just a memory

From Sessions in The Balcony:

In the heart of New York City, there is a tall glass building that stands one block east of Columbus Circle on 57th Street at Seventh Avenue. This is home to places like The Brooklyn Diner. This is also where I worked my first shift as an operating engineer.

Reaching high above street level, the commercial office building was headquarters to a large real estate company. There was a radio station. There were attorney offices and media companies. There was an overpriced parking garage at ground level to cater to the local theater crowd, along with expensive diners, restaurants, and expensive delicatessens. These were the kind of delis where framed pictures of famous actors and actresses hung on the wall with their signatures written in black magic marker beneath their smiles on an 8×10 glossy.


It was a strange time in New York City. Two of the tallest buildings in our skyline were devastated by two planes—one plane crashing into each tower, and both towers plummeting into what we New Yorker’s call “Ground Zero.”

I was young and unsure of myself. I was newly married and new to the struggles that come with being a husband. For example, I was completely unaware there is a right and wrong way to hang toilet paper on the toilet paper holder. And truly, there were times when I could hear my new wife complain from the other end of the house.


“Why can’t you put the toilet paper on right?” shouted my new bride from the bathroom.

“Because I never knew there was a right and wrong way to put toilet paper on the toilet paper holder,” I explained.

I told her, “In my house it was always just a good thing to have toilet paper in the bathroom.”

I explained, “We never cared if the tag was fed from the top or the bottom. We were just happy we had toilet paper to wipe our ass with.”

It was clear to me that I was about to go through changes. The toilet paper incident was small, but it acts as an example of how two people can be so terribly different.


I was mourning the loss of the city as I knew it. Each day there were new reports about the hijackings. As days moved onward, more details came to light. There were more names of the lost and missing reported. And sadly, there were more bodily remains found in the ashy rubble of Downtown Manhattan.


My building was tall enough that I could climb to the highest floor and see the hole in our skyline. It was painful to me. Each day, I made sure to look south from my building to see the empty space where The World Trade Center used to be. I stood in a moment of silence out of respect for the friends I lost. Then I whispered to myself, “Until we meet again,” as a tribute to their memory.


The building was not an easy place for me to work. I was painfully new to the machines and frightful of making too many mistakes. My industry is a blue collared one. No different from the white collared; my industry is one of ego and pride. Nearly everyone thinks they are the best at what they do. And if asked about anyone else, nearly everyone has the same answer.


“That guy doesn’t know shit!”


In my case this was true. I was newly licensed and wet behind the ears. Of course, I had some experience. I knew the basic plumbing duties when it came to fixing the public restrooms. I knew how to fit pipe together. Unfortunately, there was more to this job than simple tasks. I was new to the building’s computer system. Everything was newly automated and I was newly appointed to this address, which was in need of an engineer with more experience.

I was new to its refrigeration plant, which consisted of two steam driven turbines. I was nervous. I spoke too much. I joked too often. My name was tied to a few disasters in this place. I created an huge oil leak in one of the steam turbines. I stripped a few screws on the door frame to an important tenant’s doorway. This was not my fault. To be honest; I never touched the door. That was someone else’s mistake. My problem came when the chief engineer of the building asked me who was responsible.


“It wasn’t me,” I told the chief

“Then who was it,” he screamed.


The chief was a big man. He was large in size and large in his gut. The chief had pale skin with extremely blonde hair. His face was round—just like his stomach. His chin bulged under his thick neck that stemmed from his wide, bulky shoulders. The chief was not a patient man. In my case, the chief engineer was not a kind man either.


The chief yelled, “Who stripped the goddamned screws.”

His pale Irish-skinned face turned red. His blue eyes watered with rage when he yelled through his chubby crooked mouth, “This is bullshit!”


And it was bullshit. The chief was angry because I refused to tell on another engineer. He was also angry that I did not strip the screws. It would have been easier for him if I made the mistake. This way, he could yell at me. However, in my silence, the chief could only yell because I refused to give anyone up.


Not long after the screw incident, the oil leak, and an argument that nearly came to blows, my shift was changed from 10:00am – 6:00pm to the afternoon shift, which began at 4:00pm and ended at 12:00am midnight.

