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The wind felt like the grille of a Mac truck smashing continuously into my face as I tried to strike the pose up on the roof of the Epinger Building. I was juking my head around to shake the hair out of my eyes, but there was no controlling anything up there. It was like a wind-whipped kiss. It was freedom. It was like getting hit for doing something you shouldn’t have by someone you liked—even if it ended up with my head in the shape of a triangle. The kid hanging his legs over the ledge a few feet away wasn’t interested in the frisky weather. He was staring hypnotically at the 20-story drop.
“Fuck you,” he said to no one, certainly not me, his words whisked and sucked over the side, falling, floating, veering, angling and disappearing into the void that ended in the hungry pavement of 47th Street.
“This city does suck,” I said, and he turned to me finally, his eyes big and wet and bloated with heat. He was about sixteen.
“Get away,” he said, his words barbed and hateful. “What do you think you’re doing?” He’d never seen me before yet I was sure he was staring at the person he hated.
“Well, which is it?” I said.
“Huh?” he shouted.
“Those are two different questions,” I said.
“The fuck—” he said. “The hell you talking about?”
“And now a third.”
He stared, confused.
“Please, leave me alone,” he said quietly.
Just then there was a banging on the door back in the bunker-looking room protrusion where top of the stairs ended. When I’d arrived, I jammed a metal pipe in the handle to seal it off. We both could see a cop’s mouth moving pretty rapidly in the little window.
We turned back around. The boy on the ledge commenced the nervous swinging of his legs.
“I fucking hate her,” he said. “I hate all of ’em.”
“Hey,” I said. “Come on. You can get through this. You’ll be OK. Right?”
“No,” he said.
“I take it you’re not enjoying this glorious life,” I said, attempting some levity.
“Fuck off,” he said.
He may have been up there, but it was me who was supposed to be.
I went ahead and shuffled over to my spot, giving the kid a wide berth. I stepped up on the two-foot-wide elevated platform and was almost blown over the edge. The air… it was, like, alive and making decisions. It knew about us. It was so messing with my hair. It was frozen in a Mohawk. I had to laugh at my own brass. Humans. It wasn’t just me. It was everyone. It was the race.
Yet I couldn’t help but be moved by the city. All these buildings, totally unique but arrayed as though each was in relationship, mile after mile of the concrete and steel catalogue of the human thrust for dominion over nature, which had had been going on since the time of men named Og. It was a doomed crusade. The reign of men was over, anyway.
The boy looked small in a bomber jacket that far too big for him, its cuffs covering his hands up to his knuckles. On the skin at the back of his neck, above the sweat-stained collar, was a tattoo of South America. Columbia and Venezuela were obscured in a forest of stringy hair. The kids cheeks were acne-pitted.
“Hey, do you mind … ?” I said to his hostile stare. “There’s something I came here to do.”
He continued to stare.
Oh, the hell with it. I shuffled closer to the edge, inches from the long drop. The sounds of the city wafted up; mostly those damned horns.
I could feel the shift starting because I became aware of my personal history, which splayed out before me, the whole of my 31 years, but mostly my grand corporeal achievement—i.e., I was still alive. Though it was true, I’d been feeling more irrelevant than usual. I was just an organism, one of trillions buzzing about on the skin of this apple. We were all given time, but what were you supposed to do with it? But I was aware of certain movements—hints, potentials, flickers down in the shadows trying to ignite something. I just didn’t know what, back then.
He was staring at me, his mouth wide open, a line of drool tracing down his chin. Then angling up toward his cheek. What was he doing—jumping? Me, I was moving furniture. I’d made my peace with not knowing, with being confused. My father had once said when you get old you realize you’re full of shit. The more you know, the dumber you realize you’d been. All those insights of his. They were justifications, tricks to make him feel relevant. He wasn’t speaking from experience. He never made it past forty. But he was right. There was no knowing anything.
Not Melanie and Dawes. They knew everything. Even when they were wrong they were right. I’d have given anything to feel the confidence possessed by the many narcissists who populated my world. My true north was to be found on a compass with a needle that never stopped spinning.
I felt bad about the kid, so I smiled at him, sort of like an older brother. But I couldn’t be totally sure it was the right move. My facial expressions didn’t always sync up with what I was feeling. It was a real problem. I wouldn’t have known about except for Melanie. She had brought it up once. Her comment had floated right up out of her usual drug haze like a lot of her most memorable observations—coming out of smoke, out of thick air. “Your face tells a different story than your words,” she’d said. Whenever I would remind her of those gems, she could never remember saying them. And there was no way I was going to give her any credit if I didn’t have to.
