Most people don’t know that her real name is Liberty Enlightening the World. It’s a mouthful, so people usually just call her Lady Liberty or the Statue of Liberty, but I think you kind of lose something in the translation.
“Are you in charge here today?” I pull my gaze away from my favorite client and turn to see who’s talking. I see a young red–haired woman in perfect “political” navy blue. She’s the woman behind the mayor.
“Yes,” I say, extending my hand. “Jane Williams.”
As a senior publicist at Glassman & Co., one of the largest PR firms in New York, I get to work on some great accounts, but none of them give me the same thrill as representing one of the most famous statues in the world. I’m in charge of all of Libby’s photo ops. Anytime someone wants to print a photo or do a documentary about her, they have to come through me.
“Sophie Brown,” she says, and holds up a finger to me to tell me to wait, then presses her earpiece for a moment. I smile patiently, making a notation in my ever–ready planner. I’ve gotten very good at dealing with high–powered politicos and their tech toys.
She takes her hand down and gives her head a good shake. “Okay, that wasn’t for me. But I have a question for you.”
I look around. The red, white, and blue balloon columns look great, even after their boat ride over here. The stage is already set up right at the statue’s feet, just like the mayor ordered, and the sound guys are checking the system. It’s all going according to schedule. The mayor is championing a controversial minimum wage for New York City. Since many of the hourly workers in the city are recent immigrants, he has initiated a local minimum wage, set much higher than the national one, to protect them. But this change hasn’t exactly been popular with big business. And so, to insure that no one misses what’s at stake here, the mayor is holding a publicity event on Liberty Island today, in spite of my protests that June afternoons in New York are often plagued with torrential, unexpected rain.
“Sure,” I say to Sophie. “Shoot.”
Sophie looks around and then drops her voice. “Did someone tell you about the Banks Box?”
I lean in to hear her better. “I’m sorry?”
“The Banks Box,” she whispers. She flashes a quick smile to the staffers swarming around us, then drags me away from the thick of things. What on earth is going on?
“No one told you?” she asks. “But I heard you had it.”
She holds her head for a moment like she has a splitting headache. “Mayor Banks is only five foot six.”
“Really? He looks taller on TV,” I say.
“Because of the Banks Box. I mean, he doesn’t know we call it that. I need someone to plant it at the podium so that the press can’t see it. He always stands on it. And I heard you had it.”
I stifle a laugh and shake my head.
“I have to find that box,” she says and starts running away. “What a day.”
I watch her go, but as she leaves I can’t help but notice something on the horizon. Big, dark thunderheads. My heart begins to race. Oh please God. Not this. Not today.
“What’s up?” I hear a chipper voice behind me. I turn around and see my assistant, Natalie, her dark–brown hair blowing about her thin face.
I nod at the horizon. “See that?”
“Yeah,” she says, brushing a strand of hair out of her face. “That’s rotten luck. But you’ve got the tents ready, I’m sure. You’re Jane Williams. You were born prepared.”
I frown. “No. The mayor insisted that the event was ‘rain or shine’ and refused to pay for us to rent them.” I shake my head. “He said he didn’t want to waste the tax dollars on some silly tents they'd never use, but I think he really just didn’t want to block the statue out of the photos.”
“Yikes.” She looks toward the dock, where the mayor is now stepping off a ferry, wearing a dark suit and a flag–print necktie.
I watch the sun go behind a large, black cloud. A few bright yellow beams burst through holes in the cloud mass here and there, but they mostly just emphasize the size of the ominous cloud.
“Tell me about it. We've got a ninety–five percent chance of rain and the Banks Box is missing.”
Natalie laughs. “Well then, you'd better start praying to that God of yours. You need a miracle.”
“Where are you going, love?” Howard asks. Howard works for the National Park Service and is the official keeper of Liberty Island. Liberty Island is technically on the New Jersey side of New York harbor, but New York gets all the credit for her and the Garden State only gets a view of her rear end. Howard is just one of many people who work full time to keep the statue safe and clean. As her publicist, I'm just the proud aunt, which makes Howard her fussy, concerned grandpa. It makes sense that she has a big family. She’s a Jersey girl, after all.
