Chapter Two: The Conference Room Windows

Part D

Part D

A tad earlier, Steve had snuck along the righthand side of the lobby, up the walkway steps, and finally down the righthand hallway to the tax department. No one saw him. Everybody else was busy betting on how soon Eddie would yell at Iz.

After some time in the empty tax department, it had occurred to Steve that his entire staff would not all be late for work on the same day. But first, he’d followed his normal morning routine: He sat down at his desk, woke up the computer, scanned the latest emails, opened a separate internet browser window, and typed in the web address of a livestream camera aimed at the Vince Lombardi statue outside Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Vince’s stern, reassuring, dark bronze face popped onto Steve’s screen. 

Vince’s cheeks glinted in the early Green Bay morning light. His mighty fedora shone in the bright Wisconsin sun, majestic as any crown.

Vince is the same color as the IBM Building, thought Steve. 

Steve contemplated Vince for a full five minutes. This was an integral part of his morning routine, his personal form of meditation. It accomplished everything classic Buddhist meditation could for Steve except, presumably, leading to his personal Nirvana—rebirth as first baseman for the White Sox. 

Steve minimized Vince’s browser window and, as always, mentally apologized to “Papa Bear” George Halas. Halas was the irascible and fearsome founder, owner, player and coach of the Chicago Bears. Steve knew Papa Bear would literally kick him in the ass for meditating on Vince Lombardi—just as Papa Bear once kicked Bears quarterback Bob Snyder in the ass right there on the field after Snyder made the mistake of speaking to a Packers player before a game in Green Bay. Steve always felt guilty about contemplating Vince rather than Papa Bear, but the Bears didn’t put up a statue for George Halas until 2015, much less a livestream camera aimed at it, so it wasn’t like he had a choice. Remember, we’re in 2003. 

Papa Bear George Halas. You see why Steve knew Papa Bear would kick his ass for meditating on a statue of Vince Lombardi. But seriously, why did it take the Bears until 2015 to put up a Papa Bear statue?

Regardless, Steve knew perfectly well that he would pick meditating on Vince over Papa Bear even if the Bears erected a bronze Halas the size of the Statue of Liberty outside Soldier Field. The indisputable disloyalty haunted Steve every time he handed over his season ticket at a Bears home game. It felt like bad luck, especially when the Bears played the Packers. 

Steve glanced up and surveyed the bulletin board across from his desk. It was completely smothered with snapshots of his three sons, randomly plucked from infancy through the eldest boy’s eighth grade graduation. Steve’s eyes skipped nimbly past glimpses of his ex-wife. He didn’t want to see her, but even more, he didn’t want to be the guy who cut his ex-wife out of pictures. 

As Steve browsed the photos, he imagined where each boy was supposed to be at that moment. His Nonna used to do that for the entire Bertolucci clan, as she sat clipping coupons from the Chicago Daily News in the cramped dinette of the Bertolucci’s Roseland bungalow on Wabash. Nonna also used to make sudden intermittent announcements, like a family train conductor. “Richie, ten minutes!” she might squawk out of nowhere if she decided Steve’s oldest brother should be walking home from his part-time job at the Shrimp Boat. 

Enough, Steve finally thought. Start work. He looked out his office door at the still-empty tax department. Where was everybody? He tried calling Iz, but she kept cutting him off accidentally before she could finish saying “Good morning, Rose & Rose, how can I help you?” 

Finally, Steve remembered the jammed sunken lobby. What the hell was that all about? While he didn’t relish making a spectacle of his black eyes, he wanted to know what was going on. 

So here’s Steve in the milling, buzzing lobby. As he moves through the crowd, people catch sight of the black eyes and do doubletakes. Heads swing toward him one after the other like dominos.

Turning the dwindling butterscotch around in his mouth, Bill idly listens to Iz chatter as his eyes leave Eddie and scan the rest of the room. He notices the human domino effect and spots Steve at the epicenter. He can’t hear Steve over the buzz of the crowd, but he can read lips because he has a deaf cousin. “You should’ve seen the other guy,” Bill sees Steve saying over and over again as he wades through his coworkers. 