This was a quiet shift. Most of the supervisors had gone home by the time my shift was underway. The chief was not around to yell at me or see the mistakes I made. My partner on the 4-12 was a helper. He was my assistant. He was much younger, somewhat single, good looking, and often speaking with a girl on the phone.

The night cleaners ran through the various floors of the building, cleaning tenant spaces and tenant bathrooms. The cleaned the lobby corridors; they buffed the marble floors, wiped down the brass moldings inside and around the elevators. As for me, I changed filters in large fans. I cleaned coils on small heating and cooling units beneath the convectors around the windows. I handled a few small repairs to mildly cut through the boredom of working in a place without desire. It was not long before I created a routine.


Once the chief left at 4:00, I made my way to a place we called, “The Spot.”


In the southwest corner of the 14th floor machine room, I stood with coffee in hand, eyes gazing out the window to a building across the way, where at the same time each evening, a young buxom woman would shower for no less than 30-45 minutes.


I assume she could not see me, or should I say us. News like this tends to spread in places like mine. One of the elevator mechanics joined me for this routine. One of the cleaning ladies would join us as well.

The elevator mechanic was named Will. He was a kind gray -haired man that knew more dirty jokes than anyone I ever met before. Lucy was the cleaning matron. She was short and stout. She had a slight mustache with the sides of her head shaved and the top of her hair pulled back into a ponytail. At first glance, I thought Lucy was a man.


“Nope,” said Lucy. “I’m not as man. Just a lesbian.”


The Spot was our place. Yes, we were there to see a big breasted woman with thick curves, large rosebud nipples, long black hair, and fair skin. We could not see if the woman’s face in the shower was exceptionally beautiful or ordinarily plain. We could not see below her thick mid-section. But what we saw was perfectly enough.

Some nights were of course more interesting than others. It seemed the woman in the shower had a deep affection for her shower head, which was clearly below the window’s line of sight, and obviously working somewhere magical because the woman in the shower’s head leaned back and her mouth opened wide in what we assumed was the result of masturbation.


Lucy would often bring snacks. Will would bring coffee. I brought a few chairs so we could sit like the proper perverts we were and stare out a window at the woman with the largest breasts I had ever seen.


Each day, we met at The Spot at the same time. Of course, we hushed for a second when the woman would turn on the light in her bathroom. One of us would always report, “Here she comes!”

No differently from a family watching their favorite sitcom in the television room; we three supposedly mature, supposedly grown adults, and supposedly working employees, sat and watched this woman soaping her body and riding a showerhead until she reached orgasm.


We never spoke much. This ritual of ours became less sexual and more bonding. It began with a few sexual comments. Later, it seemed more like watching art than peeping in a window.

We all have our difficulties in life. We all have our questions as to why things happen the way they do. We all have our own fears and insecurities.

At that point, I was worried about my marriage. Will was going through a punishing divorce. He was about to lose half of his annuity, pension, and his 401k.

Lucy never spoke much about her life. I suppose the scars on her body told us enough that no one needed to ask about anything. Lucy was tough. She was stocky—and perhaps tougher than most men. Deep down, Lucy was no different from anyone I knew. She had the need to be loved. Lucy had the same needs to accepted and happy. I suppose Will knew more about Lucy than anyone else. He always promised to take her with him when the divorce was finalized.


Will would say, “Once that bitch of a wife is through with me, me and Lucy are gonna head down to South Carolina.” Then Will would nudge me and say, “And then you could have this broad all to yourself.”


I always wondered if the woman showering across the way knew that we were watching her. I would look for her—or at least try to when I was down at street level. I often wondered if I would recognize her if she passed me on the street.


It was such a strange time. I was at the beginning stages of so many different things. I was early in the understanding that marriage is work. I became aware that failed marriages are a mutual thing. I learned that true love cannot be created; it has to exist.

I also learned not every boss is interested in a good working relationship. Above all, whenever you find a place to hide at work, it is a smart idea not to leave the chairs and coffee cups out on a table. Not all bosses (or chiefs, in my case) appreciate the art of watching a large breasted woman get off in the shower.


I suppose sometimes it is okay to indulge our curiosity.



Just don’t let the boss find out . . .

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