Alex seems to have it all: a great penthouse apartment, a lovely girlfriend, and a prestigious Wall Street job. But below the surface he is sure of nothing but his angst-ridden doubts. And when he realizes that his doorman may be God, or sent by God, he will question things like never before.
This novelette is a story of New York doormen, tormented love, empty office life, and the theological questions that arise in response to the horrors of evil.
Have you ever been on a train, bus, metro/subway — or any other shared space with strangers — and started to wonder what that person right next to you is thinking? Did you ever start to think or hope that maybe your temporary neighbor was somehow sharing your thoughts and/or desires? Ever sensed some sort of romantic connection or sexual tension and wished you could get into the individual’s head, to know for sure?
“City Solipsism” will take you on a journey into the mind of one commuter on a New York City subway car, riding next to and thinking about a person standing awkwardly close…The man and woman are total strangers but their proximity is almost intimate, as their hands share the same metal subway pole…
NOTE: Readers seeking the over-top-hilarity of “Sex in the Title” should know that “City Solipsism” is written in a very different style. Rather than a comedic series of misadventures in New York, this short story takes more of a philosophical and psychological walk through the mind of one New Yorker observing and speculating about another.
CITY SOLIPSISM: A SHORT STORY
CITY SOLIPSISM: A SHORT STORY
Zack Love graduated from Harvard College, where he tried to create a bachelor’s degree in Women. With the bachelor portion of that degree in hand, he settled in New York City but – to afford renting his bed-sized studio – found himself flirting mostly with a computer screen and stacks of documents. Determined not to die a corporate drone, Zack decided to sacrifice sleep for screenwriting, an active social life, and Internet startups offering temporary billion-dollar fantasies.
To feed his steady diet of NYC nightlife, he regularly crashed VIP parties in the early 2000s and twice bumped into his burgeoning crush, a Hollywood starlet. But – much to Zack’s surprise – neither of those awkward conversations led to marriage with the A-list actress. Zack eventually consoled himself by imagining fiascos far worse than those involving his celebrity crush. In the process, he dreamed up a motley gang of five men inspired by some of his college friends and quirky work colleagues. And thus was born Sex in the Title. But the novel is not autobiographical: Zack never had his third leg attacked by any mammal (nor by any plant, for that matter). In fact, keeping his member safe has been one of Zack’s lifelong goals – and one of the few that he’s managed to accomplish.
During my first year at 777 Fifth Avenue, I came to realize that Lenny had never made a false prediction or failed to supply the correct answer to a question, no matter what the subject. He wasn’t just a handyman who could fix a twitching toilet or stubborn sink; he could look at his watch while taking you down in the elevator and accurately estimate the number of minutes before a downpour would start or a cab would show up outside. He could tell you the corner where the scent of fresh lox and bagels mixed just right with the scent of the neighboring Laundromat; he knew the best place to buy your curtains or cut your hair or get your suits dry-cleaned; and he knew every phone number you needed, like the yellow pages on two short legs. He was a pipe-smoking almanac, energetically rattling off any fact about the world. “Bhutan’s current population? Let me see,” he would say, looking up for a moment before launching into his usual light-speed speech, “2,047,453. But seven more were just born yesterday, so it’s at 2,047,460 now.” Of course, I couldn’t verify such a preposterously precise claim, but he was always right about everything else, so I was inclined to believe him. He could tend to any wound or malady, as though he had perfectly mastered the Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine, and his advice always seemed more effective than any doctor recommendation I obtained. And despite the swiftness of his incessant chatter, there wasn’t a word he uttered without gentle passion and infectious enthusiasm. And so he would engage you in some topic you never imagined could interest you for more than a polite minute – the history of vacuum cleaners, or the different flavors of ice cream in China, or the intricate ways of the delicate blue ball turning third in line from the sun. The elevator ride would be over but you’d still be listening until someone else called the elevator or Lenny jokingly reminded you that you had originally entered the elevator with a look of great purpose. Mercifully enough, Lenny always kept it brief in the mornings, knowing that I had to be at work by 8:30 a.m.
At one point, I began to think that I had a divine doorman. Lenny was the most unlikely incarnation of God I could imagine, and yet I kept drifting irresistibly towards this absurd conclusion. Despite my staunchly atheistic inclinations, I couldn’t explain Lenny any other way. But eventually I came to my senses and realized that he was just one of those game show freaks with an encyclopedic memory. That didn’t make him God, did it? Would God proclaim so regularly how much he likes Patsy’s Pizza?
CITY SOLIPSISM: A SHORT STORY
The pages of my calendar flip by faster each year as the bewildering march of time presses forward through alarm clock blues, dinners at the office, and “free time” planned away – in the same way – month after month. As I stand on the same subway platform, waiting for the same local train, I think to myself how youth is marked by a breathtaking novelty that diminishes with each year of age – until life becomes a delusive struggle to break routines, escape the ordinary, and rediscover the joy of discovery.
“What does it take now – as a ‘grown-up’- to make a month memorable?” I wonder. “How do you make treading the treadmill feel like trailblazing a trail? What would make this morning any more remarkable than any other morning?”
And then I notice someone who doesn’t look quite so beleaguered by it all. She’s a woman in her early-twenties with features that hail from either Italy or Spain – I can’t be sure because it’s been about six years since I played my guitar for coins across Europe (and even then, I wasn’t great at differentiating Italians from Spaniards).
Summer sticks to her skirt sumptuously, in the shiny gray fabric hanging loosely from her curves. Her chestnut eyes, apparently hidden from strangers; her simple but graceful face, unpainted by Madison Avenue; and her straight black hair, parted down the middle without ego, all suggest a minimalist – almost pastoral – beauty that is oddly discordant with her fashionable attire, comfortable indifference to the crowds, and quasi-attentive perusal of the Time magazine unfolded over her hand.
I don’t know her name and I’m sure that I’ve never seen her before, but there is something familiar about her. She seems to have this schizophrenically interested or curious look that reminds me of the female shoppers I once observed in a busy Florentine marketplace. The young Italian women in that spice-filled outdoor market, buying their extra virgin olive oil and red ripe tomatoes, seemed flirtatious in their enjoyment of the young men eyeing them, yet guardedly guilt-ridden about any deviations from a properly Catholic day of shopping. And here in our subway car, the way in which this bucolic belle’s eyes occasionally seem undecided between the text of her magazine and the people standing around her makes me wonder how those Florentine shoppers would look if their daily routine were transformed from an outdoor Tuscan shopping spree to an indoor New York subway ride. Would they all look at the magazines in their hands more or less than this woman two feet away from me does?
At the risk of fetishizing an unsuspecting subway rider, I’m going to call her “Florence.” The name of that city evokes in me so many magical memories that I’ll call her “Florence” even though the vestiges of my origin-detection skills insist that her roots might actually be Spanish. Calling her “Madrid” just wouldn’t sound as good, and admitting my uncertainty by calling her “Southern Europe” would sound even worse. So she’ll be Florence for now.