Jeffrey sat shivering. The veins beneath his skin, normally a subtle map of pale blue, displayed a prominence owned by persons twice his age or persons slowly thawing or, like Jeffrey, by persons slowly freezing. His arms folded across his t-shirt. Left hand rubbed right arm, right hand rubbed left arm, a furious, futile process of ridding the flesh of bumps born from a slow death. The man next to him, wearing pants and windbreaker over a hooded sweatshirt, chuckled. He, like Jeffrey, had dressed for the occasion.
"First time to Wrigley?" the man asked, putting a fresh cup of beer to his lips.
"Yeah," Jeffrey replied, looking at the tall papered container. Bubbles of moisture clung to it. Some slid down to a red index finger and changed from a bubble to a weld. The man switched hands, wiping dry the free one. "Why is it so cold here?" Jeffrey asked. "It was hot outside the park."
"You bought the wrong ticket for that getup," the man said. He drank his beer and looked toward the field. "You belong out there, in the bleachers. See the difference. No shirts for most of them, except the women, but look. Can hardly call those shirts, can you? I used to sit out there. That's a young man's heaven, especially on days like today. It's a beach without sand and water. This here is hell, especially if you still got good vision, or if you're dressed like a fool."
Jeffrey noticed the difference. An hour earlier, in sunshine, and in a temperature conducive to shorts and t- shirts, he had purchased a grandstand ticket. The person inside the ticket booth had to have known and should have warned him, but she probably saw the line behind Jeffrey and knew she had little time to educate another, so she pushed the ticket through the grated opening and said "Enjoy the game," and Jeffrey walked away unsuspecting, handed his ticket to another busy worker, this one silent, pushed through the turnstile, bought a program and hot dog and soda, found the right entrance, and hurried up the steps. The sun hit him when he reached the top step, but so did a biting breeze.
It's my excitement, he reasoned. Must be, he concluded after seeing the skin filling the bleachers. He made his way up, under the upper deck, into shadows, to his seat three rows behind a cold gray girder. He sat down, then stood up. The part of his legs not covered by his shorts had made contact with the metal seat. He spilled soda on his arm. Bending over to vacuum the mess with his mouth, he spilled more, and heard laughter behind him.
Jeffrey had noticed the man when he had climbed the steps. No one else occupied this section. The gates had opened fifteen minutes earlier. The Cubs were taking batting practice. The game would not start for another hour. The man was sitting with his feet resting on the seat in front of him. He threw popcorn into a demanding mouth, a mother bird feeding a hungry chick. Blue sneakers led to blue socks led to blue jeans led to a blue jacket led to a blue cap. Mr. Blue, Jeffrey thought. A red C on the cap and jacket and a red nose on the face were the only interruptions.
Jeffrey sat again, hurriedly, like someone jumping into a cool pool. His body adjusted. He turned to Mr. Blue. "It's safe now," he said. Mr. Blue smiled. Jeffrey turned back and ate his hot dog. It warmed him. He drank his soda. It seemed not to chill him. More fans arrived. The man seated next to him arrived. The extra bodies, the noise, and the beauty of Wrigley Field deflected his attention.
He swallowed all he could, within and beyond the confines, like he had done his first time inside the Indy Speedway. This was baseball's version of the Speedway. Bostonians might argue, but such an argument does not compromise the thought that Wrigley Field is a shrine to which all followers of baseball must journey before the hereafter becomes the now.
The Cubs finished hitting. The Cincinnati Reds took the field. More fans arrived. The man next to Jeffrey ordered his first beer.
A beer, Jeffrey thought. Sounds good. He bought one, took a drink. It was good, made more so by its inflated price. More fans arrived. More noise. The organist played parts of tunes. Practice. The Reds finished hitting. The Cubs returned, took infield and outfield practice, finished, went to their dugout on the third base side. Some sat down, some played catch, some signed autographs. The Reds returned, took infield and outfield practice, finished, went to their dugout on the first base side, and did what the Cubs did. The starting lineups were announced. The man next to Jeffrey ordered another beer. Jeffrey finished his. Then the public address announcer asked everyone to rise for the national anthem. Everyone rose.