Bill turns back to Iz. He wants the enjoyment of telling her about Steve before she sees the black eyes herself. 

“Get this Iz,” he says. “Steve was watching the Bears game with some Packers fan, I don’t know why he’d even do that, maybe he was at a bar. Anyway, they got in a fight and Steve just whaled on him.”

“Whale? There was a whale?”

“No, he whaled on the guy. Beat him to a pulp. He just beat that cheesehead to a pulp.”

Steve?” Iz isn’t just shocked, she’s disturbed at this news. You think you know someone. She completely forgets the thing she has forgotten and stops looking around the reception area for it. “Steve?” she pleads. “But why? Why would he do that?” 

“They were wearing those stupid cheesehead hats!”

“They?”

“Yeah I think maybe there was a couple of ‘em. Anyway, they were wearing those goddam hats.”

Bill imagines this guy, who looks like someone you’d love to have a beer with, but Bill imagines this guy as if he were a homicidal maniac. Iz imagines a complete blank because she doesn’t know what Bill is talking about. CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0

“Well I guess things are different than when I was young,” Iz marvels. “Do people really do that over hats?” 

“Iz, it was a cheesehead hat,” Bill explains. “Never mind, there he is. I have to talk to him.” 

Bill elbows his way over to Steve, a minor celebrity now. 

“Stevie! Stevie!”               

“Billy boy!” answers Steve, raising a mug of coffee toward Bill as if toasting him with champagne. Steve is feeling distinctly better about his black eyes.

“Hey, hey, Stevie, over here.” Bill pulls Steve closer for a more private conversation. 

“Wait,” says Steve. “First tell me if you know what’s going on. What the hell are we all doing in the lobby? Nobody knows. Maria says she figures--” 

Steve stops.

“Maria figures what?” says Bill. 

But Steve can’t answer. He is seized by an awful realization. This whole mysterious, big morning meeting thing! He has seen this before. He has been herded into a big room, made to wait and wonder. It did not end well. That mysterious morning meeting happened in 1972. That mysterious meeting ruined his life, or at least, it was the start of his life getting ruined. And he was just reminded of it yesterday with that old piece of chewed up gum. Right before he got not one but two black eyes. Today, it’s another mysterious morning meeting. And today he realized cheesehead hats are the same color as Juicy Fruit gum, and that’s gum again!

Now Steve remembers with a start that he was next to his best friend that day in 1972, too…and they talked about what the hell was going on before that meeting, too! Holy Moly. His life was turning into a Twilight Zone episode. Any minute now Rod Serling would pop up somewhere in the sunken lobby, smoking a cigarette, to introduce the story in his cool, clipped voice. He’d use a lot of long words you’d have to look up in a dictionary to understand, but you don’t look them up, you just trust Rod Serling knows what he’s talking about because he’s so cool with that clipped voice and his cigarette. Except you can’t smoke inside offices anymore in 2003. You can’t smoke inside almost anywhere. Rod Serling would be one of those pathetic smokers huddled on the sidewalks outside office buildings in the dead of winter, smoking in their suits and dresses, shivering so hard they can hardly hold the cigarettes in their shaking hands. No one should see Rod Serling reduced to that. Perhaps it’s best Rod Serling is dead. Steve’s mind is whirling so fast now his thoughts are flying far away from the original point, like a kid flung off a playground merry-go-round by the centrifugal force.

“Maria figures what?” Bill tries again, then gives up and jostles Steve to get his attention. “Hey! Stevie! This meeting, it’s nothin’. That goddam Eddie wants to show off the new conference room windows.”

“The conference room windows?”

“The conference room windows,” Bill repeats.

Steve looks over his shoulder at the windows.

“They’re windows,” he says.

“I know, right? That fuckstick. So forget about that. Guess who was at the hotel last night.”

What a relief. Steve feels he can finally relax and enjoy his black eyes.

“Who?”