“Please, Howard?” I beg, smiling at him. “I won't be long.”
He winks at me. “I have to do one last sweep for stragglers on the grounds anyways, and then you and I are both leaving for the night. I’ve got a wife at home, and she gets jealous of Libby if I stay out all night.”
“Thanks, Howard,” I say, turning toward the stairs. I grab the handrail and begin to climb. I remember how when I came here as a kid, I counted every stair. There are elevators now, but they haven’t been kept in working order since they closed the observation deck in the statue’s crown after 9/11. It breaks my heart to know that children can no longer ascend the last flight and see the breathtaking beauty of New York City sprawled out before them. But as a staff member, I can do something that the public hasn’t been able to do since 1916. I can keep going up, past the observation deck in her crown, out onto the deck that encircles her torch. The statue was originally designed for people to be able to go out a little door in her right hand and walk around her torch and have a 360–degree view from almost 150 feet in the air.
As I climb, I begin to pray. To me the staircase is like a labyrinth in an old cathedral in Europe. The dark, quiet corridors and the creaky metal stairs are a chance for me to move my body in a repetitive, circular motion and focus my mind on higher things. I begin to climb. With each rotation up the circular staircase, I list one thing I’m thankful for.One, thank you for not letting it rain today so that I didn’t look like a laughingstock
. Whew. Natalie was probably kidding when she suggested that I pray for a miracle, but I gave it a shot anyway, and the thunderheads rolled past us without ever breaking open. She got a real kick out of it, saying that the universe favored me. Two, thank you for helping us find the Banks Box
. Who knew the mayor was so short? But when I found the little wooden box underneath the stage where someone had forgotten about it, I thought Sophie was going to cry with relief. Three, thank you for a mayor who cares about the poor and the meek. Four, thanks for Tyson, the best boyfriend in the world. Five, for Lee. Six, my family. Seven, my health. Eight, Raquel. Nine, Charlie. Ten, New York.
When I finally reach the top, I am panting and lightheaded, but overwhelmed by how blessed I am. I lean over my knees for a moment to catch my breath and steady myself. Soon my breathing slows, and I stand up. I put my hand on the door that leads out to the statue’s torch, and a chill runs through my body. This statue stands for truth and for freedom. She stands for liberty. And it is impossible not to feel her power and the importance of her message at this threshold. Finally, swallowing back a lump in my throat, I push the door open and walk out, a little unsteady.
Manhattan is a shimmering sea of lights, delicate and peaceful. It’s better than the best Christmas tree you’ve ever seen. It’s better than New Year’s Eve fireworks or the candles on your birthday cake. It’s better than anything you can imagine. I grip the railing of the veranda in the torch and stare at the city, sparkling and buzzing with life below me, the city of freedom and refuge. I take a deep breath of night air and smile, thanking God for allowing me to live in such a magical place.
This is what it’s like to be alive. This is what it’s like to be happy. And I’m the happiest girl in the best city in the world. Thank you, God
I stand on the subway platform, tired from the day, but very fulfilled. I actually feel like my job mattered today, that the bakers, the waitresses, the cashiers, the hotel maids, and the janitors are finally being given a helping hand.
I look down the long, crowded platform and smile as the illumination from the coming train lights up the dark tunnel. These are not the modern monorail–looking machines that you see in Paris or Washington, D.C. They are real live locomotives that screech and scratch their way through one–hundred–year–old tunnels, sending sparks flying and rats running for cover. In some ways, the subway is a symbol for New York itself: it’s dirty, it’s a loud talker, but it’s also a minor miracle of engineering. I step on and ride a few stops, holding on to the handrail lightly, then exit and begin the long trek up the stairs. No matter how much respect I have for the subway, it’s still always a pleasure to ascend the worn, grubby steps and leave it behind, stepping back into the magical world of Manhattan.
