She’s tall and sloe-eyed with blond hair and high cheekbones, around 32—a real funky kind of Asian-Nordic look. My son and I asked her to take care of our fish about three years ago while we went to see our family in the Midwest. She has a very sweet voice and she said yes but there was something about her eyes. There was a little pause before she said yes, as if she went somewhere very briefly to retrieve the answer before she came back and replied. It reminded me of when a video on our computer is buffering, her brown eyes just seemed to wait flatly like that.
Well, okay, I thought, it’s too late to pull back now and it’s a fish, not my kid or anything. My son and I took the fish over a couple of days later as planned. Her apartment was beautiful and you could tell she had put her own money into it. She had just moved in. The walls were a saturated, cerulean blue and the floors were stained dark. She had a huge flat-screen TV, a big bed, a coffee table and a couch. Simple. Not so much elegant but magazine- and hotel-like. A studio, like ours.
Fine. The fish was alive when we got back and nothing seemed untoward. Later I saw her going to what must have been the gym every now and again, said hello, and that was that. She has two yappy white dogs that never let you forget they’re there but at first that seemed to be her only breach. People came and went a lot at night but that mostly drifted in and out of my tired consciousness. Then came the crack/meth incident and the stalker.
The crack/meth incident
I swear they were cooking crack or meth one night and to this day I regret I didn’t call the police. My eyes were watering in my own apartment and I was worried about my son. It smelled like Drano cooking but my friend in Milwaukee got her substance-abuse-counselor brother on the phone in California and set up a conference call. He said it was unlikely that people would cook meth in a studio apartment in the middle of the city. And in any case by the time I finished calling people about what I should do the power of the fumes had abated, though the smell lingered in the hall for two days afterward.
And after that it was the stalker. My son and I came home from the Y one rainy evening in fall to find an older but lanky and fashionably-dressed guy sitting in our hall outside my neighbor’s door. “What are you doing?” I said, startled out of the laughing conversation I had been having with my son.
“Just waiting for my friends,” he said. “I don’t have the key. I was stuck out in the rain.” He seemed reasonable, even peaceful and gentle. But as I drifted in and out of sleep all night I could hear him down the hall saying, “Open the door, open the door,” very quietly and consistently.
It seemed he was out there all night as I slept but when my son and I went out to his little track practice in the morning the hall was empty. I had to run back later to get my son’s jacket, however, and there was a big potted plant shattered outside her door and the voices of two men inside shouting at each other. I heard what I could now identify as the stalker’s voice say, “I don’t f_ _ _ her, I make love to her.” I stood there listening for a while in a kind of rapt amazement until I caught myself doing it and left. It all made a great story and I told everyone I knew. I was even a bit thrilled by the drama. But that’s when all the weirdness really started to roll in.
The stalker came by it seemed at least once a week and left enormous bouquets of red roses at her door. More people started to traipse in and out of her apartment, almost always men. They came and went at all hours of the night and those little white dogs yapped non-stop. You could hear the muffled buzzing of her intercom all the way in my apartment, and we have the elevator in between us, by the way. Once on a school-day-off I saw her coming home in a taxi at 10 a.m. dressed to the nines. She similarly seemed to leave regularly at 12:30 a.m. and come back the same morning at five. One night when she was slamming her door repeatedly I stepped out to tell her the whole apartment was shaking and she was in the full regalia of a classy escort. “I can’t get the door to shut,” she said, almost peevishly, as if she half-expected me to trot out in my tank top and underwear and do it for her.
The B-movie private detective
Next came the night of the B-movie private detective—2 a.m. She and a man were in the hall speaking at full conversational volume and I yanked my door open and said, “Can you shut up?”
“What did you say?” he said.
“Can you shut up?” I said. “It’s two in the morning. I have a son.” He kind of sidled over to my door.
“I’m a private detective,” he said hushedly, reaching into the pocket of his ill-fitting suit and pulling out a badge. Yes, he had poorly-dyed hair, cheap-looking shoes and the pallid skin of someone who had a lot of late nights and didn’t necessarily eat that well. My neighbor stood holding one of her dogs. Her eyes had that look. Once again I’m in a tank top and underwear.
“Well, good, she needs all the help she can get,” I start in. “She’s got people coming in and out of here all night long and those dogs never stop barking and the doorbell’s always ringing ….” I have my few moments and let off a little steam. But I also get totally into telling everyone at my job the next day what happened.