That is when Jeffrey's attention was deflected again, back to where it had been an hour earlier. All about him he noticed a majority. It had to do with skin, not its color, but its exposure. Jeffrey noticed that he was the only one in his neighborhood wearing shorts and t-shirt. The bitter breeze rushed around that cold gray girder. Jeffrey shivered. The crowd sang, cheered, sat. Jeffrey, with a smile upon his face, knew he was in for a long three hours. The game had barely begun when the man next to him explained the difference between heaven and hell and labeled Jeffrey what Jeffrey had labeled Jeffrey.
"Where you from?" the man asked.
"Indiana. I grew up on a farm east of Indy, but I live here now."
"I went to the 500 once," the man said. "Andretti's first race. That's my name. Mario Andretti. No relation. Just coincidence. Lots of people come to Wrigley from Indy, especially today. You a Reds fan?"
"No. Just had a day off and wanted to see this place."
"You're not cheering for the Cubs, either?"
"I'm cheering for warmer weather or a short game."
The man laughed. "Yeah, well, with Clifton on the mound you better cheer for warmer weather. He's as slow as they get. As I was saying, there's lots of Reds fans in town today. It happens with St. Louis, too. Half the park fills with fans from downstate. Used to happen with the Braves, even when they moved to Atlanta. No more, though. The cheeseheads got their Brewers. The only other ones who come to see the Cubs lose are Sox fans from the south side. Funny thing about the Cubs. They got fans all around the country, but they only got half their own city cheering for them. That's called an anomaly."
"I'll take your word for it."
"You do that. I looked it up one day after seeing it in the Trib. Front page. Some Washington hotshot used it, probably to hide what he really thought. He can't fool me no more with anomaly. It's like your getup. Out there in the bleachers it might work, but here it's nothing but an anomaly. It don't fit. What are you doing in Chicago, anyway?"
"No buildings going up in Indy?"
"Not like I want to build."
"That so? What's your kind?"
"The tallest." The man nodded, sipped his beer. "We got some tall ones here. You plan on building one taller?"
"How old are you?"
"And you plan on building the tallest building in Chicago?"
"The tallest in the world."
"That so? When you plan on doing it?"
"When I'm able."
"Hmn, that so? What you doing now? Where you working?"
"The Holden House, downtown. I'm an errand boy."
"The Holden House? That's not going much higher than twenty stories--"
"And you're the errand boy?"
The man stared at the errand boy, then raised his eyebrows and focused on the last swallows of beer. He threw the cup beneath his seat. "Beer here!" he bellowed. He turned to Jeffrey. "Want one?"
Jeffrey laughed in answer. The vendor arrived and stood in front of Jeffrey. A windbreaker. Jeffrey looked to him. "I'll give you ten dollars to stand there the rest of the game," he said.
The vendor smiled. "First time to Wrigley?" he asked, looking around for more customers.
"Do I stick out that much?"
"Like a sore thumb. I should be selling hot chocolate today. There's three bus loads from Iowa here. Altar boys. Too young to drink, but old enough to swear. A little hot chocolate could keep 'em from sinning."
"You got hot chocolate here?"
"We should, but no, just coffee down below. Ain't no good, but it'll warm your hands." The vendor completed the exchange. "Beer here! Ice, ice, ice cold beer! Who's thirsty?" he yelled, looking for his next customer.
"So you're gonna build the tallest building in the world, huh?"
Jeffrey had been watching the vendor. He looked to Mario.
"Well, errand boy, you got a long way to go."
Jeffrey laughed and rubbed his hands together. "I sure do," he said.
