Blue Cloud

 

I live in Albany but I’m not Nelson Rockefeller. Nelson Rockefeller is in a limo with a Princess from the Netherlands. Today I took the bus to work. Now I’m in my cubicle next to Chuck who is watching hockey fights. We are very different people, Nelson and I, even though, because I have lived my entire life in Albany, and work at the Capitol, we have traveled the same places. Fifty years apart we take the same steps up the same stairs.

Just as it’s not unusual for Chuck to watch hockey fights while at work, it’s not unusual for Nelson Rockefeller to be in a limo. But it is unusual for a Dutch Princess to be with him. Albany is celebrating its Dutch heritage and throwing the biggest party of the year. Maybe the decade. So it makes sense a Dutch Princess is in the limo with Nelson Rockefeller, driving the morning cleaned streets.

Nelson Rockefeller feels confident the way Nelson Rockefeller feels confident. This is a level of confidence me or Chuck can’t achieve. It’s a confidence built on money and cemented by people paid by this money, people who Nelson Rockefeller surrounds himself with all day. But the Princess is not one of these people. So Nelson Rockefeller feels a little nervous and the nervousness begins to seep into his confidence.  

At a lull in the conversation Nelson Rockefeller says, “I’m going to be President.”

I like to think the Princess in this story can see the future in a blue cloud. And inside the blue cloud is Nelson Rockefeller running for President, three times, and losing, three times. But the Princess doesn’t say a word. She let’s Nelson Rockefeller talk, really, to himself, and tell his life story, which includes his future, as President. The Princess has little time to look out the window, the entire reason for the drive.

The limo driver takes a wrong turn. Not a wrong turn exactly, it’s just the limo driver is sick of Nelson Rockefeller being Nelson Rockefeller. His name is Steve. Steve takes the short cut back to the Capitol, where I’m typing and Chuck is enjoying his hockey fights. Steve has done this before. Just not with a Princess in the backseat. When Nelson Rockefeller becomes more human he sometimes smokes with Steve in the supply room in the Capitol basement. Steve calls the short cut “the move” and Nelson Rockefeller mumbles, “the move,” and smiles into his own smoke. Steve was told, by several Nelson Rockefeller aides, not to do the move on the drive. Doing the move with a Princess is destruction.

Nelson Rockefeller does the only thing he knows how to do which is talk more at an increased volume. The Princess looks scared. The idea is to keep her from looking out her window. And it works, for a while. Nelson Rockefeller shouts his most captivating story, the one about the hawk. What’s outside her window isn’t so bad, but it’s bad enough for Nelson Rockefeller to pray she doesn’t turn her head. He considers touching her thigh.

The plan fails. Nelson Rockefeller presses his foot into the bottom of Steve’s seat. Steve figures smoking in the supply room doesn’t belong in his future anymore. Steve realizes he’s lived his entire life by fucking up his future. This is why his present life is driving a car for someone more important than himself. So he drives faster. Back to the Capitol, through the neighborhood known as “the gut” the Princess looks out her window and Nelson Rockefeller has never been more embarrassed in his life.            

What’s interesting, or what I think is interesting (I told this story to Chuck yesterday and he just grunted) is the Princess doesn’t say anything about what she sees, nor does she say anything after the car ride, or even after she returns home. She has touched poor people before. She has walked the worst neighborhoods in Leeuwarden and absorbed it. What’s interesting is what Nelson Rockefeller sees through her, looking out the window, and what he imagines she feels that makes him feel what he feels. He tells one of his aides, “There’s no question that the city did not look as I think the Princess thought it was going to be.”

So Nelson Rockefeller addresses his embarrassment by planning the biggest and most expensive plaza in the world. On his private plane he draws the plaza design on a postcard. The postcard is the neighborhood known as “the gut” and the ink is the plaza. Nelson Rockefeller gives the postcard to his favorite architect, Wallace Harrison, who is sitting next to him on the plane eating a peanut butter cookie.             

When the question of what to do with all the poor people arises Nelson Rockefeller has a new city map created and tells another aide to have it stamped at town hall as eminent domain. Then Nelson Rockefeller walks to the supply room and smokes without Steve. He mumbles, several times, “the move.” But he doesn’t feel any better. He needs the poor people gone to feel better.

At town hall the clerk and his supervisor stare at the map. “Jesus,” says the supervisor. Then they look up at the aide who tells them to stamp it already. “Do it,” he says. “Put the damn stamp on it.”

Someone connected to Nelson Rockefeller tells a reporter about the plan. The local paper runs a front page story about the future destruction of “the gut.” I like to think, in this story, that Steve is the someone. “What if,” I say to Chuck, “the someone is Steve!”

“Steve,” says Chuck. “From the convention center?”

“The limo driver,” I say. “Steve, who likes to smoke in the supply room with Nelson.”

