A man is torn between his infatuation with the Chrysler Building and a rocky relationship with his girl friend—not to mention indecision about whether to become a writer after all.
Published in Lullwater Review (Volume XVIII; No.II, Fall 2008).
Marching through abandoned midtown canyons, a man on a mission, he turned a corner and discovered the audacious tower rising above him, shimmering in the morning sunlight. Stunned by the sight, he thought of his own failed effort to stand up to bullies back in junior high school as he watched the tower’s futile attempt to assert itself in a skyline dominated by the mass and majesty of the Empire State Building nearby. Yet still it persevered, this gray-white monument soaring proudly 77 stories high. This stylish pillar with the dazzling silver crown and bizarre ornamentation. This fanciful symbol of progress as well as of days gone by. This Chrysler Building. He awoke from most of these dreams with an erection.
Why does Christine keep doing this to me? Whenever I set aside the time to see her—time I could be spending speed-reading books at Barnes & Noble, nursing a tall latte at Starbucks, or deciding to become a writer after all—she invariably calls at the last minute to cancel our date. Always some story about having to work late or needing to be alone after an exhausting day at the office. How many times can I allow myself to be stood up in this way before it all becomes humiliating?
Of course, no one says I have to sit here and take it. There are other women in the world, I’ve been told. As there have been other women in my life, I dimly remember. But I’ve been with Christine for almost three years now, and if I’m anything, I’m loyal. I just have to figure out how to get her to stop taking me for granted. After I finish organizing my CD collection, that is.
The ticking of the clock on the wall of the reading room at the New York Public Library grew ever louder, echoing the tapping in his head. He nevertheless continued with his noble work, poring over documents piled high on the long, heavy, mahogany table, all the while unable to shake the feeling that he was being watched. Looking up from a set of blueprints, he locked eyes with the source of his concern—a shabbily dressed old man staring provocatively at him from directly across the table. The man’s ominous face broke into a toothless smile, one reminiscent of the ugly grin of the boogeyman that roamed the woods of his childhood.
“She’s a beauty, ain’t she?”
Although his mother had taught him not to talk to strangers, he muttered, “Pardon me?”
“The Chrysler Building. She’s my favorite.” The odd grimace melted into something more benign.
“Yes,” he responded, turning back to his work, determined to let no one dampen his fascination with the layout of the building’s elevator shafts.
“Are you a member of the Chrysler Legion? We meet monthly.”
He recoiled when a flyer was forced into his hand like an unsolicited bonbon. Despite his revulsion, he appreciated the glossiness of the paper stock as well as the quality of the printing. His focus was finally drawn to the text. “A group of citizens devoted to the preservation and celebration of America’s favorite skyscraper.”
“I’m sorry. I’m not a joiner,” he responded, pushing the flyer back in the man’s direction while plotting his escape.
What will it take to get Christine’s attention? When I faced a similar problem with my hamster, I hit upon a surprisingly effective solution. After letting Puffy out for its daily walk one morning, I rearranged the contents of his cage—his feeding trough, favorite rag, rubber turtle, and Barbie doll—and removed the art deco mobile entirely. Mind you, I resorted to this ploy only after a prolonged period of complacency on Puffy’s part. Having long since stopped performing acrobatics on demand, he also no longer leapt up, wagged his tail, or puffed up his cheeks when I came home and poked my nose into his cage. After a few of these surprise rearrangements, however, he began to appreciate me more—that I can assure you. At least he put on a good show of appreciating me. More cannot be expected from a pet.
Now that I’ve rearranged the furniture and accoutrements in my apartment, I wonder what aspect of the new layout will unnerve Christine the most when she stays over on Friday night—if she stays over, that is. If she doesn’t suddenly have to tend to a sick friend or see a long-lost relative who just happens to be passing through town. It might be the way I’ve organized the chairs in the living room, making it impossible to view the TV or hold a decent conversation sitting down. Or the way I’ve re-hung my artworks, destroying all thematic unity and establishing a visual line that would disconcert the most indifferent viewer, not to mention one with Christine’s elevated aesthetic standards. Perhaps the unkindest cut of all occurs in the bathroom, where I’ve reorganized the medicine cabinet and placed her toothbrush on the third shelf behind the Extra-Strength Tylenol and several bottles of contact lens solution.
The prosecuting attorney took a dramatic breath before reading off a list of suspects. The Woolworth Building? The Sears Tower in Chicago? The CNN Tower in Toronto? In each case, the defendant denied any special interest.
“Then why this one?” The question was apparently rhetorical, since the man launched into a review of all the traditional explanations, everything from sublimation to affectation. The judge intervened and suggested that it might help move things along if the defendant described the nature of his alleged relationship.
“Why should any explanation be required?” he began. “It’s simply the love of one human being for a unique Other. I don’t love all buildings. I don’t much care for architecture at all, for that matter. It’s just this particular one that I love. How should I describe my love? By comparison, all others seem like mere piles of stone or glass boxes. Mine is more like sculpture. The long vertical lines and repeated horizontal indentations evince the work of a caring, molding hand. Have you ever noticed the eight beaked guardians protruding from beneath the crown? Obviously put there to ward off anyone intent on inflicting harm. Have you ever gazed up its side . . . slowly, I mean? Taking it all in, as if on a magic ride? At the crest, have you ever experienced that spasm of joy as your gaze is transported over a series of shimmering waves before being thrust up toward the sun and sky? After such a brush with heaven, you can hardly be blamed for wanting to delay your return to Earth. And so I rest my case.”
Why do I still go out with Christine? I wondered about that until I came upon a notice posted on the Starbucks community bulletin board announcing a public lecture at NYU on “The Philosophy of Love.” Although I was initially skeptical, the lecturer’s analysis eventually shed light on my situation. As he described each of his 16 categories of love—most of which I don’t remember, but all of which involved a relationship between a “Self” and an “Other”—the audience began to fidget. The woman seated next to me slammed her leopard-skin notebook shut when she found it impossible to keep up. Sensing the audience’s growing restlessness, the lecturer paused to explain that the title of his talk might have misled some of us into thinking that he was going to offer an explanation of love. In point of fact, he said, it was his assistant who had changed the title at the last minute from “Toward a Phenomenology of Affective Relationships” to the one advertised.
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