By Robert Beck
The doorman on Central Park West was positioned in front of the entrance, shaded by the awning that extended to the street, dressed for another century. He was staring at the mangled foil party balloon — a large gold H — snagged high in the tree across the street.
Two workmen stood next to each other at the curb of the wide sidewalk, looking up at the 18-story apartment building. One appeared to be in his fifties, the other in his seventies. They wore dark blue T-shirts with a name on the back. The younger was tall and solid, with his head back, one hand on his hip, and the other shielding his eyes. The older man was smaller, grayer, and not that straight anymore. He did the talking — squinting, lifting his hand with a pointed finger, but not all the way up.
Traffic was heavy, and I could hear him pushing a little to talk above it. I wondered if they were discussing the windows or the masonry. They were there to fix something, or maybe quote on it, and barely noticed the people walking past with strollers, dogs, and their children trailing behind on electric scooters. The older man pointed again, and the younger shook his head.
The doorman stepped aside to let an older woman with a walker come outside. She wore a dark coat and a mask, and her pocketbook hung from the handgrip. One step, then another. She waited under the awning at the curb while the doorman went out into the street to hail a cab.
The older workman walked across the sidewalk to the building. He put his hand on a block and gently brushed his fingertips across the surface. Leaning over and looking closely at the others, he said in a rich outer-borough accent, “This isn’t limestone; this is concrete made to look like limestone.” He stepped back, shaking his head, and looked to the top of the building again. “Every time they wash it, it becomes more porous.”
A woman in a yellow coat and big sunglasses strode briskly out of the open brass doors and turned down Central Park West. The doorman kept his eyes on her for a few seconds, then turned back to the gold balloon, tugging to free itself from the branches.
To contact Robert Beck or see more of his work, visit robertbeck.net
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