View From The Top

My ankle is screaming out in agony as I am walking through the rich part of downtown Chicago.
Who am I kidding? Every part of downtown Chicago is rich to me.
The reason my ankle is about twice as big and eggplant purple is because I rolled it playing indoor soccer
a couple hours ago. My team is comprised of two young guys, myself included, and several older guys,
many who clearly have skill, but were probably better hundreds of thousands of calories ago.
I am currently working for a mortgage company, where no one in life dreams of working as a kid, but at
least it is sponsoring an indoor soccer team. I make sure go to every game, just as I make sure to eat at
least 10 sandwiches any time they cater for lunch. Gotta take my perks where I can get them.
It was just a simple misstep with my right foot while attempting a bit of ballcraftery. Called a “Marseille
Turn,” one quickly stops progress with the ball with one foot, uses the same foot to plant and pivot on
the ground, then uses the opposite foot to roll over the ball and change angles.
It is a beautiful move when done correctly. But perhaps my hubris was overinflated by the Umbro shorts
I was wearing, as I only managed to stop the ball before rolling off and onto the outside edge of right
foot. I was lucky not to break my foot.
And being the idiot that I am, I went back out and continued playing on it just as hard after I iced and
numbed it down, believing it was just a momentary issue.
But it had since settled on the el ride to downtown and now serves as a throbbing physical objection to
accompany my withheld mental one about meeting with my girlfriend, her mother, and Randall, a rich
friend of the family. I do not want to meet this guy and I do not feel like staying out late tonight when I
have to return to my lovely mortgage job the day after. Not that I have to be alert for that job, anyways.

I’ve recently experimented with blindly approving every loan that comes my way like an overzealous
third base coach. I have not only received no loan suspensions, but have been given a lot of pats on the
back for the work well done.
Just doin’ my job, boys!
I am a cog spinning by itself in a machine.
“Come out and meet him and see my mom again,” my girlfriend telephones me the night before. “She
wants to see you.”
“Fine,” I respond through a clenched jaw. We’ve been fighting lately and in the back of my mind I
already know (and knew all along) that this relationship is doomed. But I am young, and I am stupid, and
I attribute the problems to her working through some family issues, and not the obvious fact that she is
a Jekyll and Hyde when sober and drunk. Probably because whatever medicine she is on is like kerosene
to the fire that alcohol brings.
I try and relate all this to the therapist that I saw yesterday but it felt pointless. It was my first time
trying a therapist after years of believing it pointless. I never felt like someone you see once a week at
best, for an hour tops, could accurately pinpoint what the issues are in my life. Especially since I’m the
one that controls the flow of information. Number one, it takes me years to trust someone enough to
spill private information. Number two, everything I am telling her is through my lens of life and not a
clear truth. She is in no position to correctly call me out on my bullshit and set me straight. Number
three, it’s a business. For business to be good, patients need to be bad. So I inherently believe her goal is
to keep the carrot in front of me as long as possible and just give me little bites to bleed me out.
Also, when you don’t have insurance, out-of-pocket fees are outrageous for a therapist.

I sat in her office reading the latest in celebrity gossip and staring at the fish in the tank. Why is it that
the dumbest animal is kept in most doctor’s waiting rooms? Fish are the animal metaphor for anyone
going in for psychiatric help. Feeling trapped and looking through glass at people whose lives are clearly
better than yours, and getting by on the basest level of eating and existing. I’m thinking of going up to
one of these fish and telling them to “get their act together” when my name is called.
“Nicholas?”
“Yeah.”
“Hi, I’m Veronica.”
“Hello.”
I shake her hand and she leads me back into her sunlit office. The couch is comfortable enough and the
furniture looks like it is transitioning into the future. Sleek whites and no hard edges.
“Take your coat off and stay a bit.”
“I’m okay, thanks.”
You don’t waste a second with your mind games, do you, sweetheart? I think to myself.
We struggle through the pleasantries and ‘about me’ statements for a few minutes. I’m already feeling
the futility of this decision, but I decide to cut to the chase.
“I am depressed all the time, just with varying levels of intensity. I set up some boundaries to safeguard
myself from using the gun I own to kill myself, but I’ve been questioning those reasons lately. All I am
doing is living so as not to make a handful of people sad if I died. I take no enjoyment out of 99 percent
of the things I am doing, and I hate my job. I’m in a relationship right now that is clearly wrong for me,
but I don’t feel like I deserve happiness with someone more compatible because I haven’t done a damn

thing to deserve it. As for the things I put all of my effort into, they are summarily overlooked or met
with cold indifference, feeding the feeling of ‘why should I even try?’”
Her eyes widen and she begins, “Wow. That’s f… that’s messed up.”
I furrow my brow and pull my head back for a moment to assess the situation. To her credit, she is not
further tipping her hand.
“Were you about to say ‘that’s fucked up?’”
She simply stares back at me.
I continue. “And then, on second consideration, you decide that ‘messed up’ is the acceptable
alternative.
“Yeah, I mean. I don’t want you to worry but it is just such a bleak way of looking at life…”
She continues but I tune out her meaning if not the words entirely. She is well-educated, clearly. She
articulates herself concisely, but she also plays a lot with her hair while she is talking and says “like” too
much. I make the instant decision to not trust her and just let everything she says wash over me like
water on a duck’s back.
I coast through the rest of the session, say thanks, and gladly take to my feet.
And now walking up Jackson, I wish I had a comfortable couch to sit on as my ankle throbs. It’s not
broken, but it is sprained badly.
I get to the hotel meeting point and the front desk clerk tells me the elevator man will take me up to the
penthouse suites where Randall lives.

