the ground, witnessing the building of the eightieth floor of a planned one hundred and two. As he watches the men nap, he realises that he’ll have little sleep from now on but he can’t wait.
As his thoughts drift, his wife is going through the early stages of labour.
Senior nurse, Bertha Albright, applies a damp compress to her patient’s forehead and holds her hand while a colleague tries, again, to get hold of the father-to-be, willing for the day when people will be able to carry telephones with them. Bertha has assisted in numerous births but the moment a baby arrives still amazes her. She is sure that tonight would be no different.
A visitor in the next ward talks to her friend about a customer in her coffee shop the previous night and hopes that she sees him again before too long.
Footnote: The Empire State Building – highest building in world until 1972 – was built by John Raskob, Creator of General Motors who wanted to build a building taller than a recent building created by his rival Walter Chrysler.
Picture above courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunch_atop_a_Skyscraper.
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