A LONG, LONG TIME (a 6 pg. story)
Agonizing! I could think of no other word to best describe my frustration, my exhaustion, my fear and, accompanying, disbelief.
What in the world had ever possessed me to believe I could write this book? For that matter, once I began, why ever had I persisted once the odds against success became so evident?
I knew nothing about writing. I knew nothing about the required research, nor the resultant sleepless nights I must endure after my findings began to take shape. I had never once guessed at the deep and long buried secrets I might unearth.
I am an architect. Pure and simple, I love my work. Whether I am designing the plans for a custom home or an office building, I am in my glory if I am but allowed a degree of creativity; of inserting some bit of myself and my preferences into the finished product. An author? Never in my past had I attempted or ever even been tempted to write anything beyond the occasional personal letter or design specification sheet.
Then, you might ask, why had I begun this book? This work that had caused me to dig all too deeply into the subject of my interest? This near-addiction that might well now be the cause of my ending? Blind, deaf and stupid, I guess. Certainly, I had failed to research in the proper, methodical manner of the professional. Had I approached my subject step by step, I would certainly have soon backed away and passed all pages through a shredder, then gone back to my drawing board and put this idea behind me.
My problem might be best described as obsession. For long, I had admired my instructor and felt him to be, beyond doubt, one of the greats among architects. The very fact that I had the good fortune to attend his classes while studying for my license to set up shop as an architect myself had created in me the conviction that I had been one of the fortunate few.
With classes small and students selected solely by the professor, all too many were rudely told to go home and become a bricklayer or a plumber. Professor J. Steinhold had no patience, it seemed, with the inept or even with any who he deemed for whatever reason to be beneath his standards and, therefore, beneath his contempt. Unworthy, according to the professor, they were bluntly told never to attend his class, nor ever darken his door again. A man of extreme talents, yet infinitesimal lacking in tolerance, his was a tough class. Of those who attended, customarily less than half were there at the end. Most felt him to be rude, offensive and disrespectful. Those, however, who managed to get the feel of the great man became convinced he could do no wrong. His concepts and convictions were sometimes outlandish to the sort who were staid of mind and set already in their ways. For those, he became the course broom that swept them aside in order that he might deal with those more adaptable to his thinking, his feeling of what was, to him, greatness. Without a core able to accept his ideas, students became less than dirt on the floor of his studio.
Oh, yes, I was sold hook, line and sinker. In my mind, I felt any design or concept that came from this great man must surely be, also, great. After all, prior to becoming a professor, it was said he had been one of those whose talents the wealthy would beg for, stand in line for and, when needed, they would accept ideas he proposed as gospel, even when the end result differed in the extreme from the appearance they had originally thought they wanted.
After all, when you are that much in demand and, still, step down to instruct others, you must, indeed, be of design royalty. Not one of those chosen for his classes ever doubted the great man, nor did there ever become reason for doubt. Success was nearly guaranteed those who completed his classes. You were accepted as having been touched by the great one, etc. Hang a shingle, open the doors and success was yours.
My problem became such when I decided one day to research his past works. I promptly found the professor had designed houses for the rich and famous in many parts of the state, the country and, in fact, worldwide. At first, I asked myself how a man who appeared to be somewhere in his late fifties could have had the energy or the time, for that matter, to have accomplished such a profusion of accomplishments.
Once I became ever more curious, I found myself donning coveralls and climbing into old, dusty attics or wherever clues told me I might find reference to his works or possibly copies of blueprints showing his designs. You can’t imagine how driven I soon became.
The stage of my research that caused me to decide to try writing a book about the professor came when I happened across an old magazine from the early thirties. The cover didn’t strike out and grab my attention especially, but following a headline that mentioned his name, I opened the pages until I found the article written about Professor J. Steinhold. The author had obviously been writing about my mentor, not only because of the name being the same, but because, down at one corner, inserted into the column, they had placed a small, black and white photo of the man. The man, in all respects, who had taught my classes.
Sometimes color enhances, yet, sometimes a black and white photo offers more clear and complete detail. In this instance, the latter was the case. To my shock, I found myself staring at a photo that showed a man who looked exactly like my professor. Not a younger version of the man at all. Rather, a picture that showed him as he was today.
