Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Roof Access Day

Roof Access Day!

You don't have roof access, but your neighbor does. This is not because he has a private access-way to the roof from his apartment. For either of you to get out to the roof, you must leave your apartment and walk up the main stairway, the same stairway that would take you down to the ground floor. It just so happens that he can go up the stairs and out to the roof, and you cannot. When you signed the lease, the landlady told you the deal.

"I'm telling you up front so that you don't have to sniff around on your own and get sore about this," she said. "6E has roof access. 6W, no roof access. You're in 6W. Sorry, but that's the way it's always been."

"Does 6E pay a higher rent?" you asked.

"Don't try to find the reason in it," she bellowed. "Things just are a certain way sometimes."

She had trouble catching her breath after that.

"Sorry," you said.

"Everyone thinks the world oughta make sense," she said. "The world is shit."

You signed the lease.

And then you signed another. 14 months in that apartment and you never tried to go out to the roof. You can hear when your neighbor goes out there. He seems to be out there a lot. You'd listen to the footsteps on your ceiling and wonder what life must be like up on top of the building. In the summer, you'd go out onto your fire escape and climb a few rungs near the roof, just to see if you could estimate the view. But you honored the rules, and you never climbed the remaining rungs to the top.

But tonight, you're going to go up on the roof. Tonight is going to be the night because on your train ride home today a well-dressed man in his 50's, apparently drunk, will spit on you on his way off the train. He'll disappear through the closing doors before you even get a chance to shout. And then the entire car will watch you wipe the man's spit from your cheek and jacket and they'll all just shake their heads.

When you hear the footsteps through your ceiling, you'll already have been looking for a way to be defiant. You'll be lying in your bed, staring at the ceiling, and you'll say fuck it. I'm going up there.

When you push your way through the door, you'll find a completely barren and useless rooftop. Nothing but a sloping spread of blacktop and variously shaped chimney stacks. The view, you'll see, is blocked by a riverfront office tower that you never noticed before. It doesn't even look like there's anywhere to sit, which might be why your neighbor is squatting in his spot by the edge of the roof.

When he sees you, he'll approach slowly. When his face gets out of the glare of the sunlight, you'll see the shock in his eyes.

"You don't have access," he'll say. His tone will be incredulous.

"I know," you'll respond.

He'll take a step closer. He'll put his hands on you and push a little, trying to see if his hands go through you. Then he'll look down at himself.

"But…you don't have access," he'll say again.

You'll nod. You'll say, "What's going to happen?"

You'll both look down at the palms of your hands. Then you'll look around at the skyline to see if any of the buildings have fallen away.

"Why'd you have to try it?" your neighbor will ask. "While I'm out here too. Why?"

"I'm sorry," you'll say. "A man spit on me today. I had to try something."

Your neighbor will turn to the sun.

"I'd hope," you'll say, "That this will only affect me. I broke the rules."

Your neighbor will keep his eye on the sun, afraid of letting it out of his sight. "6E has roof access. 6W, no roof access. You're in 6W." He'll turn back to you. "I'm in 6E. The door's gone."

Behind you, the door into the building will have disappeared. It'll just be a wall now.

"Oh," you'll reach to touch where the door was, but think better of it. "God I'm sorry."

Your neighbor will turn back to the sun. "Just have to wait to find out what's changed."

"I could do with some things changing," you'll say.

Your neighbor will nod in agreement. He'll keep his eye on the sun. You'll check your pockets to see if you're rich. You'll want to call your mom to see if maybe your brother never died, but you don't know how to get back down yet. You're gonna feel really bad if your neighbor all of a sudden flickers and disappears.

Happy Roof Access Day!