What I write is of no importance, nor will it have any in the future. But still, I write. I cannot stop myself, and I can only watch YouTube videos for so long without wanting to jump out the window. The ground is a long way down.
For the past few years, the stock market and especially hedge funds have been good to me, and so I live a long way up. The 72nd floor is so high that it feels like I’m in an airplane coming in for a landing. This feeling does not mix well with the nesting instinct. In fact, simply looking out the window makes me want to take a tranqulizer. When I come home from a hard day at work (OK, it’s not actually work, it’s mostly playing with my computer and making arrangements about lunch) I half expect to hear an announcement advising me to fasten my safety belt and that the contents of the overhead bins may have shifted.
So these are the circumstances of my life, yet when I write, I have nothing to say, no advice to give, no counsel to offer. In fact, my life may best serve as a caution to others: live as simply as possible and try to appreciate the moments of peace when they occur. It is peaceful sitting here at my dining room table, my laptop open in front of me, watching the clouds that float below casting shadows on the tiny buildings.
Sometimes I become aware of all the people who labor daily to provide the ease and comfort I enjoy. When I imagine their lives I briefly become sad, and then frightened. I think they resent my ease and comfort, and if they could, they would get even with me. They would enjoy throwing me out of the windows I now look through. Then I want to take a pill, to calm me down and stop the obsessive thoughts that are my constant companion once I try to enjoy a simple moment of peace, like the one I am now doing my damndest to experience.
The cook has brought me my dinner, but I have a hard time relaxing and enjoying my meal, or even swallowing my food, knowing that she wants to clean up and return home as soon as possible. So even though at this moment she is hiding in the kitchen, I feel as if she is standing next to me, glaring at my plate, waiting for me to finish my meal so she can whisk it away. Surely she is well-paid, at above the normal rates for cooks in these parts, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier for me to swallow my food.
What I’m writing here is the truth, so my confessions may have value simply because they are an accurate record of what it is like to be me, a moderately wealthy, mostly law-abiding middle-aged man at the beginning of the twenty-first century, living in the most expensive neighborhood in the capital city of an emerging economy, which is a polite way of saying I am surrounded by tens of millions of extremely poor people who would gladly throw me out my window if they could.
Is this the thanks I’ll get for fearlessly telling the truth? I feel like William Wordsworth at Tintern Abbey, grieving the lost innocence of his youth. I am like Milton mourning his blindness, consoled only by the fact that God no longer needs his services. Through an accident of birth and education, a convergence of circumstances that I had no part in, I enjoy high status. What I call “work,” others would call “play.” Essentially, I earn a handsome living gambling with other people’s money. If they win, I win. If they lose, I win.
A few yards to the side of our building’s entrance, I saw a group of fifteen or so men with shovels, digging a ditch in which to lay some sort of pipe. It was, as it typically is, horribly hot and humid. One of the men was my age and build, and the sight of sweat pouring off him as he gripped the shovel with muddy hands almost made me swoon in sympathy. “There but for the Grace of God go I!” I muttered as I walked the few steps to my BMW.
Yesterday was a real scorcher, and as I was walking a few blocks in an unfamiliar neighborhood I came across a small sewage pond with a few boys swimming in it. Actually, they didn’t know how to swim, but they weren’t drowning. In fact, they seemed to be enjoying themselves! Looked like a lot of good, not-so-clean fun. One of the things I appreciate most about the locals is their ability to enjoy the direst of circumstances. Absolute horror seems not to faze them in the least.
Far be it from me to judge how they run this country. There are a lot of locals who are far richer than I, and they seem untroubled by the great discrepancy of wealth. Maybe they’re hoping they will set an example to which others can aspire, and serve as role models. As a foreigner, I am thought of as an entirely different species altogether, so I can’t help inspire or motivate the locals to do as I have done. Besides, their path to the top would probably involve hard work and talent, while mine certainly did not.
No, it behooves me to keep my mouth shut, smile in an insipid and unfocused manner as I go through my day, and keep as much of my inner life as secret as possible. The Internet invites all sorts of fools and show-offs, voyeurs and exhibitionists to contribute to their own undoing, but I am not tempted to follow them on this road to ruin. My real name, my personal photo and e-mail address do not exist anywhere except in the most formal and appropriate of settings. No matter how diligently you search, you will not find a photo of me with a beer bong in my mouth, or posing in my underwear, nor do I comment on such postings by others. Discretion is in short supply nowadays.
Lately, the newspapers have been full of warnings of local unrest. The thin truce that has held for so long seems to be fraying. The military warns that they will not tolerate any nonsense from the communists, and the communists claim that the military is only interested in protecting the interests of the elite. A few public demonstrations are quickly crushed. Then, one night when I have come home from work I am sitting at my table, looking out over the city, I notice there are fires in several places, down along the river. Even though at this distance and through the thick plate glass of my windows I cannot hear sirens, I can see the flashing lights of emergency vehicles. I am listening to a recording of Miles Davis’ Kinda Blue on my excellent sound system when the power fails. Fortunately, the Internet still works for a while, and my laptop battery is new, but the official news sources say little more than repeating a stern warning from the military that nothing will be tolerated.
With the power off, even more than the lack of artificial light, I notice the absence of moving, cool air. How long until the power comes back on? How will this place feel in a few hours without air-conditioning? Only one window opens, and I open it, to let in some muggy air. Now I can hear the sirens and what sounds to me like gunfire, punctuated by larger explosions.
The housekeeper brings me my dinner because the cook, she explains, has gone home. I ask about the fires, but she only shakes her head sadly and returns the kitchen.
This is not how I had planned my evening. Fortunately, the last time I was back in the States, I bought a wing suit, a flying costume of the sort popular with dare-devil extreme sports types in Switzerland. I keep it in the original box in my closet, near my diving gear. I’ve never bothered to read the instruction book that came with it, and in this light it will be difficult to do so, but I am urged to do my best by hearing shouting and angry voices coming from the stairwell. They still sound very a long way off, but surely a motivated mob could climb seventy-two stories in half an hour.
Getting into the suit proves no small task. It turns out I have neglected to purchase the small parachute that actually allows you to come to a stop. I remember seeing a National Geographic television documentary about flying squirrels, which contained a montage of their rough landings. Even though the wing suit stops the user from plummeting like a stone, you are still zooming along at over one hundred miles per hour. My only hope is to fly through the canyon of tall buildings until I reach the river, and then glide in for a landing over water. A surface dive. I was always good at surface diving back on the swim team. And, as swimmers go, I am still nearly at the top of my form.
Provided I am not knocked unconscious by the water landing, I’ll ditch the suit and holding my breath, swim underwater, undetected until I’ve put some distance between myself and the sinking suit. That way, if anyone has been following my egress, they’ll mistake the suit for me. Yes, this just might work.
The voices are getting louder. I hear cries of pain from my lower neighbors, breaking glass, laughter and cheers as something or someone tumbles downward from the windows below. As I put one leg through the open window I look back and see my housekeeper standing frozen in the kitchen doorway.
Like Errol Flynn in a pirate movie, I wave jauntily to her, and then sitting momentary on the edge of the sill, push off, spreading my arms and legs as I saw them do on YouTube, and hoping for the best.