He felt their nearness, layers-deep, that rippling quiver of lust for his city’s tower cranes—those dominant, erect structures that he’d loved since he was a boy. There were exactly twenty-three tower cranes spanning the downtown skyline where JC Rollins worked. A new one went up last week, and he was eager to pay it a visit.
JC loved many inanimate objects. More than just admiring their aesthetics or utility, he felt personally connected to these “things” (and, though he’d never admitted it to anyone, was sexually aroused by them; the physical form of neither woman nor man did anything for him). While he often flirted with guardrails, public art, and his Uncle Steuben’s Lamborghini, it was the cranes dotting the city skyline that he felt truly married to.
JC strolled the sidewalk with his shoulders drawn up close to his neck, despite the warmth of the day. He was headed toward the construction site, where he’d saunter in wearing the costume hard hat he kept in his knapsack. Only contracted laborers were allowed on site, but JC knew the proper jargon—the names of all the tools—and he knew how to fake the confidence needed to appear like he belonged. If he was caught he dismissed himself, claiming to have misunderstood his assignment, that he’d ventured onto the wrong construction site. In his early days he’d been humiliated too many times from being caught. Now he visited a different site each day to stay under the radar. In JC’s world you had to be savvy to meet illicit needs.
JC crossed the street and saw a novelty lamp store on the corner. In its display window were lamps of every color, design, and country of origin—a veritable garden of electric kitsch. In the middle of it all, shadowed by the glare of midday, was a lamp that caught him by surprise and made his breath catch in his throat.
It was a perfect model of a tower crane.
The charming little thing embodied all the grace and majesty of his beloved construction cranes, with a bar of light running up the mast, through the extended length of the jib, and ending with a bulb that dripped out from a sleek brass bowl.
He entered the store, sounding an unceremonious tinkle from the alert bell. The shop was warm, like an oven opening to fresh-baked bread. There was an inviting sweetness in the air and a surreal yet cozy vibe emanating from all the multi-colored lights.
Sweat beaded up on JC’s forehead and trickled down the already stained recesses of his shirt. His heart raced as he scanned the room for the crane lamp. He wanted to touch it, to hold it and caress it. He felt an uncanny resonance with the lamp, like an old friend he could tell embarrassing secrets to.
Just as he spotted it, a bloated man with wisps of white hair reaching out of his ears called to JC from behind the cash register. “Hello, Friend! What can I help you find? I’ve got a lamp for everybody!” The shopkeeper stepped out from behind the counter, revealing a midsection belted tight like a holiday roast. He wore a large wooden cross around his neck that made JC wince with childhood memories.
“Just looking, thanks,” muttered JC, avoiding the shopkeeper’s eyes.
He wandered the store, trying not to look anxious, then stopped dead in front of the tower crane lamp. Its swinging member angled toward him with a suggestive beckon, begging to be bought and owned. JC pictured how the lamp might look in his apartment, warming his undecorated walls with its teasing blush. He’d start to read more if he had a lamp like this to sit by and keep him company. He’d eat in more, cutting back on the Chinese takeout and pizza, maybe losing a little weight. That would save him money, which he could use to invest in a better life—a penthouse in the theater district with a view of the entire city (surrounded by all the cranes!). The lamp would be a discussion piece for guests—he’d start hosting parties!
He exhaled, fondling the crane lamp’s miniature latticework, his fingertips playing along its variegated texture. To feel its wholeness, all at once, in succinct, caressable form, made him feel perversely out of place in such a public homey setting. He gripped the lamp’s mast and felt a zap to his nerves. The lamp seemed to emit a personality all its own. An intention and desire, he was sure of it.
JC blushed and pulled his hand away.
Was this a betrayal against his construction cranes? Was he selfishly abandoning them for a younger, smaller model? Confused and disgusted with himself, he left the shop and set out on his daily path to the nearest construction site, making turns by instinct alone.
A crew of men guided a crane operator where JC stood, watching that beautiful metallic giraffe lift pallets of building materials high into the sky. For JC, there was no human form or caress that elicited in him such arousal as the slow swing of a horizontal jib, anchored to its glistening mast, oiled and waiting for the release of its weighty load. He watched it glide along toward that perfect moment of deliverance, then he stepped onto the crane’s cement base.
The crane smelled crisp, like fresh juniper.
JC pulled out the prop-store level from his knapsack, and stood close to the frame. He wrapped his hands around a beam, curling his fingers, one at a time, around its solid breadth, and inhaled.
He gently pressed his lips against it. He felt its power. Its transcendent perfection. JC was filled with a sense of security and contentment—a feeling he’d store deep in his heart to make it through the day.
Yet, despite all of this, his thoughts returned to the lamp. The darling miniature crane that he could hold in his hands and take with him to bed. His own little secret. He would never take it out of the house. No one would have to know.
JC pushed through the store’s front door, sending the alert bell to the floor.
“Back again, Friend?” asked the shopkeeper, who stood dusting a mosaic table lamp.