The words sounded like a child entering a candy store with instructions to eat everything in sight. They sounded like a mountain climber being given the rights to Everest. They sounded like a mechanic getting a chance to work on A.J. Foyt's pit crew. They sounded like joy, not sorrow, anticipation, not fear, expectation, not doubt, love, not hatred. What was thought to have been idle conversation, what progressed to gentle patronizing, what was meant to be a joke, became no joke. What was not to have been a religious rite became a conversion. Mario reached inside his jacket.
"What's your name, son?"
"Here's my card, Jeff Kaishus. I make pizzas, the best in town. Let me know when you build that building. I want in."
The Cubs lost that day, Mario won, and Jeffrey learned how to dress at Wrigley Field.
* * * * * * *
The Holden House was one of the passions of George Thomas Holden, a man who profited more than he lost in commodities, and who profited and never lost in real estate. He wore tuxedos in the afternoon and attended parties at night, parties that required such costumes and ended early. Those who staged the events moved up the starting times or missed out on his presence. Rarely did they miss out on Holden's presence. At age forty-three, he was single, handsome, and wealthy. Women liked him for all reasons. Men liked him for one.
A skyscraper bore his name. The G.T. Holden Building rose seventy-three stories into the Chicago sky. At the top of the jet-black steel cube, above the red-lined neon rimming the seventy-third floor, dazzled four white question marks, one on each side. Beacons in each question mark beamed upward and inward, intersecting above the building at a tower housing a revolving pyramid containing "G T H" on each of its sides. The beacons revealed one set of letters at a time, but the letters never disappeared--a continuous flow of deception. A photographer once snapped a picture of the flow at a slow speed. The letters formed a misty, illegible circle about the pyramid. "Holden's Halo" replaced the Lindbergh Light as Chicago's beacon to the world.
The Holden House rose in the shadow of the Holden Building. It was to be a hotel for those who could afford luxury and a home for those who could afford anything, with four hundred rooms, of which the least expensive cost anyone working on it a day's wages for an overnight stay.
It had taken Jeffrey four hours to drive from the farm to the city. During much of that fourth hour he drove along Lake Michigan and never saw the lake. Aside from watching the road, he looked to Chicago's giants. From miles away the tallest ones seemed to touch the sky, seemed to brace the sky, like poles supporting a tent. Closer, he noticed that they did not support the sky, they interrupted it. Once within their presence his perception changed again. These buildings did not support the sky, or interrupt it, but pierced it as cleanly as a Chinese surgeon performing acupuncture.
This is where he would build, downtown, where all space was seemingly taken, but no, there is an empty lot, and there is the fence, and there is the crane sending a column of steel up to a group of ironworkers waiting to make it the next piece in this adult erector set, and there is a sign on the fence naming the project, its developers, construction managers and architects, and there is an artist's drawing of what the finished product should look like. The Holden House was an odd-looking building. Brick rose thirteen floors, then surrendered to steel. It was the first construction Jeffrey saw when entering the Loop. It was where he would start.
He went to the outdoor plaza of the Holden Building. Here he ate lunch and watched the workers of the Holden House. At four o'clock a man walked past him. Everything about him was precise, from the cut of his jet-black hair to the cut of his jet-black tuxedo to the cut of his stride. He walked to the worksite--a controlled mess, but still a mess, and unlike him, incomplete. He spoke to a laborer, then entered a nearby trailer. A minute later he reappeared, following a man in blue jeans, dress shirt, and tie.
The man in blue jeans directed the man in the tuxedo across boards and through stacked bricks. He listened when spoken to, then answered, pointing to different portions of the structure. A laborer approached, glanced at the tuxedo-clad half, then spoke to the other. The man in blue jeans spoke. The laborer listened, then nodded his head in deference, not to the man in the tuxedo, but to the man in the blue jeans.
At that moment Jeffrey knew who he must see to do what he must do.
