The Scene I Imagine On Days When There’s No Work Being Done On the High-Rise Construction Site Two Streets Over and One Street Down From My Building

posted in: Fiction | 16
This is a picture of a site in San Francisco in 2006, but what I look at looks a little like this. Image: Wikipedia.

 

So there’s a lot of construction in the South Loop. More all the time. Buildings being built to the south of me on State; buildings to the north of me on Wabash.

So far, none of what I like about my view is being adversely affected, so I just get to watch the coolest TV show out my window on the 16th floor all the time. I love the enormous cranes. I love the mini-elevators as they go up and down the sides of the steel beam skeleton. I love to watch the projects as they go up because I love that it’s even possible to build these things. I can’t even manage a gingerbread house. I imagine all kinds of things as I watch the people working on the buildings. Most of the time, there’s action. Seven days a week, from really early morning until the sun goes down. But some days, and it could be a Monday or a Thursday or a Saturday — there’s nothing. Not a soul on any of the still-raw floors of the 20 or 25 story mid-rise.

This change in the TV show never fails to stir my imagination.

And now, the second-ever fictional story I have ever written, composed right here, for you, this morning. I hardly need point out that I know exactly nothing about construction sites, how buildings are made, or the pecking order of the men and women who build them. If it were a real story, I’d look all that up, I promise. But I don’t write fiction, so it’s okay. My favorite bluff is the one about “strut work,” by the way. Strut work!? I kill me.

Out of Site — Chapter One

“Jimmy!” the supervisor roared through the tiny window and pounded the top of her makeshift desk. “Jimmy, get your Red Sox-south-side-hot-dog-eatin’ butt in here in the next four seconds or I’ll tell that concrete truck to let ‘er rip in your front yard!”

Jimmy threw down his cigarette and scrambled up the ramp. The double-wide trailer that served as the site office was so tight, he would be literally face-to-face with Nancy. He sucked air in through his teeth and pushed the door open.

Nancy’s hard hats were tossed around the room amongst Connie’s Pizza boxes and balled-up lunch bags from Petterino’s and Five Guys. She brandished her notepad at Jimmy then flung it him. “Why do I have the lead developer’s boss calling me and telling me to tell the guys not to come in today? Why might that be, Jimmy? Why might that voicemail be on my phone? I hate voicemail, Jimmy. I really, really hate voicemail.” Nancy’s face was red and a vein was pulsing in her neck. It was pretty gross.

“Nance,” Jimmy started —

“Oh, it’s Malinowski to you today, buster. Mrs. Malinowski.” Jimmy started to stammer out an apology but she cut him off with one of her classic contradictory Nancy orders: “Shut up! Talk!”

“Mrs. Malinowski, Super told me yesterday it might happen but to wait to let you know until we heard from Stan. He was supposed to find you before you left yesterday but I guess —”

“You’re good at guessing, Jimbo,” Nancy said, and she grabbed a toothpick from a box on her desk and bit down on it so hard she winced. She quit smoking a year ago and so far no relapse; on this job, she was hanging by a thread. “You wanna ‘guess’ what this means? Why don’t you ‘guess’ what 14 hours of lost work on this hunk of metal and concrete is gonna cost?”

Jimmy’s eyes got big. “Mrs. Malinowski, please, I can’t lose this job. I’ve got —”

Nancy laughed so hard her toothpick flew out of her mouth. “Who’s getting fired? I’m not firing you, Jimmy. Geez, get a grip.” Nancy rubbed forehead and jabbed another toothpick into her mouth. “It’s gonna set us back a week.”

“A week?” Jimmy asked. “Why a whole week? Stan’s got other guys.”

“Stan’s a dead man, for one thing,” Nancy said, “so I’d advise you to not say his name to me right now. We weren’t gonna get the scaffolding repaired until tomorrow and tomorrow’s Friday. Anderson Electric doesn’t work weekends and we’ve got strut work through Thursday, so I can’t get Stan and the boys back till the last week of the month. What an absolute clusterf —” Nancy stopped. She was trying to quit cursing, too. Her two-year-old was picking up everything these days and her mother-in-law would not appreciate construction-site vocabulary imprinting itself on her adorable granddaughter.

“Jimmy, just get ahold of John and you two start making calls, okay? Tell the guys not to come in. Tell ’em to drink a couple beers, take their wife on a date for God’s sakes. Lord knows the girls are missing the sons-of—”

“I’ll get John,” Jimmy said, cutting Nance off mid-curse so that she didn’t have to do it herself. She was a really good boss, as overworked as everyone else. As he turned to leave, he had a thought.

“Nance — um, Mrs. Malinowski? If we move strut work to Wednesday and work 5:30 to sundown, we could shift scaffolding to Saturday. Sundown is later than it was a month ago and the weather’ll be out of the thirties next week. We could grab some of the guys from Acme. I know the Indiana crews aren’t your favorite but they work pretty fast.” Jimmy paused, calculating. “It could work.”

Nance stared hard at the contractor in front of her, fidgeting with a buckle on his oil-stained Carhartts. This was the longest Jimmy had held down a site gig. But he was busting his you-know-what and she had come to rely on the kid, precisely because of moments like this. He was smart and he cared. Nance didn’t take that for granted.