Then I kicked the stalker out of the hall one evening. He was there when my son and I stepped off the elevator and I told him to get the hell out of our hallway and he practically slunk through the closing elevator doors. I began to see myself as kind of reigning over our little 7th floor alcove. There are only four apartments on each of the 10 floors in the building, and it’s cozy. Except on a snow day when I had to call the cops because it sounded as though a body were being knocked around in her apartment, followed by the sound of a woman crying out. That’s a lot of life for my son who was nine at the time and the cops came over an hour later. My super said a couple inside told them they were just having sex. Lovely.
My neighbor apologized in the laundry room later, said it was someone else who had been staying in her apartment and let that guy in. “I was very angry at her,” she said, and she thanked me for being concerned.
“It sounded like someone was being knocked around in there,” I said. And, yeah, she thanked me.
Then she turned up pregnant when I saw her in the elevator after what I hadn’t even noticed was an absence. Earlier in the hall at one point she had said how it was so nice the way I took care of my little boy and revealed that she had a daughter. Somewhere else, apparently, and I just about flipped. Now she looked at me, standing there all pregnant, and said, “How hard is it to be a single mom?” Holy crap, I thought, and she gave me that look with those eyes. It lingered for what seemed like over a minute and made me feel I was going to get a baby on my doorstep in a basket in a matter months.
All the people kept coming and going at her apartment at all hours of the night. Then one midnight I heard the woman from the 6th floor pounding on her door and telling her to open it or she was going to call the cops. She didn’t open the door and the super came and he couldn’t get it open because of the deadbolt. I was listening from inside my apartment but didn’t step out. Not until the fire department came. I guess the issue was that she was making these moaning sounds, as if in pain, over and over, and when I opened my door I could heard her. I realized then that I had heard that sound before in the night, off and on as I slept and not known what it was.
The guys from the fire department pried her door open with a crow bar and she was taken out in an ambulance. “She’s pregnant,” my neighbor across the hall kept saying, who had also opened her door. Well, guess what, she wasn’t. She had been. Big, really big. But no more. Nobody ever knew what happened to the baby. And after that I really kind of hated her, and people kept coming and going at night.
Open the door, open the f_ _ _ ing door
“Open the door, open the f_ _ _ing door”—2 a.m. and a guy is pounding violently on her door. I step out there and I tell him to him it’s 2 a.m. and he says, “It’s Manhattan.” The guy is really hopped up and he keeps pounding on her door.
“Shut up,” I say. “I have a son in here.”
“Are you talking to me? Are you talking to me?” What I realize is that I’m an idiot, for ever going out in the hall, for ever opening my door. I told the super the next day and became determined to get the infamous her out of the building.
But all of a sudden things seemed to quiet down. People came and went but she had some friendly guys who walking her dogs. I mean, no one ever seemed to work or anything, and that remained mysterious. But there wasn’t the same loud, crazy, violence as before. Then just the other day the stalker was outside her door again when my son and I came home. “Get out of our hall,” I said, “or I’ll call the cops.”
“Please, call the cops,” my neighbor piped up from inside her apartment.
“Why don’t you call the cops?” I said. “That’s not really my job.”
“I can’t because . . .” she said something I didn’t hear, though I would have liked to. Meanwhile the stalker’s looking at me.
“Leave,” I said. “I don’t want you hanging out in the hallway.”
“He’s been stalking me for four years,” my neighbor piped up from inside.
“I know he’s been stalking you for four years,” I said. “Leave,” I said to the stalker. “You’re pathetic. No one wants you here.”
“Come on,” my son said.
“I want to see him leave,” I said. He left. But I was amazed I was having this conversation through the door with my neighbor. This is really weird, I thought. She’s got this particularly sweet, soft voice and she’s pretty, too. She looked sort of messed up after that baby thing, I don’t want to know what happened with that, but I found myself kind of liking her that night we were talking through the door. She does seem strange and helpless and the daughter she has is 17 she mentioned the other day so god only knows what’s up with that either.
I’ve had some chaos in my life all right, enough to keep me from being high and mighty probably for the rest of my life. Yeah, I decided to love my neighbor. And it felt better than even that little bit of vitriol I had been letting in. I guess it’s anybody’s choice what they decide to focus on, in crazy old NYC and in life.
What’s your neighbor story? Is it more or less dramatic than mine?