Fifteen minutes later the man in the tuxedo walked past Jeffrey again. Jeffrey turned to watch him move toward his building, parting that in front of him as easily as Moses parted the sea. Many stepped aside knowing they had stepped aside, but wanting to believe they had not altered their course, then turned to the truth, to glance or stare at someone who could do something they could not do: walk a straight line through a crowd without being touched and without angering a soul. Jeffrey wondered how many in this crowd saw what he saw: the tuxedo second, the man first.
Minutes before five o'clock, the builders across the street descended and emerged from the half-raised frame. By five o'clock, the streets and sidewalks were jammed with what jams them while the shell stood quiet and unnoticed, like a homely girl at a high school dance. An hour later the dance had ended and the partiers had gone home. The traffic cop who had orchestrated the rush left for his patch of privacy. With imagination, one might picture one's self on Main Street, U.S.A. on a Sunday afternoon, not on State Street, Chicago, one hour after the boss's secretary switched all incoming phone calls to an answering machine.
Jeffrey crossed the street. Through the trailer window he saw the yellow glow of an uncovered light bulb. A bulletin board hung from a panelled wall, held up with plumb line. A completed pencil drawing of the Holden House occupied its middle. Tacked papers of various sizes and colors surrounded it, most with penned markings, some typewritten.
Jeffrey walked up the steps and opened the door. The man in blue jeans and shirt and tie sat at a desk, his back to Jeffrey. Jeffrey closed the door. The man stopped his writing, pushed his wheel-bottomed chair from the desk, and spun around. For the first second, his eyes were withdrawn and ominous, then they opened and raised. He almost smiled.
"Yes?" he asked.
"Yes," Jeffrey replied, as if accepting what had yet to be offered. For clarification, he added, "I'd like to work for you."
The man chewed on the pen in his right hand. Jeffrey noticed the hand. It was unlike any other he had seen on a man working construction. Long and slender, smooth and clean, untouched by the harshness that accompanies the trade. Jeffrey had no misconception about this man. He knew that his hands had once held tools more demanding than a pen. He knew that in the meeting he had witnessed earlier between laborer, tuxedo, and blue jeans, this man had once played a different role. That meeting, in fact, had told Jeffrey this. He was not surprised at the sight of a surgeon's hands in a construction trailer, he was merely observant, but he was not observant enough. In his short career of building, he should have, at least once, done what this man was now doing to him. He should have taken a closer look at his own hands.
"What could I possibly do for you?" the man asked after pulling pen from mouth. Neither man seemed to notice the inappropriateness of the question. Normally an employer would ask "What can you possibly do for me?" That question had already been answered.
"Teach me to build," Jeffrey replied.
The man's eyes narrowed. He leaned back, as if perplexed, as if he thought that question had also already been answered.
"You mean you don't know how?"
"Not here," Jeffrey replied. "Not those." He looked out the window. In this framed glassed world, the Holden Building stopped at the twentieth floor. On either side of it, in the distance, the tops of buildings were backgrounded by a sky's changing hue.
The man went to the window and looked out and up. Jeffrey saw lines and angles everywhere--the straight horizontal lines of the man's firm chin, closed mouth, and narrowed eyes, the unyielding vertical line of the man's body, like the handle of a sword with its blade plunged into the ground, the angled arms balanced on the window sill by the spokes that were this man's fingers. The skin of the man's face was like the protective wrap Jeffrey had used on his homes, that smooth deflective covering applied before brick that kept the outside from ruining the inside. Faint shoots of beard showed on chin and cheeks. A baby's face, needing a razor every other day at best. He could walk onto any college campus and be mistaken for a student, provided no one saw his eyes, those mirrors of steel blue that reflected his years of experience.
Jeffrey joined him at the window. The red rim of the Holden Building was taking effect. Barely visible were the corners of the rotating pyramid. The question marks were illumined, but in this time between day and night, with a sky still blue above, they did not yet dazzle. Their shine offered as much disguise as a women's negligee. Unlike the human condition, the disguise improved as the night wore on.
