The Incident



W. 42nd St. & 8th Ave., NY, NY 10036

Neighborhood: Times Square

When I walk through Midtown Manhattan, I think of The Jetsons. One episode in particular, where George and Co. bought a new apartment, and that apartment was taken up by a big space-age crane and placed in an empty hole in an apartment building, thus making it full and round. That’s how I think of the offices in those huge high rises: building blocks of humans, each one subdivided into smaller sections, or cubicles, with a person in each one. Like in the human body, like in a cell: the person is the nucleus, making all kinds of things happen in the building, in the city, in the world, and yet they don’t move out of their little space for hours and hours. It’s a model of efficiency through conformity. If you took out a floor with a big space-age crane, they all would look alike, with the same people in every one.

In December 2000 a man jumped out of a window of the 13th floor in the building where I worked, on 45th Street and 3rd Avenue. Actually, it wasn’t the 13th floor, it was the 14th, but it came after 12th floor in the elevator and in the early 1920’s when that building was erected, the builders tried to trick people into a sense of relief from their irrational fear of that number by just skipping it altogether. Whatever they intended, it worked for about a hundred years, but twelve months into the Millennium bad luck arrived on the 13th floor.

The story was that this man got drunk at the Christmas party and cursed his boss and told a few co-workers what he really thought of them. I did not see or hear any of this as there were almost one thousand people at the company Christmas party. The rest of the story went that he was, of course, fired at around noon the next day. I didn’t know any of this either, since I did not work on the thirteenth/fourteenth floor. After he was told he could go home, he calmly walked down the hall to a window, opened it, and jumped out. Someone I knew, this girl I worked with the year before, saw this happen. She ran screaming for help and tried to grab him, but it was too late. He was gone. I never asked her about this because I thought it might be rather rude to bring up such a bad memory. From what I heard from the security guards later on, he sailed right past the window where my desk was. I didn’t see him go down because I was out to lunch at that time. The girl who sat next to me claimed to have seen some sort of shadow, but mostly everyone thought she was lying. I learned what happened from an email from HR. It never mentioned his name.

After work that afternoon, I walked to the Port Authority with two of my coworkers, a guy and a girl. On the way down 42nd, we talked a little, but about neutral things, not about The Incident. We reached 6th Avenue and the wind hit us in the faces and stung like invisible bugs with long stingers.

At Port Authority, we pretended we had every intention of going to our respective homes in our respective towns in New Jersey, but we decided to get a drink at the Port Authority bar. Who didn’t need a drink after that day? There was a little bar on the second floor near where our gates were. We ordered beers and settled into them. My bus generally left about every ten minutes during afternoon rush hour. 10 p.m. is the last one, and after that, I don’t know where the gate changes to. I always got the bus before ten.

We drank beer and talked. We talked about how rotten the people we worked with were. When the incident had happened, a little cluster of them started chattering about how we should be able to go home early. The fact that it was also a Friday afternoon probably added to that sentiment. They looked like a little nest of cobras going around in the same circles and spitting. My little group at Port Authority was disgusted at that. We got another round. I looked out the glass windows that were frosted over with that fake snow stuff. People hurried, practically knocking slowpokes out of the way. The Christmas music they piped in wasn’t soothing anyone. They didn’t notice the impossibly long streams of garland hung from the ceiling shimmering red and gold. My girl coworker remarked that there were so many people going so many different places and that they were probably having a normal day. But that guy, the one today, his family thought it was a normal Friday and look at what happened to them! We all took a sip. Yeah, my guy coworker said, you’re here one minute and gone the next.

I looked at the clock. I had missed about seven buses by that time. Now they were slowing down, and would come on the half hour, and take longer to get home because the bus route got a little more local as the time went on. There were about twenty steps between the doorway to that bar and the steps leading up to my gate. It would take me five minutes to get there. I wasn’t worried. I said I’d buy the next round.

There are terrible drunk people in the Port Authority bar. I don’t know where they come from or where they are going. Maybe they don’t want to go home so they, like us, stopped at the very last place they could to postpone the inevitable. Like that last deep breath before jumping off the high diving board, the one where for a fraction of a second you were safe because you hadn’t gone yet and these guys held that breath until the last bus.

My last bus was approaching. I thought about the guys holding their breath, how in good times I just wanted to hold onto something, hold my breath and never move, stopping the clock if I could, with my tremendous powers. And in the bad times, when the stars were out but invisible due to light pollution, when it was cold, when things just didn’t feel right, I wanted to hold my breath then, too.

9:40 p.m. I knew I had to get going but I also had to pee and the stupid bar didn’t have a bathroom, so I’d have to use the Port Authority one with the rest of the derelicts. I could attempt to hold it, but knowing that the bus was going to take even longer than my usual commute wasn’t a comforting thought and thinking about suffering through that trip having to really pee was almost frightening. Can we bang one more down before I have to go? I asked. My two companions never said no to one more. I thought maybe I could get one more cocktail down, pee, and run up the stairs to the bus. I figured it would take me ten minutes, tops. Another beer was set down in front of me by an Irish waitress with a crooked eye. It was a Guinness. Why didn’t I order something lighter? No one, not even the Irish, can drink a Guinness fast.

9:45 p.m. I should pee now, but my Guinness is only halfway empty and I’m not going to waste it. I could give it to my guy coworker, but I don’t want him to have it. I have a nasty selfishness roiling up in me. And I’m pissed. They can stay all night, their buses don’t stop running until 2 a.m. My bus would take off from Mars if I let this last one go.

9:50 p.m. I slug down the rest of the Guinness and I tell them to watch my stuff while I run to pee. There is a line in the bathroom. There is always a line in that bathroom, and I know it. The tiles are blurring and for a minute they look like a Connect Four board. I chuckle at this, and a lady turns and stares at me. These people were all taking forever, and I knew they would. The bathroom smells and I hate it. By the time I am done, it’s almost 9:55 p.m. I get back to the bar. My girl coworker says to stay for one more. I tell her I’ll miss the bus. She says take a car service home, and for some reason that makes a lot of sense to me. So I sit down, and the clock on the wall moves slowly and finally past ten o’clock.

Later on, I got into the car service provided by our company. The company won’t pay for this, by the way, I will. The cost is around $50. My bus was $3.25. But I’m safe, I tell myself. Better than being in Port Authority for too long too late at night.

In the backseat of the Towncar, I fly up the West Side Highway, watching the George Washington Bridge grow bigger and bigger. We cross over into New Jersey. We are in the country, it feels like, where there are a lot of trees, though still not a lot of stars. I look back at the city, and it flashes with a billion lights that swim like street lamps in a puddle. I can’t tell if it’s a good or bad place, or if I am a good or bad person. It just is, I tell myself, like I am.

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