I could not read the article because the entire magazine had been written in German. Plainly, the elderly German couple who lived beneath this particular attic and who had graciously allowed me to climb up and paw through old boxes had purchased the magazine partly because of the language. Their slight, remaining, accent had given them away as being German. They had come to this country, they had told me over coffee, back in the late twenties. In America, they had thrived, built their business and their family and, together, they now remained in the house they had persuaded Professor J. Steinhold to design for them. In those days, they explained, he had been an architect of renown, not a professor at all, to their knowledge.
So, I later told myself, if I hadn’t found this home, one of the houses obviously designed by J. Steinhold, begged my way into their attic and been persistent enough to find that one single magazine that held his picture, none of this would ever have become solidified enough to pull me onward. Without the picture, I would have continued in my curiosity as to how one man had done so much. However, I would still have lacked the complete conviction that I was finding literature and articles about the same man. At one point, I had thought to return to the professor and ask if his father had preceded him in the field of architecture. The accomplishments had been so great that I had decided that must surely have been the case, rather than properly attributing all those works to the same man.
I asked if either of the couple would interpret some of the article for me and the elderly lady had promptly put on her glasses, taken the magazine from me and begun to read. There, in her elderly and slightly shaking hands, the words that she spoke offered me no doubt any longer as to a father, son relationship in the field of architecture. No full name, rather the single initial, the last name and the, now, inflammatory picture. The description of the man’s accomplishments, as she now read to me, indicated he had become famous in Germany at the time of the magazine printing.
Putting together the years in my mind while she read on, I knew without doubt this was the same man. Not a son, nor a look alike, but a timeless version of the man who Germans had become convinced was an architectural genius of the times.
Having no objection, they sent me on my way with the magazine and their good wishes on my continued research. I had not told them of my doubts, my fears. This was a man who could not be.
Weeks more of research, hours more of note taking and making, collating it all to the best of my ability, I had begun to write.
The book was nearly half complete when, one evening, I stood to stretch, turned and found the light blinking on my answering machine. I always turned the ring tone off while writing to avoid the distraction. Now, punching the button, I listened to the messages that had accumulated. The final message was the one that brought me upright where I sat, brought me to attention and sent the hair on my arms standing at attention. A threat, ever so subtle, had been the content of the message. Without raised voice and, indeed, without the actual words sounding threatening, the message simply explained to me that I was to cease in my research, my writing and my intrusion into the lives of others. Nothing specific, such as name of the subject or consequences if I continued writing. No, it could, I was sure, be claimed as an innocent statement. Yet, in very certain terms, I had been told to back off my writings and research into the life of Professor J. Steinhold. I had written nothing of any sort about anyone else.
So, I first told myself, you have ruffled some feathers. Then, after a moments reflection, I realized the seriousness of my situation. Not only had I just been warned off. But, the subject of my writing had been of such a nature that I repeatedly doubted anyone would believe me, anyway. If, as suspected, I would never get a publisher to take my story seriously, anyway, perhaps my best move would be to consider this threat as, obviously, serious. Once more, a chill permeated my depths. A glance out the nearest window showed a darkened sidewalk with nobody out for a stroll at this late hour, no sign I was being watched.
My work, my risks, my frustration. Could I simply drop it and waste all that? Was I to be driven off by one single, quietly voiced word of warning? Considering the fact that little more than a month had actually passed since I had begun in earnest on this project and also considering that I had worked on my days off and evenings, causing me no actual loss of work or income, perhaps it might be best if I set this aside, at least for the time being. Perhaps I would be well advised to let things settle down, cease my research, stop asking question. Maybe it was to my advantage that I had yet to approach the professor in person, confronting him with my suspicions, yea convictions.
I told myself once again, as I had so often during research and reading, that it was not only none of my business, but, it was also a matter that I should never expect others to believe me about. After all, people do not stay the same in appearance as the years pass. People age, they wrinkle, they tire more easily and, eventually, become infirm. A man who looked to be fifty seventy years ago could surely not now retain the same appearance and stamina. In fact, a man of fifty in the thirties would not still be alive, regardless of appearance or abilities. Nobody, myself included, could possibly believe what I was trying to convince them of in my book.
Then, why had I even started writing such nonsense? Worse yet, why hadn’t I had the good sense after seeing the undeniable proof, the picture, to immediately back away and shut up about my suspicions? I was on a fruitless trek, one that could bring me, in time, nothing more than suspicion and disdain by any who might read or hear of my concept.