"Ever hear of Solomon?" the man asked.
"From the bible?"
"The architect. There's a stone in some cemetery with Frederick Solomon's name on it. Six feet below it are his bones, but he's far from dead. He's responsible for all this. He preached the sermon that sanctioned its creation. He's the one who made it clear why a building should be built."
"For money," Jeffrey replied.
"Indeed. Why else. The world's greatest architects nurtured this city, made it the masterpiece it is. Solomon was their seed. Most people think the best way to see Chicago is from a plane or at the top of one of the tall ones. Not me. I like to walk through it, not hover above it, to plant my feet where these men planted theirs, and not look down at what they created, but look up. Besides, buildings aren't attached to the sky, are they?"
The man looked to Jeffrey, stared at him, smiled. He returned to his chair. "What's your name?" he asked.
"Bill Conklin. Now give me the life story, Jeff Kaishus."
Like one of his homes not yet completed, Jeffrey provided the frame and its purpose, nothing more, in sixty seconds. Bill Conklin inclined his head as he listened. Halfway through he gripped the sides of the chair. When Jeffrey finished, he relaxed his grip and nodded. The gesture matched that given to Conklin earlier in the day by the laborer. With bare, emotionless facts, a listener had been filled with emotion. His grip was the chain keeping him from expressing the joy he felt in hearing another person justify his existence.
But Conklin was a hard man who made hard decisions. Although hundreds of workers contributed to the rise of this building, only one would be judged. That one liked what he saw from the man with the smile upon his face. He liked what he heard. He knew he would hire him, but he could not jump at the prize like some child rushing into an amusement park. He had to remain placid to the point of appearing bored. It was the first time in fifteen years he had to consciously act this way.
"What am I supposed to do with you?" he asked.
"Anything you wish," replied Jeffrey. "For the moment, I'm your servant. Whatever you want done for this project, I'll do. Pay me what you wish. I have only one demand, to be allowed to ask questions."
"I could use someone to run errands for me. Want to be my errand boy?"
"And you'll do anything I want?"
"Related to this project, yes."
"If I tell you to jump into Lake Michigan, will you do it?"
"If I tell you to jump into Lake Michigan because it'll help the construction of this building, will you do it?"
"Whatever I want done on this project?" Conklin questioned.
Jeffrey laughed. "Whatever. If you can show me a connection between my jumping into the lake and the success of this building, I'll jump. I'm a reasonable man, Mr. Conklin."
"Yes I am," Conklin replied, then, after recognizing his mistake, added, "Yes, I am too, Mr. Kaishus."
They stared at each other. Had this been a play, the audience would have thought that one of them had forgotten his lines. Neither had. During the interlude, one man made an offer and the other man accepted.
"How old are you?" Conklin asked in replace of a handshake.
"Twenty-five," Jeffrey said.
"That roof of yours says you're lying. What gives?"
"A family 'hairloom,' pardon the pun," Jeffrey replied. Every Kaishus is in on it, boy or girl. By the time I'm thirty I'll be white as snow. I see you don't have the same pleasure."
"No, afraid not. In fact, I found my first gray hair yesterday, and I'll be forty-five next week. Funny how two persons can be so different. Why are you laughing?"
Jeffrey had been laughing and looking at the pencil drawing of the Holden House. He faced Conklin. "In a way, you're right," he said. "You see, I was thinking the opposite."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean I was thinking how curious it is how two persons can be so alike."
Conklin caught himself in another stare he could not win. A smile emerged. Jeffrey would not let him lose. He laughed that spontaneous laugh, that infant's laugh, that laugh of one who knows only joy.
"Tomorrow, seven o'clock," Conklin said.
"I'll be here," Jeffrey replied, then he left, whistling. Inside the trailer, a man who an hour ago felt a headache approach as he thought of the next day, whistled, too.
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