When I leave his apartment at seven this morning, he is already up and working, speaking rapidly to one of his colleagues in London. I take the rocket-fast elevator down fifty floors to the building’s lobby. It is gigantic, truly cavernous, and walking across it takes some time. The walls, which seem almost impossibly high in New York, are paneled in rich amber-colored wood. I like to look at the natural patterns in the wood, the delicate circles and whirls. I am very partial to wood; I find it comforting. A waterfall on the other side of the lobby makes a pleasant trickling noise. As I walk, my high heels ring out against the cool marble floor. The employees at the doormans’ station hear me coming and look up from their work. The lobby employees are uniformed and wear transparent speakers in their ears and microphones at their wrists, like Secret Service agents. They are invariably (and mysteriously, at least to me) racial minorities and they tend to be young—some of them look to be about my age. For some reason, I am intensely curious about them.
This morning one of the workers is a dapper young man named Julio. He greets me by name and shoots me a high-wattage smile that looks, for all the world, sincere. Like everyone else here, he is unceasingly cheerful and gracious. On some vague level I find this astonishing, because I have held enough service-sector jobs to truly believe that these people must be faking their courtesy and good mood at least some of the time. Then I wonder if doubting their authenticity makes me paranoid and a misanthrope. I am curious about how they really are and what they really think, and I scan their eyes and faces for clues, but their expressions are always inscrutable.
I ask myself why I wonder what they think of me. After all, I can probably answer my own question. They know that I don’t live in this building, but that I do visit on occasion. The visits themselves must be completely predictable by now. For example, I am wearing a sparkly black cocktail dress and patent-leather stilettos—obviously still dressed from the night before. I am carrying, as I always do, a briefcase and a backpack. The backpack is heavy and mysteriously lumpy. When I set it down, it makes a jangling noise and things shift inside. In my other hand, as always, I am carrying a bag of leftover food from one of the city’s finer restaurants (this morning, it is from an excellent French place with dining-room views of the city skyline). I am leaving the building alone, which is also how I usually arrive, and in the rare event that someone is with me, that person is usually another young woman (or two)—also lovely, impeccably groomed, and dressed to impress…and carrying luggage. If I arrive early, I would sometimes stop in to get a drink at a bar across the street. Now that I’ve stopped drinking, though, I prefer to wait in the sumptuous lobby. I admire the flower arrangements and read The Economist or The New York Review of Books until it is time. Sometimes I imagine myself as an anthropologist conducting research, observing the rich in their natural habitat (it really is entertaining to watch them come and go). I have thought about sharing this witty remark with a member of the staff, but decided against it. Because while I am discreetly watching the residents, I see that the staff members are discreetly keeping an eye on me. The entire scenario usually strikes me as funny. In the course of our small talk, I’ve mentioned that I am a graduate student. Sometimes I wonder if they believe it, even though it is entirely true.
I wish Julio good morning as I clip by. Then a white-gloved doorman is opening the door for me and asking me if I need a taxi cab. Crisp winter air rushes around me, blowing out the tail of my overcoat, and then I step into the bright early sunshine. Off to one side is Central Park, the bare tree branches silhouetted against the sky. It is early enough that the sidewalks are still fairly empty. I see joggers, dog walkers, a street vendor setting up his cart.
I thank the doorman and we exchange brief comments about the weather. It is lovely and sunny out, despite the chill. He tells me that it’s supposed to be 40 degrees and clear today. That’s not bad, but I sure am ready for Spring! Me too! Then I tell him I’ll take the subway, and I head towards the end of the block.