“How old are you?” I ask incredulously.
“Twenty,” the willowy brunette replies.
“Actually,” the girl says sheepishly, “I’ll be twenty in August.”
I stare at my new hostess. A college student on summer vacation, she’ll work the front desk until school starts – about two months. That’s the life expectancy of a hostess around here anyway.
“So you were born… what year?” I ask, dreading the answer.
“Jesus,” I say shaking my head, “That’s when I graduated high school.”
“Wow,” the brunette replies.
“That’s not helping,” I mutter.
I am not old. Being thirty-eight isn’t close to being old. But being thirty eight means you’re not a kid anymore. I do some math in my head.
“Man,” I tell the girl, “When you’re my age I’ll be fifty-six.”
“Oh my God,” the girl giggles, “You’ll drive yourself nuts thinking like that.”
“1986 seems like yesterday,” I say, snapping my fingers, “It goes by that fast.”
“You’re really thirty eight?” the hostess asks.
“I thought you were in your late twenties or something.”
I eye the hostess suspiciously. Either she’s paying me a compliment or she’s an operator. I realize I don’t care either way.
“Thanks honey,” I reply, “Flattery will get you everywhere.”
“No I’m serious,” the girl says, “You look like you’re twenty-eight.”
The house phone rings.
“Better get that,” I say, pulling on the front door.
“Not a day over thirty,” the girl says winking.
The hostess picks up the phone. I step outside.
It’s dreary outside. The sun hasn’t made an appearance in days. People walk past me gripping umbrellas and glancing up at the threatening sky. The world is wet and sticky.
“Hey Waiter,” a voice calls out. I turn around. It’s Alan – the building super.
“Hey Alan,” I reply, “How’s things?”
“I’m painting the apartment on the fourth floor,” he says with a trace of exhaustion, “New tenants you know.”
“I didn’t know the old ones had moved out.”
“Yeah,” Alan replies, “But a new couple’s moving in next week.”
“Whatcha asking for the apartment now?” I ask.
Alan answers. The price is astronomical. No utilities or parking.
“Man that’s steep,” I say.
“It’s worth it,” Alan says.
“Really?” I say, “What’s worth that kind of money?”
“You’ve never seen the apartments upstairs?” Alan asks.
“But you’ve been here six years!”
“Never got the opportunity,” I reply.
Alan looks at me for a few seconds. “Come with me,” he beckons, “I’ll show you.”
A minute later we’re standing inside a beautiful apartment with river views, exposed brick walls, hardwood floors, and a gourmet kitchen.
“Damn,” I exclaim.
“Nice place huh?” Alan says, grinning.
I stand next to the gigantic window dominating the living room. Through the thick glass I watch the dark grey river as it lumbers towards the ocean. Navigation lights pierce the fog. A lonely ship churns the water as it heads out to sea. In the distance car lights bead the length of a tired old bridge, garlanding it in red and white.
“Yes it is,” I mumble.
“Take a look at this bedroom,” Alan says, waving me over, “I just painted it.”
I walk over to the bedroom. It’s spacious with wide ceilings and three large windows looking over the street. I pull back the curtains and look down on a wet sticky world. It doesn’t look threatening. I spy Armando, the sous chef, smoking a cigarette four floors below.
“Everything looks so different from up here,” I say, mostly to myself.
“You like the views?” Alan asks.
“They’re amazing,” I admit. Sometimes money, like age, can give you a different sense of perspective.
“I’ll put you on the waiting list,” Alan says good-naturedly.
For a moment I feel a powerful surge of ambition. I’d like to be able to afford a place like this.
“You never know Alan,” I say finally, “You never know.”
“That’s right kid.”
“Kid?” I say laughing, “How old are you?”
“You don’t look a day over fifty,” I say, laughing.
“Bullshit artist,” Alan laughs.
“Gimme a break.”
“Thanks for the tour Alan,” I say, extending my hand.
“No problem kid,” he says, taking it.
I walk back downstairs and exit onto the street. Armando’s still smoking his cigarette.
“Where did you come from?” he asks, surprised.
“From the heights,” I say pointing upwards, “From the Heavens.”
“Never mind, “I reply, “What are the specials tonight?”
Armando flips his butt into the street and starts rattling off the specials. As I’m listening he pulls on the front door and holds it open for me. I head back inside my sense of perspective.
It’s been feeling rather small lately. But nothing lasts forever.
One day I will head out to sea.