On Balancing On A Steel Girder by Jacob Aiello
Have you seen those photographs of the shirtless men balancing on steel girders thousands of feet above New York City? Yes. They look like they’re relaxing in a lawn chair with a glass of iced tea on a lawn on a Sunday in the summer with the sounds of their children running through a sprinkler just out of sight and not, as they are, balancing on a steel girder thousands of feet above New York City. If you have not seen them then that is what they look like. Just the sight of one of those photographs makes me lightheaded and requires me to lie down and feel the ground or bed or whatever it is beneath me beneath me to remind me that what is beneath me is not thousands of feet and New York City.
It must have been a long time before they were comfortable enough to balance on a steel girder high above New York City like they were relaxing on a lawn chair with a glass of iced tea, I think, after the vertigo has passed. The first time I imagine they must have soiled themselves stepping out there on the ledge, no rope or harness or anything. This is absurd, they must have thought. Foolish. What if a gust of wind came and carried them off the girder? Miles away in Hoboken or White Plains the wind would be considerably gentler but still with enough force behind it to collect a few stray water drops from the sprinkler and disperse them on the chest of the man in the lawn chair, who would either curse the wind if it wasn’t an especially warm day or thank it if it was too hot outside and the water was refreshing. From the house his wife would call and ask if he would like some more iced tea and he would either say yes if his glass was nearly empty or empty or no if it was still relatively full or also no if it was nearly empty or empty but he didn’t desire any more iced tea.
Eventually I imagine they’d become more comfortable, convince themselves that solid ground beneath your feet thousands of feet above New York City is no different from solid ground on a lawn in White Plains or Hoboken, and what does it matter if three inches to your left or right are thousands of feet of nothing. No. It does not matter. I’ve once or twice before balanced on a railroad tie and been entirely certain of my footing until remembering one of those photographs and believing that three inches to my left or right was thousands of feet of nothing and have then had to lie down and feel the ground beneath me, which if you think about it is exactly the opposite of them.
After all that there is still the issue of the work for them to do, tightening bolts and guiding steel girders to be tightened by bolts above them and then balanced on to tighten the bolts above them and so on and so forth. Imagine what just one bolt falling from such a height would do to the skull of a pedestrian passing below. No. I do not want to imagine that. Don’t want to even imagine one bolt falling from such a height because it’s absurd. What would be marvelous and also absurd but in a way that is wonderful and not foolish would be if we were each right in our own confidences and had I slipped off the railroad tie I would have actually fallen into thousands of feet of nothing, and had they slipped off their steel girders thousands of feet above New York City they would have actually fallen into the grass of their lawn on a Sunday in the summer with the sounds of their children running through a sprinkler just out of sight.
About the author:
In 2012 Jacob Aiello cofounded the Soft Show (softshow.org), a bi-monthly experimental reading series that weds improvised live drawing with fiction and nonfiction read aloud by the authors. His own short stories have appeared or are forthcoming from Vending Machine Press, Fiddleblack, Menacing Hedge, SmokeLong Quarterly, Litro Magazine, Drunk Monkeys, Storychord, The Portland Review and The Wordstock Ten, among others. His nonfiction has been previously published in Reading Local and street roots, a nonprofit homeless advocacy paper based here in Portland, Oregon, where he lives with his wife, dog and four cats.