Excerpts

From You Are Here
YOU ARE HERE. Copyright ã 2010 by Heather Holland Wheaton.
All rights reserved.




Photo by m4de

 

 

Rain

Originally published on www.everdayfiction.com

It’s raining again. Cold, wet sheets of gray are falling in the same steady rhythm they’d been falling in every day for a week.

“Last October we had a heat wave,” says Parker, his forehead pressed against the window in Marshall’s office, watching the traffic of black umbrella tops on the sidewalk eighteen stories below. “This year, it’s cold and wet. Whoever’s in charge of weather needs to learn about balance.”

“Maybe they should take up yoga,” says Marshall, without looking up from his computer.

“Maybe they should,” says Parker. He stands upright and leaves a forehead print on the glass. “Maybe whoever’s in charge of weather should buy a yoga mat with a Buddha on it. Maybe they should start drinking Chai tea with soy milk.”

“Maybe you should get the hell out of my office,” says Marshall. “You’re giving me a headache.”

“Everything gives you a headache,” says Parker, but he leaves. He wanders down the carpeted hallway peeking into the offices that are open, looking to see if anyone from the agency is up for lunch. A real lunch, with drinks as an appetizer. He’s feeling restless; the rain’s getting to him. He’d been Mr. Gung-ho at the beginning of the month, ready to start a dozen new projects that all now seem to be waiting for the sun to shine before he can get back to them.

Everyone in the agency is too busy for lunch. They don’t want to go out in that mess, they’ll order in and eat at their desks while they work. They tell Parker this as if he should do that too, and he goes back to his office and shuts his door. He puts his feet up on his desk, squeezes a stress ball and watches the endless gray sheets of rain.

A woman appears in the window of the office building on the other side of the street. She’s wearing a white blouse that glows in the gloom. She presses her forehead against the glass just as Parker had done in Marshall’s office and stands looking down on the street.

She’s pretty, thinks Parker. He can see the healthy swell of her breasts beneath the blouse. He can’t see her legs or her ass, but he has a feeling that they’d be nice too. He thinks about scribbling a note on a piece of poster board. “Would you like to have lunch?” She looks like the type that would say yes.

He swings his feet off his desk, quickly grabs a piece of foam cord and a Sharpie, but when he looks at the window again, she’s gone.

“Figures,” he says. He resumes his rain-watching position and a black leather desk chair crashes through the window where the woman was standing. It flips over once and plummets, wheels spinning as it falls.

Parker rushes to the window. The chair has already landed on top of a cab by the time he gets there. The driver gets out and waves his arms in wild arcs.

“Holy shit,” says Parker.

The woman appears again, framed by the jagged edges of the broken window. She’s even prettier without the filter of glass; high, Slavic cheekbones and hair the color of wheat pulled off her face into a tight French knot. She looks down at the chair and the beginnings of a traffic jam, then looks straight ahead and her eyes meet Parker’s.

His eyebrows shoot up to ask what happened and the woman dives with the grace and poise of an Olympic champion over the edges of the shattered window and into the cold river of rain. She lands on the same cab that the chair did, a circle of onlookers already formed, waiting for her without knowing she was coming.  






Just because you’re a fictitious character from
a collection of short stories doesn’t mean you can’t tweet.
Follow Stanley at http://twitter.com/U_Are_Here


Have a Good One
80W80 is an overwrought terra cotta and brick building that lords over the corner of Columbus Avenue and 80th Street. It was originally twelve stories tall, but the current owner, Dewitt Kensington added a penthouse in 1999, making it thirteen.

The goalie for the New York Rangers lives in the penthouse now. His wife drinks too much and cheats on him.

Stanley has seen her stagger home—while the goalie’s away, defending the net against penetration by the Penguins or Maple Leafs—with her blouse buttoned up wrong or turned inside out.

Stanley has been the doorman at 80W80 for eighteen years. He’s seen it all.

It’s Wednesday afternoon and the beginning of his shift. He has a cup of coffee from the deli in his hand and today’s Post rolled up under his blue-uniformed arm.

The floor in the lobby of 80W80 is marble, but Stanley’s rubber-soled shoes don’t make a sound as he walks across it and nods at Walter, the morning doorman who’s still at the desk.

Walter and Stanley never speak to one another. They just nod.

Stanley waits until Walter has gotten up from the desk and gone into the doormen’s locker room before he sits down. The desk is chest-high and topped with marble that matches the floor. On it is a Boerum and Pease logbook where the doormen write down all the comings and goings of the building. It’s in military hours:

11:45 Housekeeper to 7E.
11:50 Painters to 10N, new tenant (Gregory Palinuck) will move in Monday.
12:10 MacGregor out w/Buddy, Madison, Mr. Peepers.
13:00 Dry Cleaning: 7N, 10S, 3E, 6N, PH
13:15 MacGregor in w/Buddy, Madison, Mr. Peepers.


