Well, yesterday wasn’t too bad, as storms go. At least here in the city.
I was off to my latest handyman adventure in the morning, and was a little worried about the weather. I’d gotten a call last week from a stranger, a guy named Chris who said he was from The Center For Fiction, he wanted to know if I could replace some fluorescent lights at the center and some minor work on doors and such. The only caveat was that I had to pick up the bulbs, 23 of them, and pay for them myself up front.
I’ve done that before, on the Task Rabbit thing, but this guy was a total stranger.
I looked up The Center For Fiction, and it’s a real place on East 47th street, so at least I know where to find this guy. I agreed.
Of the 23 bulbs two of them were 8-footers, five were 6-footers, and the rest were 4-footers. They aren’t heavy, but 23 of them is pushing it. I wondered how I would get them from the Home Depot on 59th Street and 3rd Avenue to 47th and Madison. The 8-footers meant a bus ride was out of the question. I could do the number 6 train, but taking the train one stop from 59th Street to 50th just didn’t seem to be worth the trouble. That left walking.
19 blocks is no big deal, just under a mile, but 19 blocks with 23 fluorescent bulbs during an ice storm is something else entirely. I was afraid of slipping on the ice.
At home depot they wrapped them up pretty good with that plastic wrap that sticks to itself, all I had to do was not slip and fall.
At the corner of 58th and Park I realized I also had to avoid the traffic lights hanging from the lampposts after I clipped one with the 8-footers. Luckily the bulbs did not break.
I made it through the ice storm without incident; sweating heavily and out of breath. Though the bundle weighed less than 20 pounds it was pretty unwieldy and took some effort to carry, especially trying tot to slip on the icy streets.
I found The Center for Fiction, an old loft building on the north side of 47th street just off Madison. I didn’t know what to expect, I had no idea what it was, but I didn’t expect a bookstore. I walked in with my bundle of lights and said to the young man behind the counter,
“Please tell me this is The Center For Fiction.”
“Yes, it is,” he answered.
“Are you Chris?”
“No, Chris is upstairs,” he said, picking up a phone. He called Chris who came down on the ancient elevator.
Chris appeared and showed me where lights needed replacing.
The two 8-footers and two of the 6-footers went in the stacks in the rear of the first floor, right behind the bookstore.
Then most of the 4-footers went on the 3rd floor, where the offices were. This is where Chris had his desk and managed a couple of very young women who sat in front of computers. They didn’t look very enthusiastic.
Chris himself looked pretty young; I don’t think he is past 30. But he was in charge, and he showed me where the lights went. His boss wasn’t in, he explained.
I went through the center, an old and dusty place with peeling paint and threadbare carpet everywhere. There was a reading room behind the offices, and there were stacks on 2 other floors besides the first. There is a lecture room where I had to put new wheels on an audio-visual cart loaded with amps and modems and all sorts of other crap. It was made of pressboard and I told Chris it was going to fall apart before the new wheels I was installing wore out. Chris said they’d worry about that when it happened.
The doors were a whole different story, the heavy front door’s door closer, that lever at the top that keeps the 300-pound door from knocking someone out by accident was shot and needed to be replaced. There was a door handle on the inner door that had no latch and swung free, it kept pulling off from the spindle because it’s so old and the spindle is worn smooth. I told Chris they needed to replace that as well.
When I was done, Chris asked for an invoice and told me the accountant would mail me a check.
This is the first time since I’ve been doing this that I’d heard that, but I realize that if this is what I’m to do, I’d better get used to it. I said OK and filled out an invoice for him. He said he’d talk to his boss after I gave him an estimate for fixing the doors.
The Center For Fiction is a weird non-profit established in the 1800’s. The current building was purpose-built for them in 1932, and being a non-profit not a lot of money has gone into its upkeep.
Before I left I asked Chris whom he’d gotten my name from, I thought it was one of my literary friends, but at turned out to be a woman named Paula, one of my first Task Rabbit customers. She’d put my name on a website she contributes to. I have to text her and thank her for the recommendation.
At any rate, besides making a little money I discovered a little known New York gem, and I wanted to share it with all of you. Do visit The Center For Fiction, it’s at 17 East 47th Street, buy some books, attend an event. Help them make some money so they can get those doors fixed. A screwdriver holding a 300-pound door open is a little funky.