Manhattan Mountaintop

Engines clamor while I take my regular seat, rigid vinyl another prop for my already-sore back. Fresh snow covered the suburban sidewalks of my Long Island suburb. I swapped a crumby seat at the diner for this one. Before that I laid stiff in my bed. Next I’ll park upright in my cubical coffin downtown. It wasn’t always like this for me.Once I climbed exotic peaks around the world, a guide for the misguided who spend their fortunes looking for God in faraway tall places. I knew it all then, with good company in the villages where I slept, a love for the work I was doing, and wonderful dreams I’d go to at night. The only thing missing was my father’s respect.

Born to a long succession of rank-and-file bank workers in Manahattan, Father always insisted I be just like him. We were not “bankers”, but bank workers: money sorters, form checkers, and application approvers, the men in my family tree always handled money for the men who had money. No substantive amount ever stayed in our hands, except that which we earned and scrimped and saved- and save we did. Throughout my youth I tried and tried, carrying a calculator when my friends were playing basketball and skipping dates to finish extra credit homework, working overtime in the corner grocery and studying over the weekends. I knew I was on the road to Father’s definition of happiness: A suburban Tudor, a new station wagon in the driveway, a lovely wife to birth me lovely children who would carry on this American Way.It was during my sophomore year at City University that it all began to change. I saw guys who were far poorer than I was get beautiful girls to sleep with them; people half as determined as me fly through courses without doing assignments simply because they talked how professors wanted hear. My disillusionment grew deep when Eileen Piazzia wouldn’t go out with me, replying in her deep New Jersey nasal, “Frank, I just think you’re boring.”

My transformation was slow at first: an untucked shirt or hightop sneakers instead of loafers. Then my attitude came cascading down, with dirty jeans and unkept hair, skipped classes and a ripped duffel sack replacing the faux-leather briefcase Father gave me on my seventeenth birthday. It was complete soon after when I dropped out of college and off my parents’ radar, hitch hiking to California for my twentieth birthday. Along the way I stayed with a few of farmers’ daughters, and when I got there I broke a few hearts. I became my own man.

A year later, on my twenty first birthday, I summited my first peak. A month later I had finished three more, and by the end of the year I was living in Seattle, where I was finishing off the last of the thirty tallest peaks on the west coast, including trips through Mexico’s Sierra Madres and up Mount Denali in Alaska. At the end of that adventure I was hired by a company to lead tourists around the world, and that went went well for the next four years. Then I got word that Father died, and I gave it all up to move back to New York.

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