“What are you doing?” the boy said, looking interested in me for the first time.
I just smiled and turned my attention to the sky, drinking in the howling winds. The banging on the door had stopped. I stood firm in my Converse All Stars, though I was feeling weak in both knees.
My world started shrinking down as I knew it would, until it had become a tiny, beautiful point. The clattering of drums and cymbals faded away. I felt like I was driving straight up into the atmosphere in a Mustang convertible with the top down, speeding away from a house party where I’d had a good time.
I took a final deep breath and began. I raised up my left knee and held it there. I pressed the sneaker against my right inner calf, making a triangle, and raised up my arms and touched my palms together over my head, like I was blasting off. I stuck that pose, despite the quaking. I was in the vast space that even the street noise ricocheting up between the buildings couldn’t penetrate.
Dawes popped into my mind, like a landmine from some old war that I’d just detonated. Ever since Broadville Elementary School, Dawes had made a career out of ridiculing my metaphysical explorations as sophomoric affronts to the One True God, which was logic. Dawes was a scientific materialist. In other words, he was an emotion-averse male who believed the boundless miracles of the universe could be squeezed into the small box of rationality. Just thinking about that made me want to retch. It was pure flatlander. It was the usual skimming on the surface. I don’t know why I shared my forays with him at all. We were the deepest of friends. Nither of us were going to change. Subjective data (my world) pinged off Dawes like plastic arrows off the hide of a rhinoceros. But I wasn’t stupid. I knew scientific materialism was the lens through which the World saw things, and not because its priests were necessarily correct. They were just smart,, Ivy-educated fuckers who laughed at non-temporal experience—“spiritual experience.” The ones who knew about it, kept quiet about it.
“No idea is truly original,” Dawes would extol in his superior, pedantic tone. “Everything’s been tried at some point in human history. It’s just a matter of statistics, of time.” But I knew what was behind those kinds of declarations. A trembling, vomitus, pants-pissing fear of the bogeyman of the Unknown, of things too squiggly to be measured in the lab—i.e., most human experience. My experience.
As I stood straining, trembling in the knees, holding steady on the one leg through a strength of resolve that came from deep down, what I hoped would awaken, awoke. One assertive gust of wind, or random teeter of imbalance, would obviate any further attempt to complete the task. The focus was empowering. This feat stood up in a too safe life. I made a mental note to take myself out to One World Café for a lasagna if I survived. Dawes was wrong. What I was doing was untried in the history of humankind. That’s why I was doing it. Well, half of why.
No one had ever held a Vriksasana on the roof ledge of a twenty-story building. Mother fucker.
Rapt in the moment, I was greedy for more. I extended out my arms, palms-up, inviting whatever wanted to happen to do just that, challenging nature to enter into the moment. This one and only moment. I’d blown through the boundaries of my experience into something infinite and irresistible.
I had to see that kid’s face just then. I wanted to share my epiphany with him. We were one, the two of us, brother homo sapiens grooving on our home planet, warriors steadfast on the mountaintop of existential achievement. I didn’t come up there to change anyone’s mind. I just wanted to step out of the machine for a second and take one unadulterated breath. I had ascended into the non-marketing zone.
I lowered my leg down and pressed both sneakers fast to the concrete with satisfaction and stepped back from the ledge and stared over the gulf at the building across the street, which I hadn’t even considered. It was just like this one. I saw a cluster of people gathered on the rooftop that were staring this way, several holding cameras. They were pointed… at us. The kid and I were the object of hungry long lenses. A headline flashed in my mind: Nutjob Performs Karate Kid Kick Alongside Troubled Youth.
Good God, no, people. It wasn’t the friggin’ Crane Kick. This was yoga.
I wanted to know if my affront to the rationalist order had somehow shifted the kid’s perspective—maybe through proximity alone. Was it possible that my actions had brought him closer to the fold of expanded consciousness, at least enough to give him pause? I was aswell with pride, the muscles of my body still trembling in adrenaline aftershock. I now had an idea of it meant to feel something in the fiber of one’s being. I was in the fiber, baby. Melanie didn’t know the meaning of high. All she was doing was numbing herself into the background. It was a cheap, ersatz hint of weightlessness. This was going in. So deep you punched right through to the universal boundlessness. The feeling was indescribable. It was bliss. I wanted to convey all this to someone, anyone, and this kid was right here. I wanted to tell him what was happening, that there was another, deeper order, a foundational principle, a place that was far more than you could ever imagine—which he should definitely know about.
But when I turned to look at him, I was staring at empty space. He wasn’t there.