The elevator man pushes the button for the penthouse and we ride up in silence. When the door opens
at the penthouse level, I am tempted to turn him and say “I’ll see you in hell” as I push every single one
of the 50-plus buttons before exiting and laughing just outside the door like an old prospector.
Knee-slaps and all.
But I settle on “thanks,” and quietly exit.
The door to Randall’s is slightly ajar, so I let myself inside.
“Hello?”
“We’re in here,” I hear my girlfriend say.
I turn the corner and walk up a few stairs into the spacious living room. Beautiful kitchen with marble
counters, a massive HD television, and nothing but a panoramic view of the city from behind spotless
glass windows. He must have private window washers daily.
I note that the television alone is worth more than I will make all year at my job.
“Hey, hon” she says to me and gives me a hug. “What’s wrong?” She notices the grimace on my face.
“Eh, just kind of in a bum mood and I rolled my ankle today,” I show her my swollen ankle. And already I
can tell this was a mistake. Both coming here and saying what I just said. I can see in her eyes that she is
now thinking I don’t want to be here, which is true, but I don’t want her to know that. Within 2 minutes
of arrival, I’ve set us on edge.
“Hello, Nick,” her mother, Alli, says. She is Scottish-born and has a delightful accent, I must admit. It is
one of the more refined dialects, and not the heavy brogue that is indistinguishable to me. She’s got
fiery red hair and is very pretty still, despite being in her late fifties or early sixties.

But there is a coldness to her voice I can detect. The coldness of someone not quite approving of her
daughter’s choice in a boyfriend. The same feeling I have always felt and will always feel.
Hello Disapproval, my old friend.
“Hi Alli,” I say. She goes for a hug and I a handshake, so we settle somewhere between bro-hug and
business merger handshake.
Nailed it, I think to myself.
“Nick, it is a plea-sure to meet you,” Randall over-enunciates while sticking a hand out. He’s a tit-for-tat
handshake man. Equaling the pressure of the squeeze you give and not trying to one up you.
So far so good.
But he looks like Guy Fieri’s douchier older brother.
I hate him.
My girlfriend gives me the grand tour as the adults stay in the other room. Yep, bathrooms and
bedrooms, and an office. Pretty much what I expected. Oh yeah, walls and carpet. Cool. Yeah, I wish I
had a throw carpet like that too, of course.
Big deal. I have the same things, just condensed into a 16 by 12 room that I share with cockroaches.
While I’m in the master bedroom, however, I notice something that truly grabs my attention. Randall
and his wife have a black and white portrait shot of themselves mounted above the bed. In the photo,
they are both shirtless and embracing, facing forward.
The wife is clearly beautiful but Randall’s pasty, doughy body really clashes with hers.
“What a pompous ass,” I whisper to her.

“You don’t like it?”
“I think that’s pretty narcissistic to hang that up and let other people see it.”
I see I’ve further set her on edge and apologize. I quickly tell her that I’m not really feeling like being
here and would like to make a short night of it, if possible. She is annoyed with me and walks away. I
debate farting in this guy’s pillow case but decide against it.
We all reconvene on the plush couches and I am glad to take the pressure off my foot. I realize I have
planned nothing ahead. They are all dressed like this is a formal dinner and I’m in a pair of sweatpants
and t-shirt caked in dry sweat.
And I should’ve eaten something before coming here. I can see by the plate of grapes, cheese, and
crackers that actual food is out of the question. I could slide that entire plate down my gullet and be
hungrier after than before.
Fuck this, I think to myself. And wonder if it’s too early to say thanks for your hospitality but I’ve really
got to get going.
But he beats me to the punch.
“So, Nick, what do you do,” Randall asks.
“Oh, you know. I get by.” I respond, betting that he doesn’t really care and just wants to talk about
himself.
I am right.
“Do you like to read? I just finished my first book and could get you a copy.”
Bingo.
“What’s it about,” I ask.