After doing a little calculating of her own, she nodded. “Maybe. Yeah, maybe that would work.” She pulled her phone out of her jacket pocket. “Okay. I’ll call Acme, see what they say. But still get John and tell the guys it’s their lucky day. Tell ’em to enjoy it while they’ve got it. Next week’s gonna be a long one.”

Jimmy nodded and went out the door. As he headed down the ramp, Nance yelled out the window: “Tell ’em to take their wives on a damn date!”

Grinning, Jimmy shouted back: “Yo, Nance! Don’t you mean a ‘darn’ date?”

“It’s Mrs. Malinowski!!”

New York City / New Year’s Eve: A Quick Fiction

posted in: Day In The Life, Fiction | 30
East Village, New York City. Photo: Wikipedia.

 

Chapter 1

It was early November when her sister asked.

For the first time in months, Mary was talking to Hannah over the phone. They texted each other, and there were emails here and there. But phone calls in the past few years, not so much.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Hannah said, “I’m having a party on New Year’s Eve. You should come!”

Mary’s heart sank. Her sister loved to throw parties and her parties were great. The two of them badly needed more quality time — actual, IRL, face time — and going to Hannah’s New Year’s Eve party would show her sister just how much Mary loved her, how she was willing to make the effort for the relationship.

But it would mean she would have to go to New York City for New Year’s Eve. It meant she’d have to go to New York City in winter. It meant she’d have to go to New York City, period.

“I’m in,” Mary said, “absolutely.” She rubbed her eyes and logged onto Southwest.com.

Chapter 2

As the taxi inched its way toward the hotel, Mary’s friend Nick pressed his face up to the window, steaming it with his breath, then wiping off the condensation so as to clear his view. This was his first time in the city and it was nice to see him take it all in. The best way to be in New York City is to be there the first time ever or to have been there for over 10 years. Anywhere in between, Mary thought, and it’s too hard.

She would know; she tried living in New York City once. Love and curiosity were her reasons for trying it on. But when love went all wrong and she realized she had no feeling for the impossible, endless city, living in New York was excruciating. The cards were stacked against her from the start, though; a person shouldn’t move to New York at age 36. It’s a young man’s town.

“It looks like Chicago,” Nick said. “I mean, I see a lot of similarities.”

“That true, there are,” Mary said, and glanced out the window herself. “But it’s nearly dark out. It’ll look different to you in the daytime, I bet.”

As Nick took in the scene and laughed at just how close the taxi was coming to the delivery trucks and the pedestrians, Mary pulled her coat tighter around her shoulders and pressed her back into the seat. She let her head fall back a little, though she would be careful not to let Nick see her so weary. When the man you’re dating is a decade your junior, you’re forced to remain peppy and energized at all times. It’s a good thing, on balance — and most of the time, Mary didn’t need to fake it — but New York took it out of her.

Young man’s town.

Chapter 3

In the morning, she crept out of bed so as not to disturb Nick, angelic and gorgeous nestled under the down comforter and hotel linen. The outrageously expensive Peninsula for two nights was her Christmas gift to the two of them and she forced herself to forget just how much she spent. When the credit card bill arrived, she would not look. Standing on the heated floor in the generous bathroom, though, as she gave her hair a quick brush, Mary knew the room was worth every penny. All 96 billion of them.

She pulled on a jumpsuit and threw a sweater around her shoulders. Flip-flops would be fine; she was only after coffee and some writing time down in the lounge. Without turning on any more lights, she grabbed her briefcase and her phone and slipped out the door. Nick hadn’t even stirred.

Down in the lounge, she was alone and so, so glad. It would be the only time all day — and all night — that would happen.

She felt sad. It’s hard to know so much, hard to have failures and be reminded of them. The New York chapter, and Washington D.C. after that, was tough. No doubt about that, now, looking back. Oh, she kept her chin up through it all. And there were small victories. But overall, it cost her dearly in energy and innocence. It was death by a thousand papercuts, that era.

Mary looked out the tall window at the dusting of snow on the street. The news said tonight would be New York’s coldest New Year’s Eve since the 1960s. The dress and heels she brought were more suited for a spring night, even if she stayed inside the party most of the evening. Mary sighed and decided she’d have to go in search of a jacket before tonight. As usual, New York would insist she spend more money before she left.

It was getting late. She needed to pack up and get up to the room so that she and Nick could get a reasonable start to the day. He wanted to see Central Park and there was a quilt exhibit at the Folk Art Museum for her, thank God. Quilts would surely help.

A loud group entered the lounge, laughing and talking about work. Mary gathered her things, grateful again for the peace she was afforded this morning. She smiled at the group as she left, and as she threw her coffee cup in the trash near the bar, two more couples came in.

It’s so hard to be in place where you know you don’t belong, she thought, especially when the place is considered the center of the world. Guess I don’t belong in the center of the world, Mary thought, and made her way to the elevators.

[Maybe to be continued? I don’t know. I don’t write fiction.]