Today, I still have a busy shop. People come to me as referred from points afar. I succeed where others might fail. I have Professor J. Steinhold to thank for my success. Now and then I hear from other ex students and we compare notes about our successes. Yet, I notice none of us dwell upon his name or refer to his history, his background. Might others have become aware, as I, of the impossibility about this man? Plainly, to me at least, we each would live, then die, while Professor J. Steinhold would linger for a long, long time.
In my freezer, inside a sealed plastic bag, are the discs containing the part of the story I wrote before quitting. Scanned, digital notes concerning my findings reside on those same discs. The hard drive of my computer shows no indication these days that I had ever thought to write a book, no matter what the subject. Someday I may consider taking it up again, but that will be a long, long time from now. I’ve decided it’s better that way.
A LONG, LONG TIME
(2ND & FINAL CHAPTER)
Six glorious and frantic, yet deliriously successful years had passed since I had put aside the partially written book I had begun. Six years of success beyond my wildest dreams.
My architectural firm now spanned the entirety of two floors of a downtown high rise office building. My staff numbered over two hundred of the brightest, best and most driven young architects. In large part, each had come to me unformed. Their drive was directed by me as each displayed their talents and willingness.
It was sometimes difficult for me to realize how much I now had become ‘the professor’. With displays of ineptness, I stormed and browbeat, while I lavishly praised near perfection when one of my people accomplished pleasing me. These methods had built a staff to whom I now brought my thoughts for development.
My travels took me to every major city and small village in the world. Never over-extending myself, while culling the worthy from those I considered unworthy, I traveled in very interesting circles those days.
Requests for my work loaded the incoming mail to capacity so that the two secretaries assigned the full time task of screening mail could pass along to me only that which their guidelines suggested might pique my interest; be worthy of our firm’s glowing reputation. All correspondence delivered to my home was promptly tossed. I allowed no one an inside track that might derail me.
Success was so sweet! That same success had been the cause of my private, barren life. There was simply no time for either a social, nor a private life for me. I thrived upon the worldwide adoration of my talents. I had become a slave to my own broiling mind, filled with ideas as it was to match the demand of those who recognized my talents. I had no time for wife, child, love.
I, somewhere down deep, knew I would only have a limited time during which to ride this wave and was determined to waste not one breath, nor moment. I was at the peak of my senses, so frantically driven. Given the key during my youth, I swore to bring the world a gift it would never forget; my talents.
Returning from two days away during a consultation, I was picking up phone messages one evening when I heard one that brought me up short. I slowly lowered myself into a nearby chair, then gave a gentle shake of my head to clear away thoughts of the day. Once I replayed and listened more closely to the brief message, I sensed my world was about to change.
A calm, measured, yet aged male voice offered two sentences. “If you like, you may resume writing your book. However, please meet me first after my Friday class.”
Friday? This week?, I asked myself. It was Wednesday and I had listened to all my messages Monday night after returning from Hong Kong. Resume the book? Meet first? This was surely from my old professor. I had thought I detected a far older voice in the caller. While I had become convinced my old professor was a man of some special, never-aging ability, why now did he communicate with me?
Throughout the day, Thursday, I found myself more than usually difficult to appreciate in my staff dealings. I knew I was sometimes harsh when asked a question, but could not help myself. The message I had received had filled me with questions while offering absolutely no answers. Bringing up the thought of my never-aging Professor J. Steinhold had also renewed old curiosities as well as fears. I had once feared what he might be capable of if I had not ceased in the writings about his mysterious, seemingly never ending life. Now, here was a message, surely from him, asking that we meet.
Friday went little better for me than had Thursday. Once my people began to trickle out of the building, heading home to, for the most part, wife and family, I accepted that fate awaited in little over three hours. My fate, as indirectly controlled by J. Steinhold, my old, cranky, demanding, yet marvelous Professor of Architecture.
I was sitting nervously in my parked car right at the building entrance and tapped the horn, creating a brief chirp that helped direct Professor J. Steinhold to my door as he stepped from the building where he held classes. This, at least, hadn’t changed since I had come here to learn at the knee of the master. I leaned over and pushed the door open for him and he swiveled on a cane that was new to me, then sat carefully on the passenger seat and pulled the door closed.
You can imagine my surprise when I now saw the professor up close for the first time in over six years. The man beside me appeared to be closer to eighty years of age than the late fifties I always deemed him to be.
