ZEPPELINS on the EMPIRE by d. Taylor Singletary
“It's not love.
which is my face,
which is a building,
which is on fire.”
“Love --> Building on Fire,” Talking Heads
Doubt walks into a dimly lit bar, he wears a newspaper from 1931 as his only clothing – scattered headlines detail the plight of the nation while he sits on a creaking stool, the bar in front of him layered in ultraviolet dust. Lifting his glass reveals a circle of sterility. He is the first to lift this cup.
I am the room that is simultaneously the world. My roof, a vortex that swirls with memory, from which this shrouded figure emerged. This is the Empire State Building, and I am not its sole inhabitant or creator. There are many of us who make up its long halls, staircases, bars, offices, and water fountains. I am but a cheap bar on the fifth floor, but one force in service to the Zeppelin.
Doubt sees his name in the ring of cleanliness he has discovered at the bar. It shines bright incarnations of the people in unrest, clutching to their hope whom they see as walking through some inscrutable fog, their children risen blind & hapless.
I see the houses and buildings, frontiers and farmlands, the social circles meandering on the great curve, looking for love and buildings, art and architecture – utility, functionality, and soundness. We all see these things, from top to bottom, room to room, window to world: we see the meaning, and we see the magic. Like the tall giraffe, we watch -- discerning patterns, interpreting the behavior of patronage and tyranny, pastels and pestilence; we look into the patterns and we see Doubt, and as he walks into my bar, I see you.
You’re sitting outside, with your wives, your husbands, overlooking this incredible building. You crawl on our skins; you build us for you. You want to bring the ghosts back, bring the spirits back so that they can inhabit and inspire, you want their faces to mold with your own, features conspiring towards a new collective consciousness. You want the ghosts to come, because you feel like a specter yourself, merely crawling through the flashes of humanity that come as if in a dream to your tired, swollen eyes. I am the dream keeper, housing your Doubt. Open my doors, dock the Zeppelin and we will set you free.
His newspaper is from 1931, but he is not. He is made from the same ilk that has made his factories burn in shame, in pretenses of media saturation, masking hope. I am a part of the building that makes this all possible. Housing files on every lifeless being in debt to construct bureaucratic institutions, represented by single offices on virtually every floor. Inside, people (who are representing you) negotiate and immaculate with the permeable surfaces of the listening walls, carrying the past as invisible grime upon its decorative paper.
We are one hundred and two floors. Beyond the last floor lives Ed. Ed is the crown of the Empire. Ed is why we are in service to the Zeppelin, which has hovered through the sky for eternity, looking for the port to which they dock. Ed stands tall, his lights beaming to the sky in search of the gravitating airship. Grand in his design, the architects stared in wonder for hours over conceptual drawings of their phallic hero puncturing transportation fad by merging the people shipping technologies of silver sky barges. Though they could get this building off the ground, so to speak, they could not get their idea. This is sometimes a problem for many of you.
The Zeppelin is in another’s hands entirely. On the fourth floor is an arcade game, in front of which stands Bobby Masters. Gripping the control stick, Bobby’s eyes are transfixed as (with careful manipulation) he docks a series of objects at an equal amount of ports. He’s been playing this game forever—linking boats to docks, airplanes to airports, railway car to railway car. But can he make it to the next level? Can he unite the Zeppelin and the Empire State Building?
There is not one voice. All who have lived, and all who have died feed the walls of our interior. We look to Bobby for salvation, but he and Ed share the same reservations. It’s written in dust on the bar, and Doubt’s lips cannot help but to enunciate each transaction of the Ford Company, verbatim – meanwhile adding stuttered bits and phrases, documentary style, Doubt raises his hand to his ear, as if a recording engineer.
In a voice drenched in radio static, confident and like a tricky ventriloquist, emanating from the lonely television above the glasses: “It was a new world—a new world that he helped create.” And heard on every television, every radio station, every damned DVD player in the country, he continued “but it was not a world that he particularly liked.” Henry Ford’s got some problems of his own, but no ones heard of them. They were in the static, shadowed figures emerging from cloaks of indifference.
Bobby Masters still downstairs. His eyes a starry dynamo of Colecovision, navigating the handsome dirigible, plump like a hot dog ready to coalesce with Big Ed, the Emperor of the Empire State Building. We've been watching Bobby for a long while. I sense the electronic vibrations from below, the transistors warming (however minute) the entire building. In his videogame he has a single chance left. His shaking carpal wrists writhe as he closes his eyes to the screen in front of him.
It says: INSERT COIN(S) TO CONTINUE. Bobby reaches into the open-zipper pocket of his blue boy-wonder jacket. His eyes are tired of a lifetime staring at the screen, making connections between abstract objects that meant as much to him as the tremoring building beneath his feet.
Back in the bar, Doubt's cup is empty. He glances at the faux
redwood walls, searching for his tender. He focuses on a painting-it depicts the construction of our Empire. In its structural wire frame, Doubt sees a peculiar blur coming from the fourth floor. Smoke phantoms from the oil-base, and the sky behind the apparatus glows a vague violet. Doubt turns away, disbelieving and finds his cup is full.
Bobby finds that quarter, pops it in and while bending down, takes the opportunity to scratch apprehensively at his ankles.
You need your ghosts because the world has taken only three dimensions. Time will only tell (and we will be there to watch) if you’ll lose the third and wind up with only two. That’s only perceiving (at least) half the world. Width, length, depth and the slippery fourth, for which language, even that of a building cannot express.
Outside, you have been waiting for eternity. They show it to you on colorful posters, with intriguing typefaces, encouraging you to keep your head up, if we work hard we’ll get through this, they say. They say that someday, despite the strife, that they’re grandest creation, the Empire State Building, the tallest building on Earth, will dock with Zeppelins from beautiful Germany. 1931 goes by, still no dockage. 1932. 1933. 1934. 1935. Still the people watch the crown, watch big Ed—today they watch and they can feel something about to happen. Static electricity reaches for them like wet fingers from parking meters, video cameras, elevator buttons, and walkmans. Something is alive in the air, and the New York network is brimming with activity.
Doubt hears the hum of the Zeppelin from inside the bar. The television tunes out the static springing from the Zeppelin, translates it. Doubt understands the cryptic language, removes the tattered 1931 news garments and waits, his body lilting but alive.
Downstairs, Bobby on the joystick. Maneuvering. He is thinking about a sandcastle and a terrace below a purple sky. Old ruins, sprawling vistas, and one word named Om. These visions come to him unmurkied like some men’s dreams, in clear digitality. This moment, these slight movements of the hand, the permutations of possible positions, the determination to manipulate the docking of the great People Mover of fiery fame.
Inside a hot gas is turning and yearning. Every word unspoken, every distracted belligerent feeling, the condensation of deliberation, a lay-a-way of larceny, set on a shelf, way past the expiration date. Gliding towards a pixilated architectural metabeing.
Inside my bar there is a party. Everybody is there.
Tears line Doubt’s eyes. It begins to rain. You wait with your hands shaking, teeth chattering, eyes widening.
Bobby just plays it cool.
I wait patiently. I know what comes next, we all do.