“Well, it’s about the challenges that inner city minorities have to face and different structures we could
put into place to make things more egalitarian.”
“Oh yeah? How long did it take you to write it?”
He continues but I’m already executing my exit strategy from this line of conversation. As he talks I keep
a steady pace of shoving crackers and cheese into my mouth, making real overt faces while looking at
the view of the city from his windows. I start elaborating more and more to the point that silent film
actors would’ve been jealous of my facial work.
“You like architecture?” I hear him over the sound of crackers crunching.
“Yeah, sorry I got a little distracted. Do you mind?”
“Not at all. Take it in, brother.”
“Thanks,” I say, wanting to add “you fucking asshole” at the end.
I grab a bunch of crackers and slide them into my palm like I’m loading a Pez holder, then I make my way
over the windows.
The view really is spectacular. He’s got a 270-degree line of sight of all the skyscrapers and wonder of
Chicago. I find the city much more interesting at night time, with all its shadows and lights. It’s a perfect
noir setting.
All the cars and people down below, hurriedly rushing through the harsh Chicago winter. And all of them
completely unaware I could hit them with the greatest flying elbow drop ever attempted.
But more than the view I am just happy to avoid more human contact today. Every day at work I reach
my boiling point by about noon and I would love for nothing else than to be showered and just reading
at home right now.

I’m lost in my own thoughts for about 30 minutes when Alli joins me at the window.
“This guy is kind of an ass,” she says to me.
I check over my shoulder to make sure this isn’t a setup, but still play it cautiously.
“He’s an interesting character,” I say.
“You were smart to get out when you did.”
“Just enjoying the view.”
“It’s strange that his son and my daughter have been friends for over 20 years and I’ve just now met
him.”
“Yeah.” I really don’t know what else to add to that.
After a little pause, she continues.
“You know, I always thought that they would end up together, her and Owen.”
“Well, there’s still time,” I respond light-heartedly.
My comment hangs in the air heavily as she takes a luxurious sip of her wine. About fifteen seconds
passes before she speaks again.
“Yes. I can always hope.”
And then she walks away.
I am more impressed than annoyed by this comment. I applaud her outright sincerity on the subject, as
well as her direct and concise insult to me.
I figure you can’t be mad when the insult is true. Just gotta take it on the chin.

As she leaves, her daughter replaces her.
“How’s it going?”
“I think I am ready to head out now.”’
“Why?”
“Kind of tired. Plus, your mom just said she wishes you would end up with Owen instead of me.”
“What?”
“She said she always thought you two would end up together and I told her there’s still time. She
responded, ‘I hope so.’”
She goes white with anger. I tell her I’m really not mad but that there’s not much else to discuss with
either of them for the night and that I’ll be going home in a few minutes, either with her or alone.
She’s had a few drinks and I can see Mr. Hyde is starting to set in, which means the anger could be shot
anywhere. But Jekyll maintains control.
We gather our things and leave Randall to his penthouse. Taking a cab back to my girlfriend’s place, her
mother sits in between us and chats up a storm. She either doesn’t recall what she said, or she doesn’t
care.
When we get to her place, we make the winding trip up the stairs, which is torture on my ankle right
now. Over the last 2 hours, it has really tightened up and locked into place.
Her mother goes to bed in the other room and my girlfriend starts to apologize for the night and say it
was a stupid idea from the beginning. I try and console her and tell her I didn’t mean to make things
awkward, but yes, I probably should not have come over.

We get along cordially until I tell her that I won’t be spending the night. Panic strikes her and the sky
starts falling.
“Why???”
“Because I am still sweaty, need to shower at my place and go to work in the morning.”
“So? Do that here.”
“No, the feeling isn’t the same. I’ve got to get up early and I don’t have fresh work clothes here so I’ll
feel off the entire day. I’d rather just go home and get less sleep.”
She reaches the level of anger where yelling – or whisper yelling, if it were to happen in this case – isn’t
of interest to her. Instead, she just goes straight to saying I don’t love her and that I’m a piece of shit for
not staying. She’s probably right on both accounts, but I can only acknowledge the latter.
I am a piece of shit. And I stink. I’m a stinky piece of shit. So I may as well go home and shower and just
be a regular piece of shit.
I say goodbye and head outside. Somehow, the temperature has dropped 20 degrees in the last hour. I
zip my coat up to the top, tuck my chin down like a pigeon, and start walking.
I don’t have the money for a cab.
I walk the four blocks to an underground El station and wait for a train. It’s late, which means the trains
are on their one every twentyish minutes, schedule.
With a lot of leniency on the “ish.”
I sit down with my back to a concrete support pole, my feet touching the blue warning line. Because I’m
a wild man, dammit.
Minutes pass and announcements are made. There is construction on this track causing a slight delay.

I close my eyes and throw on my headphones. I don’t have a penny on me so I’m not worried about
anyone trying to rob me. I start tapping my feet to the music and soon the taps become less and less
frequent. Less and less frequent. Less…and less…
The wind of the rushing train pushes my hair back and my eyes fire open. I wake to find myself lying on
the blue line, three inches away from where the train meets the edge.
I sit up and the door opens right in front of me.
A little luck, I think.
Groggily, I stand and hobble to an open seat in the car, grimacing with each right step. I sit and check my
phone. Five hours before I have to be back in to work.
I guess I really don’t NEED to take a shower tonight.