“I swear to God it was that weatherman from Channel 5. He walks in with two Catholic schoolgirls.” 

“Oh my GOD,” Steve almost spit-takes his coffee. “Did you call the police?”

“Y’know how many Catholic schoolgirls I see at that hotel? They should charge tuition.” 

Steve looks like he may faint.

“God Stevie. Not really. These two turned out to be transvestites.”

“Oh, OK! Was he surprised?”

“We were both surprised, but he went with it!”

“I wonder if you’ll ever see Donald Trump in the Trump Hotel,” says Steve.

“Stevie, c’mon, Trump probably owns the penthouse. You know what though, I’m gonna call this weatherman thing in to the Sun-Times!”

Bill walks off, giggling at the prospect of seeing his scoop in Sneed, the Sun-Times daily gossip column. Bill doesn’t read the other Chicago newspaper, the Tribune. There are so many reasons. The Trib is conservative, Republican, and they own the fucking Cubs. Worst of all, when they bought the fucking Cubs in 1981, they instantly stole White Sox announcer Harry Caray and spirited him off to the fucking North Side. Anyway, the Tribune sports section is nothing compared to the Sun-Times, which seems to put half its corporate budget into sports, which is as it should be. Helpfully, too, the Sun-Times is a tabloid paper and uses its back page as the sports section’s front page. This is a vital service, because Bill doesn’t have time to fumble around with several sections of a broadsheet like the Tribune: it is vital to find any bad news about the Cubs as quickly as possible. 

“Wait a minute Billy, wait a minute!” Steve calls after him. “That telescope in your office isn’t exactly the Hubble. What if it wasn’t really the weatherman?”

Remember, the IBM Building is in between Marina City to the west, and Trump Tower to the east. Bill’s office is on the east side of the IBM Building. Trump Tower includes a hotel that takes up several stories. Bill’s office, you understand now, includes a large telescope.

“It’s a pretty good telescope,” Bill calls back. “Ahhh, shit. I dunno. I’ll tell Iz. She loves that guy.”

Steve watches apprehensively as Bill weaves through the crowd back to Iz. He can hear nothing above the din. It’s like a silent movie, with a crowd soundtrack instead of a jaunty player piano. Steve rubs his stubby right ear. Bill reaches Iz. Iz leans toward Bill, cocking an ear. Steve checks his watch and looks back at Eddie. Who has time for this, Steve thinks. He has clients to call. Iz shrieks. The crowd instantly falls silent and turns as one to Iz. Eddie’s head snaps up from his Blackberry.

“Just a minute, Sam,” Eddie tells the Blackberry. “Iz! What’s happening over there!”

“Nothing Eddie!” calls Bill innocently.

“Iz! This is an office!” yells Eddie.

“Sorry Eddie!” calls Iz. She turns to Bill. “Things are just different than when I was young,” she tells him.

“It’s ‘Mr. Rose’!” snarls Eddie.

 “Iz!” 

This time it’s Sally Daly, her blazing red head churning toward Iz through the crowd from another direction. Iz is grateful for the distraction from Eddie, even though Sally often frightens Iz because Sally has a way of always sounding like someone is holding a gun to her head when she talks. 

 “Where is Steve,” hisses Sally. 

“Golly, is he in trouble?” asks Iz.

“Yes,” hisses Sally. “He most certainly is!” 

If Sally was a fortyish third grade spinster teacher from 1964, she would look pretty much the way she does now in 2003. A little more hairspray, maybe. Bill has speculated about Sally’s family background: “You know that line, how does it go, ‘Men are from Venus, women are from Mars,’ I think,” Bill theorized one day. “Well, Sally’s parents are both from Uranus. Get it? Sorry, Iz, sorry!” 

“Oh my, where is Steve,” says Iz, looking around. “Oh, he’s over there!”

Thank you,” Sally hisses and bulldozes through her buzzing, curious colleagues toward Steve.

“Uh-oh,” says Iz, watching Sally shoot toward Steve and hit her target.