Chuck opens a diet Snapple.  

Residents protest but Nelson Rockefeller was embarrassed so he destroys a small population. A Princess may possess the magic to see the future, but Nelson Rockefeller has magic too, and what he dreams is a neighborhood – 9,000 people, four churches, and an Italian bakery frequented by Steve – erased from the universe. If the blue cloud exists Nelson Rockefeller pierces it with a skyscraper.

As the plaza is built Nelson Rockefeller feels better. It costs two billion dollars. He hires Steve back. When Steve makes the move Nelson Rockefeller and whoever is in the car with him can’t see any poor people. Looking at poor people is depressing, thinks Nelson Rockefeller, and I have eliminated the feeling for myself and everyone else working at the Capitol. Here, says Nelson Rockefeller, in the limo. Those buildings being built on the plaza, that’s me.   

The plaza is considered, immediately, by many, a total failure. It is a very lonely place. There’s too much space between the buildings and not enough city. It is full of marble and wind. The tourists look trapped so they never ask me to take their picture because it’s not worth looking back on. One could argue people now are even more depressed than before, but really, it’s all the same. The same level of depression, that is.             

“I’m going to get copy paper,” I tell Chuck.  

Chuck has a mini refrigerator under his desk so he’s making a bologna sandwich. “I’m good,” says Chuck.

I don’t need copy paper. I just want to be where Nelson Rockefeller was. So in the supply room I start in one corner and walk to the opposite corner and then I take one step to the side and walk to the opposite wall. I do this again and again. Then I start on the next wall, step to the side, and walk again, to the opposite wall. I create a grid of myself. And in this grid is Nelson Rockefeller and Steve discussing the move and feeling happy.

“Back,” I say to Chuck.

“Guy’s eye fell out of his face,” says Chuck.

Sometimes I try to imagine what I want to accomplish in my life and it’s empty. It’s just an empty blue cloud.         

Nelson Rockefeller has a heart attack while writing a book about his art collection. What a way to die! Nelson Rockefeller loves art so much he has entire rooms in his mansion filled with art. The plaza is a kind of art but it’s been completed for some time now. Nelson Rockefeller has so much art he has to collect sculptures so large they only fit on his lawn. And when he gets bored he has them moved around. By helicopter. Which he rides in. Nelson Rockefeller collects so much art he has to write a book about it and he can’t contain his love for his art, it’s too much, seeing all this art discussed in his words and he has a heart attack.

The same aide who had the map stamped calls his family. Steve cries in his limo and runs a red light. But Nelson Rockefeller’s family questions the news because it turns out Nelson Rockefeller hasn’t been at his office in quite some time. As a matter of fact, they are in his office right now, standing at the desk where the aide is telling them, on the phone, how he died. The aide says he’s sorry, he’s lying. That’s not exactly what happened.

Nelson Rockefeller dies in another office, in Manhattan. He’s with a twenty five year old woman named Megan. He’s in his underwear and dancing with Megan, also, in her underwear. They are having a great time, even though Nelson Rockefeller, at age seventy, can’t dance like he did when he danced with the Dutch Princess. But he’s giving it his all. Nelson Rockefeller is a good dancer.  

Nelson Rockefeller feels a little twist in his chest. Oof. But he keeps dancing. He has to. The future doesn’t contain a dead Nelson Rockefeller according to Nelson Rockefeller. It never has.

Megan jumps on Nelson Rockefeller’s desk and twists her heels into his papers on his art collection. This is the most beautiful image Nelson Rockefeller has ever seen. Megan is a Princess.

When he feels another twist in his chest – oof, oof – he dances faster. Nelson Rockefeller imagines what Megan must think of him, looking at him, and he feels what he doesn’t want to feel. Nelson Rockefeller pretends his dying heart, which he clutches, is a dance move.

Then there’s another twist in his chest and this one is much bigger, this one shuts Nelson Rockefeller down. Nelson Rockefeller falls toward his desk and as he falls he falls through a blue cloud, which, momentarily, is a face ringed in jewels. Then the face is gone. And nothing fills the blue cloud. It’s just an empty blue cloud. Not even Nelson Rockefeller can fill it. But he tries, desperately. He tries filling the blue cloud with another plaza, a new expressway, him and Steve in the supply room, more art, and another run for President. Still, it remains just an empty blue cloud until it’s a mask moving through his face, and then, wisps of blue cloud stuck to the back of his neck.  

And that’s it. Megan calls a friend over and they look at Nelson Rockefeller’s dead body for an hour before calling for help. Then they call one of Nelson Rockefeller’s aides and the aide tells everyone how he died while working on his art collection, which really, isn’t much of a lie. For hours no one is embarrassed and life is clear and open. For hours I am myself. I don’t want to get up.

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