Sparkle Street Press
I was driving a delivery van for a painting contractor. We had a job on East 79th, and I pulled up there on a blinding, fractured, disgusted summer morning – a hundred degrees already – with one of those terrific, all-encompassing hangovers: the kind of hangover where you can’t tell the difference between the inside of your head and the outside. You know there’s a difference, and you try to respect it according to custom, but the distinction is tiring to maintain. I opened the back of the van and rummaged around and hauled out a ladder and a dolly. The doorman was watching me from under his awning. I stacked the dolly with cases of paint and thinner and a box of assorted supplies and then rolled it, with the ladder under one arm, past the awning, to the side entrance, through the black iron gate topped with razor wire, and down the ramp to the basement. I liked it better down there because it was dark and cool and clean. Everything was painted industrial grey. With the hangover I was basically one with my surroundings, so I felt safe there.
I rang for the service elevator and waited for it like a toad: pulsing, existing, breathing the cool darkness through my skin. The elevator came down and the guy slid the gate aside. I stood the ladder against the back of the car and rolled the dolly in and told the guy “Seven.” I think I said it. I must’ve said it, because he closed the gate and we were riding up. I hadn’t said anything but the floor number and thanks to him in many weeks because he was a silent, furious guy who canceled smalltalk. The man was tense. No good-morning, no sports, weather, nada. He seemed like he could snap at any minute. Word was that he was an ex-con. So I just stood there behind him, absently touching the right side of my face, where my wife had raked me last night. We fought constantly, like trapped, provoked animals. The guy opened the gate and I got the dolly and ladder out.
I made my delivery and had a coffee with the crew and took a lot of ragging about my face, the gist of which was that I’d probably deserved it, and then I went out to the stairwell and rang for the elevator again. I was glad to get out of there because the job site was filled with sunlight and disordered and noisy. The coffee hadn’t done anything for my hangover but speed it up. As a distinct entity, I was still porous. I remembered I was supposed to call my wife, and started a conversation with her in my head. I’ll pick you up after work at six – did you bring your stuff? – maybe we’ll go to the gym, and then we have to take that movie back. The guy slid the gate open, I rolled the dolly in, and now we’re riding down. It hits me that he’s decorated the elevator like a cell. It’s like a cell anyway because of its size and the metal bars, but he’s got pictures from magazines of cars and women, and a calendar with the days crossed out. Meanwhile I’m still talking to my wife: We’ll get some things for dinner at the place on Bedford . . . what are you going to want? . . . maybe I’ll make broccoli and pasta. We get to the bottom, I’m telling her Alright, I gotta go, I’ll see you later, bye, and the guy opens the cage and I say, out loud, “I love you,” and roll the dolly out of the elevator.
I took three steps and my hands went cold. Did I just say that? Six weeks I don’t say a word to the man and now “I love you”? I was a psychopath. And I couldn’t take it back – what could I say? “I’m sorry, I don’t love you after all?” “I’m sorry, I had you confused with my wife”? “I’m sorry, I had you confused with the basement”? Given the hangover, it could even have been true! Maybe for a moment I did love the elevator operator. I didn’t look back.