Elevated Conversations By Doug Baird

 

I looked at my iPhone and realized I was going to be late for the party. I never wanted to be late for Frank’s parties and quickly hailed a cab on a rainy night in midtown Manhattan. I was so engrossed in my new computer app I didn’t even tell the driver where I was going.

“Where’re we headed, sir?”

“Oh yeah, sorry. Take me to 475 West 45th Street. Thanks.”

I didn’t take my eyes off my screen and immersed even deeper into it. The sharpness was amazing. Gradually I became aware of the motion of the taxi, and I could feel we were not moving forward—we were moving up. I glanced out the window to see the street fall away and buildings flowing downward.

“Hey—wait, what’s happening?”

“You wanted 475 West 45th, right?”

“Yes, but—whoa—we’re going straight up!”

“Well, yeah, it’s faster this way.”

Moving all around us were other taxis mostly ascending and descending. As my fear of heights set in I thought: Blade Runner. Soon we landed smoothly on a large roof terrace, which is outside Frank’s penthouse, an ideal place for parties like this.

As a writer living in New York, meeting new artists and curious celebrities always gave me good copy for my blog, and an opportunity to think out of the box. I gave the driver a big tip, and with anticipation, walked onto the patio to get a drink.

I wasn’t six feet in when Sarah called out my name. “Billie! Cheers! Soooo good to see you.” She floated across the floor with a tray of Manhattans, straight up. “Frank wasn’t sure you were going to make it.”

“Wouldn’t miss it—almost was late,” I said, reaching for a glass while looking a bit surprised at how smooth she had glided over to me on my new app. I held my phone closer to my mouth for better conversational interface. “Hey, Sarah, who’s here tonight?”

“Oh, gee whiz, I think some of the usual suspects,” she said in her best British accent. “Henry Tinker—he’s here. I know Mabel B. is, too. And, oh yeah, Woody’s here.”

“What? Woody’s here? He doesn’t even like parties.”

“That’s right, but he has arrived. He’s with another, you know, skinny one with a complicated face.”

“Wow. Maybe I could get some FaceTime with him. I’ll have to search his link.”

“Say, Phyllis is here. I know you wanna talk with her.”

“Yeah, but I don’t think she wants to talk with me.”

“Well, she’s right over there.”

I was trying to get used to the hidden features of this app that appeared to have access to the people I know. Was I going to walk up to Phyllis and say Hi, or pass close enough so she would notice me while I pretended not to notice her? I couldn’t decide. She then turned toward me, and in high stilettos, walked across the floor like she was stepping on clouds. She was wearing a tight, black dress that stopped above her knees, with a low-cut front, exposing her bony chest. No jewelry, just good looks. It was as if she was walking right out of my screen.

“Billie—Hey, good to see you.”

“Phyllis—good to see you, too. You look great, as usual.” We hugged briefly then I asked, “Say, are you still mad at me?”

She chuckled, “Look, you just acted a little stupid that day. It was only my gallery opening. I’m not angry. But we have to find a moment to dance together.”

“Let’s make that happen,” I said, thumbing in a quick note to myself.

“Billie! Up here!” Ben yelled out. I looked up near the corner of the ceiling, pointing my phone in the direction of him floating above. “Henry and I are talking about you. Get up here and defend yourself.”

Not completely understanding how my friends so easily moved in and out of my app, I decided to scroll through my user functions and join the discussion that surely would get wacky.

Henry Tinker—short, bald, and a little rounded—was always a quick wit. Observing me from above, he said, “Billie, you ‘criminale.’ You can’t keep doing that. That thing you do with women. You act like you screwed up, then they want to take care of you.”

The three of us broke out laughing, before I had the chance to defend myself. I then said, “Well, look, that’s only half true.”

Henry quickly added, “Then you mean it’s every other woman?”

They continued to laugh, leaving me with one of those Woody Allen half-smiles on my face. Oh, speaking of Woody, there he was, trying to push his way through a crowded room while following his thin date. I could not have planned his entrance into my program any better.

Without thinking, I said into my phone, “Woody! That’s you.”

He looked up at me, and in his usual voice said, “Hey, not so loud. People will hear you, and I’ll never get out of here.”

“So, Woody, if you keep winning those awards for your last film, you’re going to end up flying to Hollywood for an Oscar.”

“Please, don’t say that. I mean, it’s nice they like my work, but I can’t stand up there, if I were to win, which isn’t going to happen, and try to act, uh … you know, ‘normal’ in front of all those not-so-normal people.”

“I know, but I just love your films. Keep Gordon Willis shooting for you and Susan Morse editing. They’re great.”

“Well, yeah they’re great, but what about my scripts? I hope you’re paying attention to them as well.”

“Woody—you’re as fun on the screen as you are, uh, on screen.”

