Sunday, December 16, 2007

Five-Day Siege

HOME ON A MID-DECEMBER NIGHT, looking at my last full work week of the year, and it's gonna be a bear. And not one of those funny, tricycle-riding bears you wanna just take home and let live in your garage. No. Even if it looks like that type of bear, once you get this one home, it punches out your kid, rips the lock off your liquor cabinet, chugs your Johnnie Walker Blue, peels your car out of the driveway through the garage door, and eventually shows up on the 11:00 news being hosed off the side of a school bus after careening through a petting zoo.

Yeah, that type of week.

With one seat still open in our editorial staff, one of my stories a mere skeleton and in dire need of a rewrite, deferred days off being taken before they go stale but causing outages among the rest of the staff — including the art director (who, mercifully, survived last Monday's layoff) — and a looming, yet increasingly laughable deadline coming at the end of the week, which everyone knows will be bumped into the final week of the year, but which nobody wants to admit, this proves to be one of the squeakiest squeakers in the long history of squeakerdom. (Look it up. It's right next to w00t.)

At least I had a decent weekend to steel me for these rigors. I got some chores done and had a fine lunch at the northern Bergen haven for BBQ known as the Mason Jar, following this up with brewing a mighty mass of chili. Lunch and/or dinner for the next 2 weeks will be much simpler to assemble. Today, after the somewhat defanged nor'easter offered a modicum of hail-like snow and winds far less than expected, I availed myself of the weekend rail service recently instituted on the line through my town to attend my friend Bill's holiday party at his recently repainted condo in Hoboken.

For this, I actually left early, out of some masochistic urge to actually watch the Patriots manhandle the Jets up in Foxboro. I parked myself in front of a burger and, uncharacteristically, a beer, at a bar once reaching Hoboken. (I barely ever drink, especially when away from home, as I usually drive myself places.) This became two beers once the Jets began reverting to recent form. By the time I abandoned my stool, I — an infamous lightweight — was quite tipsy.

I threaded my way through the post-nor'easter Hoboken (barely any rain, and no ice, both far less than the weather genii foresaw) to Bill's place, where, as I said, I took in the paint job he'd delegated to his sister back in August. Very nice work, I have to say. He's been there for about 8 years, and I was stunned to see what a couple of careful color choices could do for a place. And he had more than one, too: a red entryway, light-blue kitchen, greens here and there, a touch of eggshell. It was like he moved and I didn't have to risk my bursae by lifting his couch. I can't paint this apartment with anything except water-based white pigment, so I have to live vicariously through others' design decisions. As for the party, it was a good time, featuring, as always from his place, a balcony view of Midtown Manhattan, which lit up enchantingly as night fell and the fog shrouding the taller buildings dispersed.

I scanned the glittering skyline for my old building, where I spent most of the last several years of my career. Decidedly nondescript, it was invisible amidst so many impressive edifices and shining Times Square attractions. I'd previously had a view, from a corner cube unaccountably given to my lowly self, spanning from the Statue of Liberty to Weehawken, with Hoboken and the great expanse of the Garden State as my horizon. From that cube, I could see Bill's condo building, and with the right optics, that very balcony on which I stood this early evening. I spent quite a number of moments — sometimes when coming in early or staying late to work on that beastly accounting title with the 48-hour turn — scanning the horizon or watching the Hudson roll unstoppably down to the harbor and wondering what I was going to do next, but not really having much of a push to try anything else. Not quite a designer, sort of an editor at one point at that firm, certainly not a writer, I was in a dangerous niche, where my expertise grew only slowly in any direction.

My company's move would take me from that vantage point, which I'm sure is now in the possession of one of the partners from the law firm that occupied the five floors below us and was creeping Borg-like through the remaining upper floors of the building. Does this person ever use the view for anything more than just putting the zap on easily impressed clients or colleagues? Does he or she ever just watch the river flow, the trees of Jersey stretch off into infinity, the way the land seems to roll back forever on a windy day when the smog is blown from the sky? Does this person reflect on how fortunate he or she is to have that position, and that it, like the view, is fleeting, and meaningless without realizing just what it took to get there . . . that it's better to walk away from a hateful job that offers you a breathtaking vista outside your window, but never permits you the time to look out at it?

Against this reality, having a rough schedule ahead, but one in which I get to write and see my work in print — even just as a few small items about pharmaceuticals, or buried in the context of making a rough narrative readable — where I can drive home in a quarter hour and have far more time to myself, or visit my parents and enjoy far more of their company in their later years — against this, having such a schedule doesn't seem so bad. One year, three years, five years from now, it's unlikely to make a difference, as long as I can return to what matters.

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