Herb works in a building made for cars: on every floor of this building – and there are five, so that it is nearly a high-rise, especially by the humble standards of Herb’s small city – all you will find are cars.
A city is, of course, a place of buildings. As much as possible is put into buildings, and it stands to reason that someone would eventually devise a way of putting even cars into a building.
But, if cars, why not the rest, Herb wonders? Why not sidewalks, rivers, parks, skies? This is not as unlikely as it sounds. Herb has a relative in another city who works in a building so spacious that, or so he has told Herb, birds fly about in its atrium. Which, of course, means that a bit of sky has been put into the building – since it is in the sky that birds fly.
If it were the natural ambition of cities to put the entire world indoors, Herb would have no objection. He has always been someone who prefers the indoors to the outdoors; the more indoors he feels himself to be, the better he feels. He is even a little afraid of the outdoors, of finding himself for too long unsheltered in the open, at the mercy of rude, unconstrained things, of so much that he does not have a solid grasp of.
He would rather have the outdoors be mere scenery, contemplated from the safety of indoors – or, even better, the outdoors should come indoors.
Which is why it is so ideal for Herb, this job that he has in this building that houses what properly belongs outdoors: cars. And not only cars but a road. Since cars cannot, of course, climb steps or easily crowd into an elevator, the building, to let cars rise or drop through the various floors, also has to house another thing that does not properly belong in a building: a road, spiraling from floor to floor.
And multiple cars will often travel on this road, so that it could be said that the building not only houses cars and a road but yet another outdoor thing, traffic.
In fact, the building houses so much of the outdoors – even the winds, the cold, the heat, since it has no windows, each floor being open to the elements all around – that you are not truly indoors in it and might still feel need of shelter.
Luckily, Herb has this additional shelter: a cozy little house built inside the building of cars.
Erected on what amounts to an island, alone on it between the traffic going into and out of the building, and complete with a roof, doors, and windows, it is the smallest occupied house you ever saw – so little that it seems to have been built around Herb as if it were a suit of sorts.
And it is a snug suit because Herb is not a small man. At heart, and mentally, he may remain something of a child, but his body seems to have overcompensated, rendering him even a bit of a giant. He is, in any case, far too big for that little house. Although he manages to shoehorn himself into it, once in there he seems bigger than the house itself, as if parts of him, a shoulder here, a buttock there, were sticking out beyond the confines of the house.
It is as if the house were not containing him so much as merging with him. What you see as you drive into that municipal parking garage, guarding further entrance into its echoing innards with a fixed smile of welcome on his outsized and very scarlet baby-face behind glass, is a fairy-tale hybrid of improbably small house and improbably large infant – a sort of benevolent Adamastor, a monster that is not part rock but part house, indeed with beefy limbs sometimes projecting out of both flanks of the house as he takes money and tickets from the arriving or departing motorists.
Herb’s mind is nimble enough for that menial chore, but his enormous hands seem too large and thick-fingered to handle adroitly such small, tricky objects and indeed often fumble them. But he looks like such a jolly giant in his ill-fitting little house that no one resents him for it – not even those who suspect that his fumbling is not truly that but merely an excuse to make at least a little physical contact.
For no man is an island, not even when he is, like Herb, confined to an island of sorts in between the streams of traffic, his oversized body seemingly trapped in an undersized house within a building occupied not by human beings but by cars.