Stories and Scripts: an Anthology by Zack Love by Zack Love - Read Online

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Summary

Thought-provoking, dreamy, sad, and hilarious, this collection of works by Zack Love takes the reader on a diverse and unforgettable literary journey through a variety of topics, themes, and emotions. The anthology totals about 73,000 words and contains a novelette, four short stories, a theater play, and a screenplay.These seven spellbinding stories spanning several styles and genres include a dramatic romance, a satire of the mega-rich, a somber and soulful reflection on the problem of evil, humorous dating adventures, and stories driven by philosophical musings.The anthology includes:1) The Doorman – a Novelette (Literary Fiction)2) Central Park Song – a Screenplay (Romance)3) The Grand Unified Story – a Short Story (Literary Fiction)4) City Solipsism – a Short Story (Literary Fiction)5) Waiting for 2000 – an Absurdist Comedy of Billionaire Proportions (Theater Comedy)6) My Best Valentine's Day. Ever. – a Short Story (Romantic Comedy)7) My Worst Valentine's Day. Ever. – a Short Story (Romantic Comedy)
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ISBN: 9781483528489
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Acknowledgement

All but one of the works in this collection were previously released as standalone books, and their success was fueled largely by the tireless efforts of a core team of supporters who have consistently been there for me as an author. It is thanks to these special friends that the stories in this anthology were able to hold their own in an increasingly crowded fiction market. I feel very fortunate to have the enthusiastic help and advocacy of these wonderful individuals, who also often served as a sounding board, providing helpful feedback when needed.

I am especially grateful to:

Author Ker Dukey, for her early and boundless support – unparalleled in its loyalty, generosity, and depth, and truly humbling; for managing my street team and sharing her keen instincts and advice from her own writing journey; for providing amazing graphics; for lifting my morale when needed; and for helping in countless other ways.

Anita Viccica Toss, Anna-Maria Butucescu, and Crystal Solis for being such loyal and hugely helpful fans who provided tremendous promotional support on Facebook, Goodreads, and other book forums, and were always ready with a helping hand on other projects.

Myriam Judith Perkins, for her warm friendship, support, and industry expertise.

Author KM Golland, for her friendship, helpful advice, and efforts to spread the word about my writing to so many new readers.

Diane Dininno, for her constant support of my work, and for providing assistance with various projects, including the campaign I launched to support a little girl’s cancer fight.

My street team, which has promoted my work with such energy and enthusiasm (on Facebook pages, blogs, and unsuspecting foreheads) and includes: Jennifer Pou, Elena Cruz, Jessica Lynn Leonard, Sarah Mae Zink, Colleen Farrell, Lisa Dale, Verna Mcqueen, Renee Dyer, Kiersten Riley Funcheon, Janet Wilkie, Kathy Coopmans, Veronica Sloan, Eileen Robinson, Jacy Goodwin, Abby Porter Cook, and Liz Stephenson.

Introduction

I struggled to find an appropriate title for this anthology because there really isn’t much of a unifying theme to the collection, except that each story is one of my shorter works that have received enthusiastic praise from readers. As a thank you to my fans, I have gathered all of these stories into one collection that highlights the diversity of my writing. The range of works includes dramatic romance, a satire of the mega-rich (full of epic banter and silliness), a somber and soulful reflection on the problem of evil, humorous dating adventures, and stories driven by philosophical musings. To help you navigate the many different moods that this motley collection may evoke, I have arranged the works in order (roughly) from heaviest to lightest.

Because two of the items in this anthology (the screenplay romance and the theater comedy) are not what most fiction readers typically seek, I almost decided not to release them at all. But, in the hope that open-minded fans of my other work would respond well to quality writing and original stories, I ultimately chose to publish them as standalone e-books. Thus far, I’ve been encouraged by – and grateful for – the wonderful response that both works have received, so I opted to include them in this anthology as well. I hope that you too will enjoy them.

To encourage new readers to discover more of my work, I am offering this collection at a price that is about half of what it would cost to buy each of the included works individually. And as an extra thank you to buyers of this anthology, I have included this special bonus: a short story released for the first time ever in this collection. The work is titled The Grand Unified Story and I wrote it in my last year of college (back when certain science and philosophy courses were far fresher in my mind than they are today).

Thank you for joining me on this journey through so much of my creative writing. I hope you enjoy the ride.