“Steve! WHAT is going on?” Sally explodes the minute she reaches Steve.

“Oh, Sally, don’t worry—Eddie just wants to show off the new conference room windows—“

No!” says Sally, staring into Steve’s black eyes. “I mean—“

“Oh! You should’ve seen the other guy!” 

“No, this!” Sally trumpets, waving a sheet of paper in Steve’s face. “Do you know how many commas are in this letter?”

“Um, thuuuurrrreee?” he guesses. “Yes. Three.”

“It doesn’t even need one! Were you going to send it out like that?”

“Nnno, you were,” says Steve. “You do the mailing.”

“You don’t have to insult me!” Sally half-sobs. “I know I’m just a secretary, but I went to college! No one ever asks me about my education!” 

“Sally, I—“

But Sally has dashed away as she chokes back the tears, stumbling up the walkway stairs, then off to the right, toward the tax department, and Bill is back.

“Oh man,” says Bill, shaking his head at Sally’s back vanishing into the crowd.

“Don’t you start,” says Steve. “You know how long it took me to get down to three commas in that letter?”

“No, I mean what a wacko. You never know what’s gonna happen with her. She’s like that kid in The Exorcist. When I say ‘hi’ to her in the elevator in the morning, she might say ‘hi’ back or she might puke green vomit all over me.”

Sally does not look anything like Linda Blair as the possessed Regan in the unsurpassed 1973 film “The Exorcist.” But it’s true that Sally is quite unpredictable.

Bill pauses, then adds, “If I had someone that crazy in auditing, I’d—”

“Marry her,” Steve finishes for him. It just came out, as if Steve was the one who’s possessed. 

Bill stares at Steve. You think you know someone. But maybe he shouldn’t be surprised. Steve just beat up a gang of cheeseheads yesterday. “OK tough guy,” says Bill, buying time while his unconscious stirs up something awful to say in return. It doesn’t take long. “OK. You think you did any better than me? Your wife wore white for your wedding ‘cause she was already in a straitjacket.”

Bill waves off Steve’s apologies and stalks back to Iz just as recently semi-retired founding partner Sol Rose strolls through the swinging doors, conservatively dapper as always in one of the three-piece suits he favors, so he can hook a thumb in the vest pocket. His silver hair is slicked back without a hair out of place—and without looking slicked back on purpose, just like it grows that way. How does he do that?

“Mr. Rose! Good to see you!” Bill calls jovially.

“Good morning, William,” Sol nods, continuing to move toward Iz, the reception desk, and Iz’s candy dish. “How are your celestial observations coming along?”

“They’re coming along well, Mr. Rose! I saw a supernova last night.”

Iz glares at Bill. It’s one thing to share vulgar stories with her, but she doesn’t want Mr. Rose’s ears sullied with that sort of thing. 

“Crackerjack, William. I am absolutely amazed you can see that much, with all the downtown lights,” says Sol, hooking his right thumb in his vest pocket. “Aren’t you, Iz?”

“Yes, Mr. Rose!” 

“I think you just have to be motivated by true love for heavenly bodies, Mr. Rose,” snickers Bill.

“No doubt William, no doubt. Iz, you’re looking fresh as a daisy this morning. Any messages?”

“Sam Siegal wants to change your tee time to ten tomorrow.”

“Thank you,” says Sol. He gazes down at Iz’s candy dish. The yellow cellophane butterscotch candies shimmer invitingly in the glass dish with its ruffled edges and shiny silver trim. “May I?” he asks gallantly, as if he were laying a cloak across a puddle for Iz to step on. 

Sol wishes Iz kept cigars in her candy dish, but he would never say so. The glinting yellow cellophane shifts Sol’s mind into a sort of meditative state—perhaps everyone at Rose and Rose has spent some time meditating this morning?

Sol’s meditation fills his mind with the feeling of a good cigar rolling between his fingers, the aroma rolling past his nostrils. Now he sees not a dainty glass dish with ruffled silver trim, but a series of cigar boxes. 

