The office building of 1600 Sadler Street in Worcester Massachussetts is four stories high, making it one of the tallest in town, save for the new Mobile T building that went up four blocks away nearly a year ago. Perched on a slight hill, it has an advantage on three similarly sized department stores across the way, which were recently rebuilt upon plots scraped from the earth. On a wraparound balcony outside his office, Daniel Pierce stands overlooking the teeming traffic of late afternoon. His five o’clock appointment has texted him, saying she’s running ten minutes late, which is typical because of the rush hour, though usually Shirley’s lateness is closer to five minutes than ten. When he first signed a lease, Daniel thought he’d enjoy times like this: late afternoon reveries, peering down over the city, feeling comfortably detached and taking in the view while collecting thoughts ahead of a session. In November, an orange tint blends with brown hues on the red maples that line Sadler Street. From above there seems more vegetation than what’s apparent at ground level. The tree-line even seems uniformly cut, as if there were above it a secret layer of atmosphere created especially for the birds. This rarified space costs more for the humans that occupy it so it’s a good thing Shirley’s fee is on its way, whether she’s late or not.
The hard, damp chill sends Daniel inside, thinking of the time his office mate first walked him around, boasting of the balcony area and the view, the then modest rents. Better in the spring and summer, Daniel thinks after just a few minutes outside. He figures he’ll head downstairs, check in with the janitor, as in remind him that some are still around, working. The guy will be making his end-of-day rounds, storing hefty bags of trash in the elevator as he goes from one office to the next, reeking of New Bedford waste. Daniel hates it when he does this, though he doesn’t say anything. It doesn’t look good to Daniel’s clients, this time-saving habit. What must it say to them to have bags of garbage accompanying their ride to the top floor where the therapists tend to have evening appointments? The janitor’s routine seems to privilege the loud and garrulous realtors on the bottom floor, the insurance company hacks on the second. They’re all typically gone by late afternoon, Daniel notices. For their benefit the dirty work and security is done after hours, or close to it. By the front door, the stocky, lumpen keeper of the building is locking up, only to see Daniel stepping out of the elevator, already sporting a wan, diffident smile.
“Oh, right. You’re here tonight, huh?” the man says, sounding vaguely disappointed.
“Thanks,” Daniel replies, indicating the door, which he needs left unlocked, and then, fleetingly, the garbage bag. He moves subtly to the side, as if beckoning the bag to step outside. No, after you, is what it looks like.
“Sorry,” the man says, taking the hint. Mission accomplished, thinks Daniel. Meaning, he didn’t have to say anything. After a gratuitous trip to his car, he heads back upstairs, there to pass his neighbor in the hallway. Charles Mandalay is a construction consultant from Cambridge originally. He has models of his projects all over his office, as evidence of his good work and career path. He’s arrived at the top floor of 1600 Sadler Street as its oldest occupant and has the best suite in the building, on the east side, facing downtown. Sometimes on a Friday he invites others from his floor to stop by for a quiet party, a few cheese and crackers washed down with a choice of red or white wine. Daniel sometimes partakes of one glass maybe, even if he has an appointment or two left to go, because Charles offers a mint to go with the libations. His think-of-everything generosity and hearty spirit seems easy and authentic, if weary and sad. Charles has the look of a man whom others have left behind with all of his goods and memories. To newcomers who fret over rising rents, he schools about the resilience of the landlord, the indelibility of 1600 Sadler Street, and as he orates he stares out his window admiringly.
“The building’s paid for,” he proclaims, suggesting all should relax. They can’t, including Daniel. From that top floor balcony, they see a city closing in, becoming more crowded, making it difficult to get places, arrive for appointments, of whatever kind they are. The building’s old, someone notices. It has the feel of a place that will be torn down soon, replaced by a clothing store, maybe a condo unit or apartment complex. Daniel comments on the elevator: not so much about garbage left inside, but rather the age of the apparatus. Looking closely, one of his clients recently observed that its permit had expired a year or two earlier, which explained its sometimes staccato movement from one floor to the next. Since then Daniel has preferred the stairs at the back. When he isn’t inspecting the elevator for trash, he’s exercising his limbs, getting a workout on the concrete steps that lead to a heavy door, whose warped sound upon opening heralds hasty arrivals.
For the latecomers, especially the younger ones who are spry in the limb department, the jog to the fourth floor is quicker than the elevator ride. Breathless, they sometimes stride in, crossing the threshold to the therapeutic sanctum, meeting Daniel at his door. He stands like a porter, waving them inside. Some take a moment to orient themselves, to gaze outside at that wraparound balcony, at the view outside, the red maples just about visible from their vantage points. Others flop on Daniel’s couch, relieved to have made it in. The sessions are typically fifty minutes long, sometimes a few minutes longer, in defiance of the managed care rules. Those who stick around beyond the evidence-based allocation, who are there for the long haul to do good, in-depth work, often sigh and comment on the security, the time-out from life. This is their safe place, they say. They don’t want anything to change.