The Doorman

A Novelette

by

Zack Love

PART I

I had always been an atheist until I met Lenny. He was too wondrously complex and good for there to be no benevolent and intelligent force behind our marvelous cosmos. Lenny gave me the actual proof my fiercely skeptical mind had always demanded. Not some logical, 37-step proof of God’s existence. It was a personal proof. And it was irrefutable. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In the beginning, there was life. My life. I was the center of the universe. My own consciousness was the only thing of which I could be certain, and hence the only thing that undeniably mattered to me. There was my Mac, my favorites, my buddies, my cell phone, my hairline, my MP3s, my Yahoo, my shampoo. My myness was both new and old: there was my new penthouse, my old shoes, my new job, my old friends, my new diet, my old habits, my new colleagues, my old girlfriend, my new emptiness, my old soul, and my new girlfriend.

When the broker first introduced me to the cooperative apartment building on 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, and the battery of white-gloved doormen rushed into door-opening formation, I thought to myself, The rich can put even chivalry on a payroll, and realized just how nouveau riche I would be in this elite milieu. I had sold out of the dot-com boom in December of 1999, after a lucky premonition that the bubble would soon burst, and early enough for my stock options to cover the down payment on a cozy alcove studio in 777 Fifth Avenue. The address definitely had a heavenly ring to it. And buying that apartment seemed like a sound investment and an official part of my transition to the white-shoe world of Wall Street banking. I wanted to make mounds of money in that world – to live the good life and give my parents pride and more financial support. But I wasn’t so sure that this goal (or the lifestyle and choices it required) would make me happy. I was, however, anxiously eager to find out.

On February 7, 2000, the morning of my first day as an equities analyst, I awoke at 5 a.m., put on my best suit and tie, and just paced around my apartment for two hours. I had been living there for less than a week and was still excited about my new home and the other big changes in my life. At 7 a.m. sharp, I rang for the elevator. Serge was on duty. The other doormen had warned me that he was a bit of an alcoholic, but perfectly harmless. His constantly crooked collar and disheveled coiffure stood out in sharp contrast to the pressed doorman’s uniform he had to wear. His potbelly dominated his five-foot-nine figure, his Dick Tracey nose was a radish red, and his droopy brown eyes and creased face suggested at least 60 years of walking the earth.

How is life at top? he asked in his thick Slavic accent, as I stepped into the elevator. Behind his forced smile creaked some humble weariness. He was referring to my new penthouse and job.

You can only go down from here, I replied with a smile of self-doubt. The elevator descended.

As I stepped out into the brisk winter air, I looked at my watch in nervous excitement, as if it would guide my timing on some critical mission upon which I had just embarked. It was 7:05 a.m. and I was taking the first steps of my new commute. I walked past the Grand Army Plaza, with its golden monument to General Sherman, and the surrounding horse-drawn carriages, and the majestic Plaza Hotel. About five minutes later, I ducked into the guts of the city, and flew through the morning night on a train packed with suits, khakis, briefcases, and newspapers. I exited the subway in the Wall Street area, and walked in the shadow of the concrete towers all around me as I approached the skyscraper where I worked. Once inside my office building, I catapulted to the very heights of capitalist civilization in rocket-like elevators lifting me to my new throne. The ascent produced a moment of exhilaration – as if my triumphant arrival was being heralded by royal horns and a thunderous ovation from all of Manhattan’s lesser skyscrapers visible in the distance.

But the fantasy kingdom and trappings of success soon lost their luster, as I discovered that the most prestigious and remunerative of my resume’s way stations was also the most tedious and unfulfilling I had ever experienced. This paradox only made me more morose about modernity. Why was I going to watch my hairline recede in front of two-thousand-line spreadsheets staring at me from cold, glowing monitors? Why was everyone in my office apparently so happy to be spending so many hours there, when the things they really cared about – persons, pets, pastimes – were all relegated to a few photographs on their desks? That seemed to be the formula: spend the best years of your life in an office with photos of what you really care about.

My grandfather loved to point out how my vocational angst was the byproduct of a spoiled generation that had it too good: yes, we had no great wars or depressions that focused our emotional energies on unquestionably important issues like survival. We had climbed so high up Maslow’s hierarchy that we took for granted the basics of food and shelter and instead fretted about self-realization, and other such soft sorrows. But we can’t fabricate existential concerns that don’t actually afflict us, I would protest. A generation responds to whatever conditions it finds itself in, I explained – without expecting that the gap between our respective eras would ever be bridged.

But I did hope to narrow the generational divide between my father and me. His time was close enough to mine that it seemed worth clashing for a compromise – even in the elevator of 777 Fifth Avenue, which seemed to be his preferred location for starting such discussions. But to my disappointment he always (predictably enough) professed a paternal pragmatism, and urged me to stay the course of cash.

Don’t forget that you’re making more money than any member of the Becker family ever dreamt of having. Remember how, at the age of seventeen, you were six-one – taller than anyone in the history of our family? And now you’ve done the same thing financially. You’ve got to count your blessings, son, he said, as the elevator doors closed. Serge pressed the button for the penthouse floor and quietly nodded to himself, apparently agreeing with my father’s point. Look where you live now, my father observed. Do you know how proud I am of you?

