This is the sixth in a series of autobiographical short stories by author Rita Antoinette Borg, collectively titled A Funny Thing Happened to Me….

A funny thing happened to me on the 86th-floor observation deck of the Empire State Building. This famous tourist attraction stood as the world’s tallest building until the construction of the World Trade Center in 1970.

Named after New York’s state nickname –The Empire State – the Empire State Building will always be the tallest in the world in my books.

While most visitors to this attraction end up on the 86th-floor observation deck, the building consists of 102 floors while the 103rd floor is accessible to staff, engineers, and visiting celebrities.

Around 1969, we, a family of five at the time, set off early one Sunday morning to visit one of the most spectacular of New York City’s tourist attractions.

I had read about it, seen it at a distance, and walked around its footprint while shopping with my mother, but never had visited. My eight-year-old self longed to go up closer to heaven to look down on my beautiful city home. 

I was so excited. Words cannot do justice.

As I entered the building, I jumped and skipped towards the awaiting elevator where a uniformed man took me by the hand and said, “If you jump too high, little girl, the elevator will be very angry! If you stop jumping, we will get there sooner.”

I stopped fidgeting. without further delay, the elevator man pressed some buttons, pulled down a lever, and automatically closed the doors. The journey began. It seemed an eternity passed until the big door slid open to welcome us to the 86th floor, the observation deck! 

My chubby little legs rushed through the crowd to where a door led to the outside. Amazed, I saw Central Park, the Chrysler Building, the Flatiron building and the Hudson River; New York City exhibited in all her glory under my feet. 

I remember that day, my sister, Carmen at 11, running towards me. Carmen, who never let her emotions show, gazed in wonder, as we held each other tightly when the building swayed and moved under our feet. Tall buildings rock slightly in the wind naturally at that extreme height. 

We tippy-toed to gain some height and popped our heads out as far as we could. Steel fences, surrounding the outer edges of the building to help prevent suicides and accidents, hindered our view.

We gazed on, like small giants, at the majestic Manhattan Island laid at our feet like a forest of stoned trees. Glancing upwards, pigeons, seagulls and sparrows flew overhead. Looking down from the Empire State building, my sister and I felt thrilled and amazed – and scared! 

Then it happened.

I said to Carmen, “Look at the people down there; they look like ants.” 

Without missing a beat, Carmen retorted, “Wow, they do look like ants. I wonder what the ants look like?” 

I turned to face her with a furrowed brow. She turned to me. It took a moment until we laughed wildly together. We were on (or up) a high!

Funny about siblings, especially the first two. They rarely are two peas in a pod but are as different from day to night.  

On another morning, another funny thing happened to us – if you want to call it funny, that is. I was about seven and Carmen was about 10. We were on our way to school when she opened the big glassed, black-framed main door of our building near Central Park West.

She spotted something underneath our doorbell; a medium squared package wrapped in brown paper and string lay all alone, like it had fallen, near our house. We thought it was a delivery that the postman left. We had to take it in!

My sister, always ‘the eldest on duty’, told me to stay put while she brought the package inside. I obeyed. (This rarely happened.) Children never think about the dangers of an ominous package. It could have held anything. It should have been left alone. It could have been a different story!

Having no qualms about it, Carmen went out, lifted it, brought it into our building, made me guard it, went up to our third-floor apartment, and brought our father down to see it.

Our dad promptly sent us to school and took the package to the synagogue head rabbi, who took it to the police. Officers found one thousand dollars in it; an amount not to be scoffed at in the early 1970s, but no one came to claim it.

Two weeks later, the police returned it to the rabbi, who gave it to my father, who banked it. Carmen and I dreamt of spending it. I wanted ice skates, but dad said: “Since in Malta, it never snows, I would never need them. (What can I say!? He’s Maltese!)

Funnily enough, Carmen and I are still waiting for our fair share!

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