Seeing my surprise, he briefly clapped his left hand upon my knee, smiled a quiet smile, all too foreign to me from him also, then suggested I drive him home where he had a few things he wished to tell me. Following his directions, I drove off through the night. Once we were ensconced comfortably inside his apartment, I glanced, surprised, at my surroundings. Rather than own a house of grandeur which depicted his personal styling, the man lived in an ancient apartment building, on the top level, with furnishings that were quite ordinary, while lavish and far out of date. It appeared he had chosen to surround himself with the trappings of this particular era out of simple choice for the comfort he found with it. Lacking the customary pretentious surroundings I had expected, I turned then to acknowledge the great man and try to better judge his motives for this meeting.
“As you well know,” he began, “I have enjoyed a long, long life. One that many would envy while, at the same time, a life that has brought me moments of pain to offset the many pleasures I have enjoyed. All is seldom as it appears.
“What I want of you may sound as a gift and no difficult thing to consider and approve. However, please hear me out and find in your heart a certainty you are prepared and willing. I have watched your progress as I watched one other. Neither of you returned to see me because, in both cases, you have been successful to the point of even neglecting the basics of a natural life. Of the two, the other has recently married and intends to produce a family. You, even though you suspected a few inconsistencies about my past life, have kept those facts quiet and have continued to build your own business and reputation with , seemingly, no thought to wife or children. First, am I to believe your drive as an architect had and will continue to fill your life, negating need for family? Or, have you somehow managed a romantic life of which I am not aware?”
“Well,” I replied, “ I’m not sure where you’re going with this. But, to answer your question, yes, my life is already fulfilled and I hold dear no intention or wish for a future family. My family has become my staff, my goal is to teach and lead them to their own success. Why is this of concern to you, if I might now ask?”
“The fact is that, those hints you found that indicated to you that I had lived a long time were based upon a partial truth. You may have suspected I was meant to live forever, but that is not to be. Roughly two hundred years ago, I was born to a family as normal as any you can imagine. As with yourself, I went out into the world as a young man with the hope of expressing myself in the field of architecture and becoming a success. My professor was a hard, yet fair man who drove his students as he also drove himself. He sent many out into the world who would succeed. I, as you, found myself after a time wondering at the fact he seemed not to age. Curious, but too busy with my own life after starting my first business, I nearly forgot about the man until one day, many years later, he approached me with the offer I am about to make to you.
“He did eventually age. He did die, but came to me before that unhappy event and passed along something I found to be rather spectacular; the ability to live far longer than those about me. I have found the need to relocate now and then when people gave hints of wondering at my agelessness and might have caused me discomfort with their suspicions. I have also gone through my life without a mate because of this ability. Can you imagine marrying, growing older, yet being subjected to the company of a wife who has far outreached me in age? A wife who cannot accept that I appear not to age over the passing years? It cannot be. The rarity of this ability is given to so few that, of necessity, those selected must prepare themselves for a life quite alone. As you have stated, your staff is your family. In time you may decide to teach and, if so, your class would be your family as you were to me. Only if you feel this to be adequate for a long, long lifetime would I suggest you accept my offer.”
Yes, that long-ago meeting still reminds me of my own special abilities, my uniqueness among mortal men. I have lived through generations, through trends and changing governments. I have relocated several times, then taken up a life reasonably similar to the one I left. I have always kept my own name, although it amazes me to find the tax collectors never appear to question receiving taxes from a man of my age. Hidden, while not, I continue. As with my old professor, I have taken to the concept of passing along as much as I am able of the abilities I have to new talents of each age, each generation.
There are two whom I have watched with special interest. Each one is of the age I was when I began this extended journey. Each one is completely dedicated to the accomplishment of perfection in architecture. Each shares my styling preferences, while going forth with their own beliefs. When the time comes that we meet, they will see my present age to be as it should. After all, none of us is able to live forever. Will either accept the gift, the challenge, the torment I took on when Professor J. Steinhold put forth his offer to me? I will soon have my answer.
The adulation, fame, success, near-love I have enjoyed should have been more than sufficient to fulfill my life. I was given healthy mind and body, yet sometimes lacked in spirit. I have reached the stage where I now age as mortal man and the time is near when I must select my successor if there is to be one. In the books of architecture, my name will go on as though a family heritage. However, despite all my nearly two hundred years of life, I think now that perhaps I should have accepted the approved eighty or so if that was all one could be allotted. We can never go back, nor change what has been, those decisions sometimes made with too little concern for the eventual consequences. Some are too driven toward fame and fortune and they settle, as did I, for mere adulation.
It has been lonely at times. I think now that I might have been content with less success, a wife. Love.
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