But how much does that matter when I can barely get out of bed every morning? It’s pure drudgery over there.

How bad can it be? he replied. Every activity grows tiresome when it’s your job to do it. I used to think I’d love being a carpenter because I’d always imagined how fun it would be to work with wood and make things with my hands. But by my third day, I realized that work will always be work. At least you’re making a great salary. Give it time, son. Every job is tough at first.

But I’ve been there over nine months and I’ve been working 15-hour days since I started. And plenty of Saturdays too. And I don’t feel like I’m benefiting the world much. I mean, I crunch numbers and compile data. I prepare reports on a moment’s notice, with tremendous deadline pressure. And all this so that massive corporate clients can make better financial decisions and more profits. But so what? The benefits are too removed from my daily reality to matter. I just don’t see how I’m making a difference in the world.

You really think other jobs are any different?

Yes, I do. You build a table, and you know someone will eat on it. When Serge presses the elevator button, he knows he’s taking me to my apartment. The relevance of that labor is immediately apparent.

We reached my floor, but Serge had to share his views before we left. Excuse me, Alex, I am not disrespectful, but you could just as easy push elevator button yourself. I doubt I am so helpful or important to anyone in building.

I felt ashamed at having vocalized my occupational malaise in front of a man who had true cause to complain about his job. Serge used to conduct an orchestra in the former Yugoslavia, but the civil war there later turned him into a Bosnian refugee who was forced to flee his country. New York had no music jobs for him, and so he had spent his last six years as a doorman. I desperately reached for a satisfactory reply, knowing there was none. Serge, I may be able to push the button for myself, I said, looking at his sad eyes, hidden behind an errant shock of jet-black hair. But you also provide security and a helping hand that immediately benefits the residents here – particularly the elderly people in the building. And you add some simple humanity to my days. Sadly enough, sometimes you and Lenny are the only real human interactions that I have all day. The rest of the day I’m just like a machine that mechanically computes and produces.

The next time my father decided to raise the topic, two weeks later, it was Lenny who was taking us up in the elevator. I began to suspect that my father was deploying a strategy intended to put my complaints into perspective. He was careful never to raise the topic in my mother’s presence, knowing very well how she would protest his views, and he was shrewd enough to realize that I would always feel awkward voicing my job-related discontent in front of a doorman. Such discomfort was particularly inevitable in front of Lenny, who had the most energetic enthusiasm for his job – never pitying his fate or wishing for a better one, and always providing whatever service he could to the utmost extent possible, as if it were a personal challenge of his to attain some perfect, Platonic ideal of doorman-ness. In some mystical way, Lenny seemed to ennoble work more than anyone I had ever met.

Son, I was thinking about how unhappy you are with your work, he began, as Lenny closed the elevator door. And I started wondering what you’d rather be doing instead. I refuse to see your mother go back to work at the age of 66, but we could always move back into a studio apartment in Queens. We don’t need a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan if it means you’ve got to suffer so much. But what would make you happier, son? What would you rather be doing with your talents?

I want to feel like I’m making a difference in this world. And I want some time for living rather than just working. Life is for living, isn’t it? It can’t be all just for working.

Well, how do you want to make a difference? He almost caught me off guard when he pressed me for a specific alternative. Fortunately, I’d spent enough of my commutes pondering the question that I had an answer ready for him.

I want to teach math and English to inner city kids…Sure, I’ll make about 10 percent of my present salary, but it’s not my fault if our economy hasn’t figured out the importance of teachers. I want to change lives. The elevator stopped at my floor. And if helping you and Mom means I can’t live on Fifth Avenue any more with my teacher’s salary, then so be it. I want to move some impoverished youth from despair to dreams. I want to expose kids to what’s possible. I want to equip them with lifelong skills and knowledge that will help them to realize their true potential. It’s the teachers who really determine how good the future of our world will be.

There was an awkward silence. I knew my words hadn’t persuaded my father, who was almost as concerned with prestige as with remuneration. In his eyes, being a teacher was a rung above babysitting. And this wasn’t a notion of which I could disabuse him in a brief elevator ride. Lenny finally broke the silence: With all due respect, Mr. Becker, 40 percent of the nation’s eight-year-olds can’t read on their own. We could use some teachers like Alex.

Yes, but can you really see my son leaving Wall Street to become a teacher in the inner city?

In fact, I can, he replied. He drew nearer to me and tried to stand taller than his ungenerous five feet of height, so that he could inspect me carefully for a moment, as if to read some instructions written on my forehead. I see it happenin’ in about 10 months, he said, coming off his toes. My father was amused by the baseless and absurd exactitude of Lenny’s prediction, but before he could comment on it, Lenny added, But don’t quote me on that. It’s just another one of my wild predictions.

