by Erick Brucker
The first step
–Harold sighed; he had written this sentence months, in some ways years, ago; it had spilled out one night at a bar, tumbled fully formed out of his body as though it had already been written; he’d even asked some people whether it was from something, and the first, at this point only, time he had typed it out was into Google where it pulled up plenty of results, none of which related to Urban Mountaineering, a thing he was likewise pleased to discover he’d invented earlier that year. Now he was sitting on top of, or as close to on top of as he could get without a spire up his ass, the Burj Khalifa, not higher than anyone had ever been, not when he was part of a species that had been to space, to say nothing of mountains, and besides, given the fact of varying sea levels on his planet, quantifying height could be tricky, but in some ways, yes, he was higher than anyone had ever been. And he was here to document it. Whether the air was thinner, he had no way to tell as long as he was inside. But what else to document. Because the journey was, all told, dank. No one would write, much less read, a book called Dank: My Journey as an Urban Mountaineer: A Story of Being Tired of Living in a Sub-Basement Apartment and Moving to a Fourth Floor Walk-Up and Finding in Both Cases that I Could Barely Walk Four Vertical Steps Without Getting Winded and then Wanting to Turn My Greatest Weakness, All These Goddamn Stairs, Into a Strength and Just Walking Up as Many as Possible: It’s Mostly Airports Though, Because the Economics of Skyscrapers Dictate that No One City Will Continuously Have the World’s Tallest Building for Long: This Is Stupid Because Obviously I Should Have Realized That Given How Expensive It Is to Cool a Building with 90 Floors, and That’s at the Low End of Staircases I’ve Climbed, No One Would Invest in a Proper Ventilation System for the Stairways, Especially Because Elevators Are the Very Invention That Makes These Damn Things Possible, so the Whole Time I’m Walking There’s a Stale Yellow Smell and on the One Hand I’m Trying to Get Away From It but Now I’ve Been Around It So Long That It’s Just What I Smell Like: But Fuck It, I Climbed the Burj Khalifa, in Addition to Shanghai Tower, Willis Tower, One World Trade Center, and Others, So I Guess I’m King Stairwell. That book would sell poorly, and worse, Harold would have to admit, finally, to his friends and family, who had already told him, and this is the part that stung, even as he stood in one of the world’s most exclusive restaurants looking over Dubai, drinking whiskey and eating caviar which, in this case, was the least expensive thing on the menu, that this whole excursion was a waste of time and money. Everyone had liked his first sentence well enough. They told him it was perfectly clever, that he was perfectly clever. When they heard he was buying plane tickets, which he did early in the morning, for which he applied for new credit cards with more and more miles and became, for a time, a prophet of airline miles, they told him he was going to lose interest. No, he would explain, because he gets miles with every purchase, and because they roll over, this was an investment in himself. Yes, they would tell him, because the issue isn’t whether you have the tickets, it’s whether there’s value in the things you do. No, he would say, because he could climb all of these stairwells and he would pick up anecdotes and stories along the way, which he would have with him for the rest of his life. Yes, they would say, because if this thing were worth doing then wouldn’t someone have already done it. They told him again that it was a perfectly clever idea, that he was perfectly clever, but that cleverness didn’t factor into it. And on that first trip, to the CN Tower in Canada, Harold contented himself that yes, he was perfectly clever. He sighed–
was the hardest.
Erick Brucker is an essayist and fiction writer from Richmond, Virginia.