Notes: Kaysee O’Brien’s car @ 75 81st St. to be moved @ 3PM. Keys in drawer. In Closet: Cohen’s baby car seat. Fur coat from Erica Buffett for p/up by Jay Mendel. 2 boxes from Azazel Braunstein for UPS p/up.

The logbook was Stanley’s idea. He came up with it when Kensington first bought the building and began to transform it from a rundown piece of real estate that smelled of dead mice into ‘80W80—A Premiere Residence Boasting Glorious Views of Central Park.’

Gary, the UPS man comes in while Stanley is trying to decipher Walter’s sloppy morning entries. “How’s it going today, Box Man? How’s it going?”

“Not too bad, Door Man,” says Gary, “Got three for Azazel. Yarn shipped all the way over from Broadway and 82nd.”

Stanley gets up from the desk and retrieves the out-going orders of Azazel’s hand-knit sweaters from the closet. “And she’s got two for you,” he says. “Two for you.”

Gary scans the boxes into his DIAD. “Hey, I just saw MacGregor up the block. He’s finally leaving Azazel. But he hasn’t told her yet.”

“I know,” Stanley lies. “I know. That’s old news. Old news”

“I’m actually surprised he stayed as long as he did.”

“It’s all about the green card, Box Man. All about the green card.”

They both laugh.

“Have a good one, Box Man. Have a good one.” Stanley jots the UPS transaction down into the logbook. His handwriting is much neater than Walter’s. It’s easy to read.

Stanley also has a separate, private notebook with more intimate details about the building. What kind of mood the tenants are in and who they’re with, whether they’re toting bags from Fairway or sweating from a run in Central Park (two of the tenants—Parker Ross and Ben Bradlee—were in the Marathon last year, although neither one of them finished in under five hours).

Stanley has no plans of writing a tell-all about the building or blackmailing the hockey slut. He keeps the notebook to give him something to do when it’s slow. It’s also a way to share his day with his wife, Donna. He leaves it out on the kitchen table when he gets home at night so she can read it over breakfast. She likes to know what’s happening in the building.

Stanley writes the break-up info about MacGregor and Azazel into the notebook. It’s big news and he’s actually thinking about calling Donna with it when Homeless Frank shuffles into the lobby.

Frank’s wearing three coats, all of them on the verge of disintegrating. His outer coat is black and has what looks like a fresh mustard stain on the lapel. He smells worse than usual.

“How’s it going, Frank?” says Stanley, trying not to inhale. “How’s it going?”

“I lost my Walkman,” says Frank. He coughs dramatically and strokes his beard. “I left it in the park by the tennis courts,” he says, “but when I went back for it, it wasn’t there. I think somebody found it and kept it.”

“That’s too bad, Frank. That’s too bad.” Stanley picks up an envelope with Frank’s name on it. In the envelope are five ten-dollar bills that Kensington leaves for Stanley to give to Frank every Wednesday. This too was Stanley’s idea.

Frank used to live in the building back when the rent was cheap and the elevators never worked. He wrote jingles for radio spots. Food Emporium, Rockaway Bedding, Duane Reade. He was famous as far as jingle writers go. Then his wife died, suddenly of a blood clot in her brain, and Frank fell apart. He stopped writing ditties about sofa beds and used cars and stopped paying rent. When Kensington bought the building, he had Frank and the other undesirable tenants evicted, legally through the courts. Then their apartments were renovated and leased out at market rate to fine, upstanding people who tip at Christmas.

Fifty dollars a week keeps Frank from hanging out on the corner of Columbus and 80th Street shaking a paper cup of change and telling his story of eviction or singing the Rockaway Bedding song over and over and over again.

Stanley hands Frank the envelope. “Buy yourself a new Walkman. Buy a new one.”

But it had a tape in it of my jingles. My life’s work. I can’t replace that.”

“I’m really sorry,” says Stanley. “Really sorry.” He means it. “Hey, why don’t you put up some flyers in the park? Maybe somebody did find it and they just don’t know where to return it. You could say on the flyer that they can drop it off here.”                                                              

Frank smiles. There’re only a few teeth left in his mouth. “That’s a great idea,” he says, “I’m gonna do that. Thanks, Stanley.” He salutes him with the envelope of money.

“Anytime, Frank, anytime.” Stanley watches him shuffle across the marble floor and waits until he’s out the door before he sprays the lobby with lavender air freshener.









You Are Here
Norm and his wife, Rose want to get to the opening early, and they aren’t exactly sure what part of Manhattan Avenue the gallery is on, so they drive from their home in Flushing Meadows.


Norm doesn’t say much along the way, but Rose chatters on about the neighborhoods they travel through. “Look at all the new buildings,” she keeps saying, “Everything is different. I wouldn’t recognize this place if I didn’t know where we were.”