Well, I predict that I’m about to have a very tasty dinner with a son I’m very proud of, he replied, as we left the elevator. I exhaled a sigh of relief as my father’s meddlesome ways were about to be confined to my apartment.

Or so I thought. During dinner, in the privacy of my apartment, he discussed matters that I don’t mind discussing in public: politics, economics, sports, films. But as soon as I escorted him out and we stepped back into the elevator, he couldn’t help but urge me for the seventh time in as many days to choose between my old and new girlfriends. I began to think that my father possessed a rare, exhibitionist gene that leads one to feel comfortable discussing embarrassingly private matters only in public.

In any case, my tormented love life was hardly a secret to the men who, for about three months, saw me alternating between Orlee, my girlfriend of over two years, and Anna, my new girlfriend of two months. But after my father transformed the situation into a matter of public controversy, I was forced to disclose more details to the doormen, lest they be misled in some way.

I met Orlee in November of 1998, at the photo shop where I developed some pictures from my recent birthday party. She was the new employee there after having recently quit her prestigious corporate law job so that she could become a photojournalist. At the time, I was an ambitious, high-flying, dot-com-hipster-yuppie with nothing but praise for New York-style capitalism and all of the institutions that supported it. How could you come all the way to New York from Israel to get an advanced law degree from New York University, and then throw it all away to work in a photo shop? I asked her, realizing that it wasn’t exactly the best way to approach a woman who had caught my eye. To my surprise, she seemed glad that I had asked. At the age of 28, she was sure enough about life to start telling others how to live it, and she saw my question as an invitation to do just that.

I tried the corporate world and found myself paying off my educational debt with layers of my soul, she began. I marveled at her English, which was impeccable except for an intriguingly faint accent. The tedious corporate life was too high a price to pay for longer than was absolutely necessary, she continued.

Tedious? But you were at a top law firm.

Yes, exactly. Which meant that I spent my weekends in office buildings doing due diligence, chasing commas, and checking corporate minutes.

But you were probably making very good money. The words coming out of my mouth could have easily been my father’s reactions.

Sure: after taxes, living expenses, and everything, if I worked there for one year, I was $40,000 richer. But I was also one year poorer.

The phone rang. As she moved gracefully across the photo shop to answer the phone, her wildly long and free red hair bounced with defiance. Her slender frame rose five feet and nine inches, and her intense, angular features radiated brilliance. She returned to my inquisition a few minutes later.

Well, now you’re doing grunt work at a photo shop for one-fifth of the pay, I said, surprised at my own impudence and expecting her to dismiss me immediately. But, as I would see later, Orlee relished verbal jousting. And she was too sure of her decision to be anything but amused by my remark. She gave me a playful, almost insolent look of clarity and certainty – as if she knew that only two years later, after moving into my new penthouse and starting my new job, she would hear me echoing some of her views with even more conviction.

No, dear. This isn’t grunt work. She looked me straight in the eye. I’m here to learn some useful technical skills, and then I’m going to catch our world in a camera. I’m starting with New York, and then the rest of North America. And by the time I die, I will have photographed every country in the world. And I will have walked through every metropolis and climbed every peak…And what about you? What do you want to do?

We were leaning towards each other over a glass counter.

I want to take you out to dinner, I replied.

Well why don’t you lean over this counter a little more and give me your best kiss, and then I’ll tell you if I want you to take me out to dinner.

And so it began.

We traveled to Nepal together, where I bought her a small jade elephant necklace that perfectly matched her deep green eyes. One evening, in the midst of our love play, it fell off her milky neck and the tiny trunk of the elephant broke off, leaving a heart-shaped jade figure in its place. We smiled mystically at the magical craftsmanship produced by the hard stone floor of our cheap hotel room. Before I die, I want to trek through Ecuador’s Avenue of the Volcanoes and climb Cotopaxi with you, she said, closing her eyes wishfully. Cotopaxi means Mountain of Light in the indigenous Incan tongue. It’s one of the highest active volcanoes in the world – over 19,000 feet high. I want us to climb together to the top, and then make love there. She paused to give me a kiss. And then I’m going to take the prettiest stone I see there, and I’m going to string this little jade elephant-heart around it as my gift to you. She kissed me again. And if you don’t kvetch too much on the trek up there, I won’t try to put it down your pants on our way back down, when you’re not looking.

We never made it up Cotopaxi together. I wasn’t enough of an outdoorsman for her. And she was too much of a gladiator for me. Fierce in her views and always eager for a hearty disagreement, she thrived on conflict. And I did too – except after a fifteen-hour day at the office – when she seemed most intent on thrashing out the most pressing questions of our time. She was a staunch Peace-Now Israeli