“Whatever happened to cigar boxes?” echoes in the back of his head as the cigar boxes flit past his mind’s eye as if he’s turned on a slide machine in a darkened classroom. King Edward, White Owl, Dutch Masters…

He’s always been most strongly attracted to King Edward. Something about the king’s majestic pose, and of course the entirely misleading impression that an actual king of England made cigars, put them in boxes and sent them to stores in Chicago. 

Cigar boxes used to be all over the place. Full ones, half empty ones, and especially old cigar boxes loaded with useful items like rubber bands, saved from the newspapers that landed on people’s porches every morning.

 “Where have they all gone?” the back of Sol’s head echoes. “Where do people keep old rubberbands and extra nails and screws now that there aren’t any cigar boxes?” He has no answer. For the briefest of moments, he suddenly remembers the piece of—what was it, straw?—that was always tied around the bottom of the King Edward cigar box lid. He feels the rough straw again between his fingers, and then poof. It’s gone, and Sol is looking at the pretty yellow cellophane wrapping on the butterscotch candies before him. 

Sol shakes his head, scattering the cigar boxes, and chooses a pretty butterscotch as he realizes that Iz hasn’t answered him. He stops, his fingers on the butterscotch still resting among its compatriots, waiting for permission even though the question and answer are, obviously, entirely ceremonial. He looks up. Iz is staring at him as if he is out of focus. He hopes she isn’t having some kind of seizure.

“May I?” Sol repeats.

 “Oh, of course sir!” yelps Iz, jerking up like a marionette whose puppet master just fell over. Sol is relieved; he’s used to seeing Iz jerk like a marionette, and figured it wasn’t a seizure, but it’s always good to get verbal confirmation. 

“Can Sig Feinman make that golf date, Iz?”

“I called him sir, but he just kept telling me to stop mumbling.”

“I’ll call. I can yell louder than you,” says Sol. “I have more practice.”

Sol unwraps his butterscotch as he moseys off through a thicket of his employees. He fiddles briefly with the cellophane wrapping, wishing it was a cigar band he could put on his finger like a ring for a few minutes while he lit a sleek tube of rolled tobacco leaves. If Sol turned around, he would see Iz scolding Bill. He doesn’t turn around because he sees Steve and the two black eyes. Sol gasps and heads straight to Steve.

“What happened to you, my boy?”

“You should’ve seen the other guy!” Steve bleats reflexively.

This doesn’t satisfy Sol, but Eddie—still one eye on his Blackberry—has finally decided to start the meeting.

“All right, all right!” yells Eddie. “Let’s get started! Thank you, let’s get started. Good morning! Welcome to the new and improved Rose & Rose. Has everyone admired the new logo?”

Eddie waves his arm with a flourish and points at Iz, who snaps to attention.

Nothing happens. Everyone stares at Iz. 

“What?” squeaks Iz.

“I give you the logo that will take Rose & Rose into the 21st century!” Eddie declaims, waving his arm again at Iz. 

Nothing continues to happen. Everyone tries to decide whether to keep staring at Iz, or stare instead at Eddie, who they can bet will blow up any minute now, though they regrettably can’t place bets this time.  

“Iz! I told you to pull down the sheet when I pointed at you!”

“Oh right! Sorry Eddie! Darn it, that’s what I forgot…”

BOOM! Sure enough, there goes Eddie:

 “It’s MR. ROSE!”

Iz hastily unhooks a striped sheet hanging on the wall behind her.

“I thought that was a curtain,” Steve whispers to Sol. 

“Me too,” Sol whispers back. “I was thinking it looked like Iz was subbing for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.”

Johnny Carson, king of late night TV as host of The Tonight Show for 30 years, from the year Steve was born (1962) to 1992. Johnny was also king of beautiful striped curtains. When anyone got new drapes for their front room, there was no higher compliment than,”Those could be on The Tonight Show.”