It turns out that the gallery is easy to find. It’s near Java Street in a row of brick warehouses that have been converted into lofts. There’s still scaffolding up on the warehouse where the gallery is; a banner stretched across it reads: SoHo Quality Lofts Now Available.

A smaller sign in a gold frame attached to one of the poles near the entrance says:

Norm Schumer: Miniature Watercolors
Gregory Palinuck Gallery, 4th floor
Opening Reception Tonight


“Kind of ironic,” says Norm, as he holds the door open for his wife.


“What’s ironic?” Rose has on a new dress that she bought special for the occasion. It’s covered in bright pink tulips and equally bright yellow pansies. It makes her look like a large garden of artificial flowers.


“The fact that I’m a security guard in a warehouse and my paintings are being shown in a warehouse.” Norm’s wearing the suit he bought for their son’s wedding, but his shirt and tie are new. “Don’t you think that’s ironic?” he says and pushes the ‘up’ button for the elevator.


“I’m sure everything will be fine.” Rose grips the handles of her purse with both hands.


The elevator opens up on the fourth floor to a cavernous white-walled space. Tuxedo-ed waiters balancing trays of wine glasses clamor in every direction. Gregory Palinuck stands in the middle of it all with a stainless steel clipboard in his hand.


He waves and makes his way over to the Schumers. “Happy opening night,” he says, and shakes Norm’s hand. “Is this your wife?” His breath smells of wintergreen.


“Yes,” says Norm. “This is Rose. Rose, Greg Palinuck.”


“It’s a pleasure to meet you. What a beautiful dress.”


Rose un-grips her purse and re-centers the belt buckle of her dress. “Thank you,” she says.


Greg looks at the clipboard. In the center of his forehead is a small, star-shaped scar that Norm never noticed before. “I better give you a tour now,” he says, “before the press arrive. It’ll be chaos here soon. At least I hope so.”


“OK,” says Norm.


“I wanted to show your paintings in an environment that would give them room to breathe,” says Greg. He leads them to the nearest wall. On it hangs a landscape of a snow-covered mountain in a small gold, curlicue frame. Next to it is a white card that says:


12. You Are Here
4 x 6”
watercolor on paper


“See how the large wall makes the small size of the painting have more of an impact?” Greg smiles and the star-shaped scar appears to wink at Norm. “The viewer is shrunk down so he can just climb into the painting and be in this tiny, perfect world.” He brings his index finger and thumb a half-inch apart and holds them in front of the painting as if giving the shrunken viewer a boost up from the floor.


“And do you like the title?” he asks. “I gave them all these vague names that evoke a sense of location. ‘You Are Here,’ ‘Arrival,’ ‘Same Time, Same Place.’ What do you think?”


“Great,” says Norm.


 Rose nods her head.


“And here’s a price list.” Greg pulls a sheet of paper from the stack on his clipboard and hands it to Norm. Then his jacket begins to vibrate and he takes his cell phone out from his inside pocket. “I’ve got to take this,” he says, looking at the screen. “It’s the DJ that was supposed to be here an hour ago. Excuse me a moment.” He disappears into the black swirl of waiters and their wine glasses.


Norm and Rose look down on the list of paintings. Number 12, “You are Here” is selling for $7,000. Norm whistles and his wife pulls the list out of his hand.


“$7,000?” she says. “For that? I’d never pay $7,000 for that.”


Norm bends close to the painting with his hands clasped behind his back and thinks about the day he painted it in the top drawer of his desk in the warehouse on Orchard Street. The A/C had been on the fritz and the doors to the warehouse were open. It had just rained and the smell of the wet street tumbled into the lobby.


“You’re not an art lover,” he says, “with $7,000 to spend.”


“But there’s thirty paintings here and none of them are less than $3,000. Don’t you think that’s a little high? Didn’t you say that Greg had never done this before? Open a gallery and sell art? Didn’t you say he’s a textile designer? Maybe he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”


Norm takes the price list from Rose. “Yea, but I think he does know what he’s doing. Look at the frames and the titles and the big white walls. Besides, even if I don’t sell a single painting, we’re not any worse off. I still have my job. I didn’t put any money into this. I didn’t even have any dreams about being considered a real artist. I just like to paint instead of doing Sudoku at work. No matter what happens, this is all gravy.”


“Gravy?”


“Gravy,” says Norm. “And if he does sell a couple of them, we can do some traveling when I retire next year. We can go to places like the places in my paintings.”


“Where are these places anyway?” asks his wife. “Where is this mountain? What country is it in?”


Norm shrugs. “I have no idea. But we can look for it. And even if we don't find it, that will be gravy too.”


“Gravy,” says his wife, and Norm can’t tell if the word is a question or an agreement. He puts his arm around her and they stand looking at “You are Here”—a place that only exists on the 4 x 6 sheet of paper in a gold, curlicue frame.

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