One for the Top, Please

Delta Winds cover 1999Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


One for the Top, Please

Todd Hunter Mann

"There is nothing up there to see," she managed to get out while at the same time popping her gum. Her accent was thick, and screamed, "I am from New York." Her knuckles seemed to be there only to make sure the rings she was wearing did not fall off her hands. I stood there listening to her rat-a-tat-tatting as she rolled her rings along the hospital-white counter. She moved her hands with fluid motion, like those people who roll coins over the tops of their fingers. She managed this metallic rhythm all the while popping her gum and blowing small bubbles. I slipped my right hand into my jeans and heard the sound of small coins in a big pocket, rolling and dancing on the ten spot that I was groping for. I placed the bill on the counter and she rolled her eyes as if to say, "Whateva." She pushed a button and the counter began to groan. I could hear the quick grinding of gears and then the sound like someone hit all the keys on a typewriter at once. Through a small slit in the counter a white ticket emerged. The lady took the ticket by the corner, and as she pulled, you could hear the ticket tearing away from whatever was holding it inside that machine. I smiled and let go a small whistle, sharp and quick, and headed towards the elevator.

The elevator was packed, and quiet, as most long elevator rides with strangers begin. I could hear people tapping their shoes on the hard tile floor, a sneeze, a knuckle pop, all the while never really knowing how much longer it would be. There were no numbers so we all slowly started to offer guesses as to where we were in our collective journey. The ride was most international as I found out: A German voice, hard and almost abusive to the language; an English woman, with rolling vocabulary that made me think of the "Abbey Road" album cover; and lastly a Spanish man, who said in a voice that I feel must have been Neruda's, "No more guessing, we are here." Our laughter was the first thing to get off that elevator when its doors opened.

I made my way through the glassed room, past the screaming children, past the cash registers printing receipts, past the music boxes shaped like the very building I was standing in, past the glass doors, to the outside. I felt the wind on my face, and the sound of its force filled my ears. I walked to the chain link fence that kept the hopeless from leaping off the edge, and looked off into the mist. I could hear pigeons cooing for the crumbs that young children were throwing at them. Their wings sounded like thirty hands in mittens clapping when they finally filled themselves and leaped for an updraft. I listened contentedly as the horns and sirens wafted upwards through the cover. Sometimes I thought I could make out a voice, or perhaps a scream, subtly maneuvering through the city. It must have been a horrid wail to climb some fifty stories to my position, but had become so faint when it reached me that I first wondered if it was just my imagination.

The ring lady who sold me my ticket was right. There was nothing to see up there that day. But I was not about to come to New York and not go to the top of the Empire State Building. So I sat staring off into the white haze, and I heard New York. The city life from fifty some stories up with the sheets pulled over my head. I knew I was missing some wonderful sights due to foul weather, but I also knew that I would have never listened so hard had it been a clear day. The sounds I heard were life, moving and shifting in a way that could only mean that nowhere, not even 1250 feet up in the air, could anyone get away from it.