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” cracks Bill as he walks up to Steve and Sol. He’s careful not to say it loud enough for Eddie to hear. Bill has migrated back over to Steve because best friends are best friends, even just work best friends. And if you can’t call your best friend at work’s wife crazy, who can you call crazy? Besides, Bill knows his own wife is crazy. He complains about her all the time to Steve.

The striped sheet falls to the ground. The wall behind Iz is filled with a shiny apparatus of twisted metal the color of--

“Pepto-Bismol?” says Sol into the yawning silence of the wondering crowd. 

“No, not Pepto-Bismol,” snaps Eddie.

“Calamine lotion?” says Sol. 

No good commercials for Calamine lotion, I don’t think there were even any actual brands of Calamine lotion. It was just always there, in everybody’s bathroom medicine cabinet.

“NO! It’s rose!” Eddie yelps. “It’s a rose-colored sculpture of our new logo!”

“You’re telling me that spells ‘Rose & Rose’?” Sol demands. He’s got both thumbs hooked into his vest pockets now. For Sol this is the business equivalent of a three-point stance in football. He’s ready at the snap of a reply to shoot in any direction.  

“Yes! It says Rose & Rose in a dynamic, futuristic, 21st century way,” says Eddie.

Sol goes left:

“There’s a lot of baloney in that sandwich, if you ask me,” says Sol. 


This is what Sol would look like in a three-point stance if he were Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi some time in the 1960’s. Come to think of it, Sol still looks a lot like that, even though he is not Vince Lombardi and it is 2003. 

Sol knows stance is important in business, just as Vince Lombardi knew it in football. In Instant Replay, Green Bay Packers guard Jerry Kramer’s diary-book of the 1967 football season written with Dick Schaap, Vince chews out a rookie lineman during summer training camp: “Look at that stance!” Vince screams. “What can you do from that stance? You can’t do anything. You can’t go right. You can’t go left. You can’t block. The only thing that stance is good for is taking a crap.”   


Eddie’s face is purpling so quickly, already the telling spider veins crawling across his nose are nearly subsumed in the general, violently violet of his current complexion.  

“Dammit dad, it’s a sculpture!”

“It looks like a bunch of snakes covered in Pepto-Bismol.” 

“I know you don’t understand art,” snipes Eddie. “You’re still mad about the Picasso in Daley Plaza.” 

“I understand baloney when I see it!” Sol scoffs. “Everyone should be mad about that damn thing! It’s mocking us!” 

“What’s it been, forty years? Give it up,” says Eddie. 


Here’s the Picasso in Daley Plaza, right across the street from Chicago City Hall. Eddie is basically correct in 2003—it’s been almost 40 years since the Picasso was dedicated in 1967. But is Sol right too? Is it mocking us?


Now everybody,” says Eddie, looking out over his sunken lobby kingdom and its milling, curious subjects, “behold the greatest attraction to the new, improved, future Rose & Rose.” 

Eddie steps deliberately to a nearby lighting panel on the wall and presses a button. He stands smugly in a half bow, eyes half-closed like a cat getting its head scratched. 

The entire company stands in awkward silence, except for the rustling of a butterscotch cellophane wrapper. 

 “What are we looking at?” asks Sol popping a second butterscotch into his mouth.

 “The windows! The conference room windows!” growls Eddie                             

Everyone looks at the windows, which means they look through the conference room to the IBM Building’s floor-to-ceiling exterior windows and beyond--at the picture postcard view of the Chicago River canyon of highrises, framed by the looming circular eastern tower of Marina City directly west across State Street. 

“It’s a beautiful view,” Sol agrees. “Just like a postcard. Whenever I look out those windows, I wish our office was over there instead of this steel box they call a building.”

“But if we were in Marina City, we’d be over there looking at the IBM Building all day,” says Steve. “I feel sorry for them, really.” 

“My God Steve, you’re absolutely right!” says Sol. “We wouldn’t be able to see that magnificent view at all!”

Not exactly the view from the Rose & Rose conference room windows, but close enough. Imagine you’re inside the IBM Building, right foreground, but on the other side, with Marina City right in your face.