Above ground, I stroll down Bleecker Street past the cheesemonger and the Italian grocer and begin to weave my way home. I inhale a deep breath of moist summer air. I love my neighborhood. The West Village is a tiny corner of heaven tucked into one of the biggest cities in the world. The West Village refused “the grid system” when it was introduced in the mid–1800s, so my neighborhood’s streets run at crazy angles and stop and start without warning, an unknowable maze. This means that we get the occasional tourist wandering around nearly in tears mumbling, “How can West Fourth street intersect West Eleventh Street?!” and cabs avoid our neighborhood if at all possible, not wanting to deal with our ancient cobblestones and narrow driving paths. The relative quiet, combined with the charming, crumbly brick and brownstone homes and old, swaying trees reaching up for stories and stories, makes it feel like my own secret garden.
I live on Bedford Street, just a block down from Chumley’s, an authentic speakeasy that even today has no sign. You just have to push on the unmarked door at 86 Bedford, and you’ll find it. I put my key in the front door and begin to climb to the top floor. My building is a three–story brownstone that once housed a wealthy family but, in these expensive times, it has been turned into condos. I could only afford the top floor, a smallish one–bedroom apartment, but I do have a skylight and a rooftop deck.
I put the key into my apartment door and let myself in. Home at last. Charlie is there wagging his little tail at me as I come in, and I scoop him up and give him a kiss. Charlie is a milk–chocolate–colored Chihuahua, and like a lot of dogs in New York, he uses a litter box. My parents think it’s insane, but I argue that what is more insane is coming home by five–thirty to walk your dog. Who gets off before seven? Besides, Charlie was Best in Class at Puppy Kindergarten, so he can handle the challenge of the litter box.
My apartment is dark but it smells good, like detergent, since I’ve recently washed my sheets and towels. I throw my purse and keys on the couch and scuff my way to the bedroom, worn out. Charlie trails behind me. I check my watch. Hmm…ten–thirty. I decide to throw on my pajamas and go outside on the roof for a bit. I need to unwind. I walk to my kitchen with Charlie on my heels.
The rooftop deck is really what sold me on this apartment. Just a handful of people in New York can climb a flight of stairs and walk right out onto a fenced–in little paradise. Mine has a view of downtown Manhattan that could break your heart.
Charlie rings the bell I hung by the door with his front paws. I taught him to do that when he wants to go out.
“Ha ha, okay, boy. We’re going on the deck,” I say. We climb the worn stairs and push open the door to the roof. I see a man sitting on my furniture in the dark. I sigh instead of scream, although the first time it happened I definitely screamed.
“Hey, Lee,” I say, rolling my eyes. Lee turns around and looks at me. He is stretched out across one of my loungers in bright red Capri pants and a tight white tank top. “Oh, hey. Just counting the stars,” he says and turns back around, talking to Charlie, who has jumped up next to him and is licking his face. The ambient light of New York blocks out most of the stars in the night sky, but Lee likes to look for the few twinklers still mustering through. I can’t blame him. Who doesn’t love to see the underdog win?
Lee is an interior designer who lives on the second floor. The couple that lives on the bottom floor gets the backyard. Since I live on the top floor, I get the rooftop deck, but Lee, the pickle in the middle, gets nothing but a lower mortgage payment. When he first moved in, I invited him up for a glass of wine on the roof deck. We really hit it off, and before long, we decided to exchange keys for safety reasons. That way, if we ever got locked out, we could call each other to come to the rescue. Now Lee is like a brother to me, a part of my found family.
I plop down next to Lee on a teak chaise–longue. “I’m sorry, but do you live here?” I ask, laughing.
“Apartment Two, Lee Colbert. Nice to meet you.” He extends his hand.
I wave it away and see that he is sipping something frozen. He’s on a big smoothie kick at the moment and doesn’t have a blender, so he finds it perfectly logical to come up to my apartment at all hours and make himself smoothies and sit on my deck. I would complain, but if it weren’t for his smoothie making, I’d never eat. “Did you at least make me one?” I ask.
Excerpted from The Book of Jane by Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt. Copyright © 2007 by Anne Dayton. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.