He squeezed his way out the door as I slid my finger across the screen to speak with Mabel B. She was looking spectacular in a long burgundy dress that fit her rubenesque figure quite well. “Mabel B., what a pleasure to see you off the stage, and less rehearsed.”

“Well, young man—actually you’re not that young, but you still look marvelous. Hey, I leave plenty of room up there on my stage for improv and unplanned stuff. You know that.”

“Yes I do, which keeps me coming back to see you in the theater. Where did you get that hip-hop sidekick? He’s outrageous!”

“Ha! And we’re dating, too. Oh, don’t tell anybody. I just love to surprise them when we walk into a room together.”

“So, tell me, what’s planned for you?”

“Oh, I’m so excited. Next will be something with Laurie Anderson. I want to sing a duet with her, and you can imagine, it will probably evolve into something thought provoking and significant. Now that would be beyond words.”

Frank finally crossed my screen and we gave each other a hearty hug. He was a good-looking man in his forties, a very successful architect, wealthy, and generous enough to put on parties like this for all of us … suspects.

“Glad you could make it, Billie. Love your blog. Are you good?”

“I’m good. Great guests, as usual, Frank. Say, how’s your work? Anything new coming up?”

“Oh yeah. We’re designing another monster tower at the firm. It will be as tall as the Empire State. Looking to break ground in the Upper East Side. You gotta see the drawings. It’s gonna be wider at the top. You’ll love it. Say, did you see Phyllis yet? She’s lookin’ to dance with you.”

“Yes, I see her. I’m headed that way. Thanks for the Evite, Frank. This is fun.”

I navigated to the “dance floor” settings, walked up the stairs and put my arm around Phyllis’ waist. It was always a joy to dance with her, as we easily floated with ease around the room to the electronic music.

Speaking of music, lurking in the back of the room was one tall, lanky gent that looked like Klank Zimmer, that introspective German composer and musician who used to share the same sound studio with Kraftwerk. But I knew he would never want to talk about the music industry at a party like this, so I started discussing politics. That worked, then I casually asked about his next project.

In clear English flavored with a German accent, he said, “Well, you know, we are composing a series of soundtracks for computer apps. It is rather exciting because we often do them live, while streaming.”

“Oh, so that’s where the music is coming from,” I said.

Also headed for the door was my friend Justine Flako, a local writer who was notorious for her recent ebooks on our changing urban cultural. I had to share a few moments with her before she left.

“Oh, Billie. Great to see you, but I’m just leaving. Come—take the elevator down with me. We’ll catch up quickly.”

Exploring her responses on my new app would be insightful, so I followed her through the busy hallway to the elevator. The doors slid open and we got one that was empty—best for private conversation. But as the elevator descended, we both slowly floated off the floor and toward the top of the elevator. Distracted by her cell phone, she didn’t seem to notice.

“Justine, do you feel this?”

“Honey, all I feel is three very good glasses of champagne. Frank always has the best. And all those outrageous people—I love it! Say, how are you?”

I grappled for the wall as I floated around the elevator. “Well, I guess I’m fine. Wow, this is weird.”

I wondered about the range of this app. I was starting to question what is reality, and what is virtual reality. I couldn’t tell anymore in this digital world where I was feeling a little trapped. Looking back, I said, “So, Justine, how’s your next ebook coming along?”

“You mean One Thousand Steps to the Top? Boy, I’m finding more people in high places acting distant and hard to interview these days. I mean, they’re so afraid of actually saying something, or maybe they’re talking to their lawyers too much. I don’t know. I just fill in the blanks with my best observations if I don’t have enough facts.”

“Facts … yeah, they’re hard to come by sometimes.”

“Oh, just make ‘em up, if you have to,” she said laughing out loud.

The doors opened to the thirteenth floor where everything appeared to be upside down, and no one getting on. I checked the portrait orientation on my phone to see if this was real.

“Oh look,” she said. “Another floor with empty cubicles. Says a lot, doesn’t it?”

“I guess, Justine,” as the doors closed. “So, who do you find open to conversations?”

“Well, darling, the ones who like to hear themselves talk. Wayne Schleester for example. He regulates the LED lighting in Times Square, and has successfully turned that part of the City into daylight, right in the middle of the night. And Gloria Whitcomb was open, too. She’s coordinating the many events in New York City. She told me the Gay Alliance and the Tea Baggers want to schedule parades on the same day at the same park. That’s outrageous! I can’t wait to see what happens.”

The elevator doors opened to the lobby, which appeared to be right side up. We kissed each other’s cheeks and she was off. I stepped out of the elevator, relieved the floor was where it was supposed to be, and decided to make this my exit as well. I’d had enough of elevators and taxis, so I tapped the Home button to exit my app and began to walk between the raindrops back to my apartment. I felt a splash on my hand, and glad that it was not digital rain.

 


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