“We couldn’t work there though because it’s all condos in the towers, no offices,” muses Steve. “Can you imagine what it would be like to live there?” 

The entire workforce of Rose & Rose turns to look at Steve, because the yearning catch in Steve’s throat has shocked them all out of their corporate stupor. It catches in their throats too, and they suddenly remember dreams long ago folded up like a favorite summer dress and put away in a drawer for a spring that never arrived. They all have one of those. You do too, of course. After a moment they all shake off their old dreams, because that’s what people do to get through the workday. To get through life. They follow Steve’s gaze through the conference room and out the exterior windows, savoring Marina City. 

“I kind of like this building,” Iz murmurs to herself.                                  

No one hears her.

“No, not that,” barks Eddie, swatting at Marina City like an irritating, buzzing fly. He would never notice a catch in someone’s throat. He has never folded away a dream and watched it disappear as he shut a drawer. If there is anything Eddie wants in life that he hasn’t gotten already, you can damn well bet he still fully intends to get it. “Who cares about that? Stop it, stop looking at that! Just wait, just wait a second.” 

Oh look--something is finally happening.

“What the hell is that?” mumbles Bill. More mumbles fill the room. The floor-to-ceiling conference room windows are beginning to fog up, as if someone were taking a hot shower inside the conference room. 

“Is that steam?” asks someone.

“No, I don’t know how it works exactly but it’s not steam,” says Eddie, literally clasping his hands together in ecstasy as the conference room windows darken. Marina City and the conference room are disappearing. 

Finally, the conference room windows transform into a glowing, completely opaque white wall. 

Eddie bows. The employees feel obligated to applaud. He pays them every two weeks. 

“How much did that cost?” demands Sol.     

“Dad.” says Eddie.

“It looks like the office needs a defroster, for God’s sake,” says Sol.

“Dad. We’ll talk about this later. I believe we have a 9:30 meeting scheduled.”

“I—“

“Dad!”

“Oh, all right. Where’s my new office again? I need a cigar.” 

The meeting breaks up. Everyone drifts away in different directions. 

You’re probably thinking, “Except for Steve’s black eyes, how can any of that matter?” 

I promise you this: Everything matters. There is not a single person or item described here that will not impact our story. Even the part about unripened blackberries being red, not green. That was in a picture caption you may have skipped. I wish I could see your face, later on, when you get to some part and think, “Oh that’s why they bothered putting that in Chapter Two.” 

But for now you will just have to trust me, even though I am not Rod Serling, I am not smoking, and you cannot hear my voice. 

Today’s mysterious morning meeting turned out much better for Steve than the one in 1972, though that isn’t saying much. Remember, the 1972 meeting ruined Steve’s life--at least, it was the start of his life getting ruined. That’s what Steve is remembering himself, as he walks up the stairs to the walkway and turns right, heading down the hall to his office in the tax department. That, and the old piece of chewed up gum that brought it all back to him yesterday. He touches the lumpy purples bruises around his eyes. 

And the more Steve thinks about it, the more he wonders about the timing. Eddie calling a mysterious big morning meeting, today of all days--after what happened yesterday with Amy and the black eyes. And it all started with that damn gum. What if he could go back to yesterday morning and un-see that gum? 

“Everything happens for a reason,” Steve’s mom likes to say.

How he hopes that is not true.

Marina City, the IBM Building and Trump Tower at sunset, when the sun hits Marina City first. Depending on the time of year, this is Steve’s view as he leaves work, if he looks back over his shoulder as he crosses the State Street Bridge, heading back south to Randolph.

Coming soon, Chapter Three: Me, Steve and Gil—in which we will plunge into Steve’s 1972 world, and a slightly better explanation for why I am bothering to tell his story.

Extra Credit: I could not resist using a sentence in this chapter from the best short story ever written, because it was precisely what I needed to say and the sentence just popped into my head. I ended up using that sentence twice. Hint: It is not from Mark Twain’s “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg,” though that story is probably just as good. Ask me in the comments if you’d like to hear the answer.


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