5:03. He appears. Every evening at 5:03, there he stands, slumped over the fire escape ladder on the roof. Whatever the weather, rain, snow, shine, he stands motionless on the roof of the apartment building across from me. I’m sitting in my room, hemming a pair of pants. Then, as if he has called to me, I stop what I am doing to look at him. Only him. I’ve noticed him before, but today, he draws me in. As I begin to watch his stillness, the silence becomes consuming. The symphony of the city- The broken, music box melody of the ice cream truck, the eager, shrieking children that race behind it, traffic that comes to a halt, then the horns and strings of muffled profanities that follow, ambulance sirens whizzing by, the Manhattan bound 7 train headed to its next stop, the roar of engines of a departing flight from LaGuardia, the crackled salsa music in an open window- is rapidly drowned by the silence as I stare at this slumped figure of a man on the roof outside my window.
I can not tell if he is an old man, but I can see is his weariness. Nor can I tell if he is handsome. As the warm, summer breeze ruffles his wrinkled, un-tucked button down shirt and blows through his neatly combed hair; my mind finally becomes filled with questions. Why does he appear on the roof every day, through blistering New York City summer heat to Lapland worthy snow storms? Why 5:03? Why is it the same edge of the roof, by the fire escape?
Maybe he is a surgeon and he goes up on the roof to meditate because of the stress. Or pray. He prays for forgiveness for the patients he just lost. He replays the dramatic scene in the OR where he holds a man’s heart in his hands, giving it one last effort to revive his patient with manual compressions. He thinks deeply about the words he tried to say to the anxious family in the waiting room and how words could not escape his mouth. He remembered the tension in the room when everyone already knew. But every day he goes on the roof? Mental note: don’t get sick.
Maybe he is an accountant for the mob! Or Wait- he is an accountant for the mob who is really an informant for the FBI. So not only does he get panic attacks from making sure to do a convincing job for the Boss, he worries about getting caught as a snitch because Joey Slims is giving him the eye. He has to go to the roof to breathe and count to 100 to calm down before he goes inside to his apartment-his wire tapped apartment- because the Alprazolam and Clorazepam cocktail of anxiety medications his psychiatrist prescribed isn’t working any more. AND! He has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder-Which would explain 5:03.
I wonder if he’s married or has a lover. Does she-or he- know about this behavior? Oh poor dear! Maybe his soul mate has died and he goes to the roof top every evening at 5:03 to honor, the now ill fated, date they made to meet on the rooftop before sunset to dance to their song, but his soul mate never showed up. Each evening when he stands there, he can faintly hear their song, and stands slumped over the fire escape ladder, weeping with despair for the love he lost. Sigh!
Or maybe… he was in prison- where he served 25 years and was recently released… or escaped! He was there because he was the greatest jewel thief the city has ever known. He was hired to steal the royal coronation crown on display at the museum. While on the botched heist, he found himself alone surrounded by dead museum guards. On trial, for his crimes, he figured out that it was the judge who hired him and who set him up to take the fall. But, alas, it was too late and he could not prove it. He served all those years, quietly, plotting revenge against that corrupt judge who is now a senator. Mixed with the habit of regimented routine, he goes to the roof, which is like the prison court yard where he spent each afternoon at 5:03, to carry out his plan of revenge.
Or maybe…He is a regular man with a regular job and a regular life. He goes into Manhattan every morning on the train. He eats lunch at the same diner every day. Then he goes home every night. Before he can go inside his regular apartment in Queens, to his regular wife, and 2, regular children, and rather regular Jack Russell terrier, he goes to the roof at 5:03. He goes to the rooftop to ponder the escape of the drudgery of his normal, stable life. He takes a step toward the edge, looking down. He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. He is not slumped over the fire escape rails; instead, he grips the sides and hunches over as if to prepare his climb …because he dreams of his glory days of being a circus tightrope walker! He imagines his dazzling costume- a bright red flowing shirt with ballooned sleeves, slim red knickerbockers with golden tuxedo stripes and gold tassels at the cuffs, slim, worn black leather split sole slippers- he recounts the weight of his balancing pole in his chalked hands. With left foot in front, he carefully circles his right foot to the front in a ronde de jambe with the grace of an accomplished ballet dancer. Upon his next step, he struggles for balance, but promptly regains his concentration. The gasps of excitement and nervous fear from the audience below begin to increase as he moves across the center of rope. The spot light is in his eyes, his balancing pole sways and feels heavier by the second, beads of sweat but he moves forward, his stomach is full of butterflies, his head held high, proud- he feels like a king walking on air! A few more steps…
Or maybe… he is really a love struck peeping Tom who looks down at a woman in a house across the alley way. He watches her every evening at 5:03, not because it is his habit, but because that is the time she comes home from work and when his show begins. She unbuttons her suit jacket and lets it slide down her arms and onto the floor. Pivoting around, she slowly unzips her skirt and again, lets it slide down to the floor. Her tease could be choreographed. Each movement is with purpose, each step is exaggerated, with each button she opens from her shirt, she takes a step, a slither, across the floor, her hips leading the rest of her body and like any good tease- she is behind a dressing screen before he knows it and then the shirt finally falls on the floor. What he sees is more than a little tease through a tiny window in Queens; it becomes an entire burlesque stage performance where she is the star, a feathered, shimmering rhinestone covered temptress. The spell she has cast upon him has him in a trance. He is captivated by her every seduction- her every move- as I am to his stillness amongst the movement of the city.
My eyes finally break away from the window. As if having woken up from hypnosis, I rub my eyes for a second then look back up. He was gone. Hmm, I grin to myself, then shake my head, and continue pulling the needle and thread. I guess today I will not be finding out the story of this man on the roof.
Created: Jul 22, 2010Document Media