“The crane,” huffed JC, out of breath and gleaming with sweat. There was an urgent light in his eyes, like two overheated bulbs ready to explode. He scanned the room, but couldn’t find the lamp. Maybe it’d been moved for dusting? Dear god, he hoped it hadn’t been cracked!
“You just missed it,” said the shopkeeper.
JC’s pulse doubled. “What do you mean, ‘missed it’?” He felt agitated and insecure, as though the lamp had let him down by going home with a different owner.
“How long?” he demanded. “How long since the lamp was bought?”
“Not five minutes. A woman on her way uptown.”
Uptown. JC could catch her if he was quick.
By the door he saw a stack of religious tracts, complete with a cartoon Jesus and the Ten Commandments printed in a trendy font. One of the commandments jumped out at him—You shall have no other gods before me. JC remembered sitting through sermons as a child where a gangly preacher lectured against idolatry. It had confused and scared young JC, who’d equated idolatry with his craving for inanimate structures. Unsure why, he grabbed a few of the tracts, and bolted out the door, kicking the little bell as he passed.
He dodged the sidewalk crowds until he spotted his target. She was a thickset woman in a pink dress, with dark brown hair curling under her chin like a safety strap. She walked at a steady clip while carrying the heavy lamp box in her arms, darting in and out of traffic. JC’s heart screamed for the lamp.
The woman approached a light rail platform just as the train arrived. She stepped on, and JC boarded behind her, gripping an aluminum bar as he listened to the woman chat up her seatmate.
“If they add one more high-rise to this city,” she said, “I’m moving to the mountains. How can anyone stand seeing those godawful blemishes everywhere you turn?”
“Mmhmm,” affirmed her seatmate. “They never stop building them, and in the meantime, I can’t find a decent place to park.”
JC cringed. No construction meant no cranes. Whether the lamp knew it needed saving or not, he was sure it would be happier with him.
He shuffled toward the back of the train, holding the Christian booklets out before him like a hat for change, disguising himself as a concerned missionary. He thrust one into the lap of a man half-dozing against a cane, who sniffed but didn’t look up.
JC approached the women and held out a tract. “Good afternoon!” he said with a winsome smile. “Have you ladies heard the good news?”
The woman’s seatmate smiled, big and toothy. “No need to waste your breath on me, hon. I’ve known the good news since you were in diapers.”
JC leaned in close to the woman with the lamp—his lamp—his breath hitting her powdered forehead. “What about you, ma’am?” he asked with a grin. His chest bumped against the lamp box and he felt a shiver of longing emit from it. The lamp wanted to be with him as badly as he wanted to be with it.
The woman gasped and pressed against her seat. With her lips as tight as a crane cable, she said sharply, “Not interested.”
JC looked her straight in the eye and whispered, “What if I told you the good news is that I plan to pay you twice the price you did for this lamp?”
The woman didn’t blink. She stared him down like prey, swatting off her neighbor’s attempts to assist her off the train, and repeated, “Not interested.”
JC felt a sudden violent urge to reach out and choke the woman. Instead, he grabbed hold of the lamp box and lifted it the air for the entire train car to see.
“Fine people of the train!” he announced with a preacher’s confidence. “Have you heard the good news? The news that Jesus Christ died for each and every one of you! ‘But why?’ You might ask? Because of love! Love! That elusive, monstrous ache!”
Not one passenger spoke, nor could they look away.
“As Christ died for you,” he continued, “I too would die for love!” He looked down at the woman, whose face now matched the color of her dress. “My life rests on the shoulders of this woman here, but she says I can’t have what I love most!”
The woman stood up with her hands in the air as though surrendering. She spoke loudly, but her voice wavered. “Please . . . I have no intention of causing this man harm. He’s a nuisance and a fake, and that box he’s holding belongs to me.”
A man at the front of the train told JC to give the woman back her box.
JC’s arms were going numb but he held fast. He’d never felt so alive, so invigorated in all his life. “I’d sooner jump onto the train tracks!” he said in his preacher’s voice. He then made for the door and tried to push through.
“Enough!” said the woman, her voice shaking with tears. But JC ignored her and ripped open the door. Without hesitation, he hugged the box to his chest and leapt.
He heard the passengers’ screams whip past him and fade into white noise as he tumbled onto the ground and rolled to protect the lamp. He was bruised, but nothing serious. He was more worried about the lamp. His stomach turned and his knees went weak as he gave it a little shake and heard the scrape of loose glass.
In his living room JC slowly, intentionally slit open the flaps of the lamp box. This was the moment he’d been waiting for—his moment of release. They were alone now, with no one to ever tear them apart again. He folded back the flaps and plunged his hands inside.
But what he touched was a lamp of a very different shape. He lifted it from the box to find a large bird, perched on a cracked foot and sporting a splintered wing.
A crane lamp.
A whooping crane lamp.
JC kneeled over it, his hands in his hair, and wept.
“All I Need” by Radiohead