Richard

I’m on the corner of 53rd and Park, and I can see Richard crossing the street.  He is of average height with wavy chestnut hair which is neatly parted to the side.  His temples are graying, but this only frames his face to give him a distinguished look.  He lives alone in a small one bedroom, but with a spacious kitchen, in one of those pre-war buildings by the UN.  He is not home the majority of the time to feel the loneliness of living alone since he spends most of his waking hours at the office.

Richard has been divorced for eight years now, and although he has enjoyed throwing his weekly dinner parties for his art society friends, he still manages to escape to Montclair, New Jersey to play golf at his country club.  His ex-wife kept the 5-bedroom Colonial and the Mercedes, and he even agreed to letting her keep the cat.  He decided to keep his membership at the club so he could keep in touch with the friends that he had known throughout his time in Montclair, an intimate community where people could relax around each other and trust enough in each other to share intimate secrets.  In New York, he always feels like he has to keep his guard up, even with his closest acquaintances.  He was not an avid golfer, but he liked to come out to the quiet to escape the craziness of Midtown.  Sure, the conveniences of having his dry cleaning and his dinners delivered were great, but his apartment was not home like his house in Montclair used to be for all those years.  Those were the happiest years of his life, sprinkled with a few sad years.  The saddest years coming towards the end of his marriage.

Richard never speaks above a whisper.  The doormen more than half the time just pretend to understand what he says to them.  I am somehow able to understand most of what he says, even when he speaks with his face turned away and down to the floor.  We run into each other when we are waiting for the elevator or getting our mail.  The conversations are mostly limited to the weather and the contents of the junk mail we receive that day.

It was all a misunderstanding last Saturday, and although I know it was a misunderstanding, I can’t act like I know it was a misunderstanding now because it would just make the matter even worse.  Rob, the daytime doorman, told me what had happened.  Ethel has a way of being a troublemaker.  She is retired and lives by herself and is friendless.  Her daughter moved as far away as she could to California and never comes to visit, even when she was sick in the hospital with pneumonia.  Ethel’s the type that if you prick her, she will stab you in your most vulnerable spot over and over again until you regret it for the rest of your life.  She never forgets a snub and she will never let you forget it either. So last Saturday, she was coming back from walking her toy poodle when she noticed a huge bouquet of roses sitting on the front desk in the lobby.

“Who are the roses for?” Ethel asked in an inappropriately domineering way.

“Oh, they’re for 724.”

“For Richard?  He’s divorced.  He shouldn’t be getting flowers.  Are you sure?” She spoke as if she had the lone authority over flower deliveries.

“That’s what the envelope says,” Rob muttered. He didn’t feel like he needed to explain the flowers to her.  Ethel wanted to continue the inquisition, but Rob left the desk to open the door for Mrs. Bradford.  Mrs. Bradford just recently suffered a stroke and needed help with her walker as she exited the building.  While Rob was getting the door for Mrs. Bradford, Ethel went and opened the envelope.  She just couldn’t help herself.  The card was blank.  Ethel then quickly wrote:  For you.  From 818.

This was payback for when I caught her, completely unintentionally, stealing Carol’s newspaper.  Ethel always gets angry whenever she gets caught doing something she knows she shouldn’t be doing.  So when Richard received the bouquet, he was perplexed.  He didn’t even know who lived in 818.  He asked Rob about the flowers, and he had no explanation for him.  By the time he realized what had happened, Rob felt too embarrassed to let Richard know.

Richard went to look up at the mailboxes to see who lived in 818.  He saw my name and asked Rob, who told him that it was me.

The next time he saw me, he smiled and shined his pearly whites and gave me a wink.  “Thanks for the flowers.  I never knew you felt that way about me.”

“I’m sorry?” I asked, confused.  I never saw this side of him before.

Richard’s face reddened.  “Oh, did you want to keep it a secret?”

“Oh, I think there’s been a misunderstanding.  I never sent you any flowers.  In fact, I don’t even know your name.”

“Well, who else lives in 818, then?”

“Um, just me?” I replied sheepishly.  I was terribly embarrassed for him.

Richard’s eyebrows furrowed, “Is this some cruel practical joke?  What did I ever do to you?  I smile and say ‘hi’ and make small talk with you, and this is the thanks I get for being nice to you?!”

“I-I don’t know what to say.  I had nothing to do with this.  I really didn’t!” I didn’t know how to explain because I really didn’t have an explanation.

Richard angrily opened the door to the stairwell and took the seven flights of stairs up instead of waiting for the elevator with me.  He now missed living in Montclair more than ever.

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Springtime Troubles

When people ask me what my favorite season is, they should really ask me what my least favorite season is, which is spring.  It’s messy and confusing, with the conflict between the cool temperatures and the warm sun making my hands cold but my head hot, and all the dirt that settles and accumulates into the city throughout the winter is finally liberated by the springtime breezes, which always ends up in my eyeballs.  Plus, I have bad allergies, and the dirt and the pollen that fly about always, without a doubt, find their way through my airways which leave me in a season-long state of discomfort.  But the worst part of spring is what happens in my apartment.

The walls and floors are porous, so I’ve gotten used to hearing my neighbors sneeze and cough, do their dishes, and practice their guitar, but it’s also porous enough for their smells to end up in my tiny studio apartment.  With the heat on in the winter, and the AC on in the summer, I don’t get these odors, but last night I woke up in the middle of the night to the smell of someone grilling steaks and this morning to the smell of wet dog.

I don’t really care what other people do in their own homes, but when I can smell what they do, then they involve me.  This is unfortunate when you live next door to the most evil person on the planet.  She knows how much all this bothers me, so she’s been invading her odors with her evil powers where every piece of fabric that I own smells like her dog.  I swear that she uses her sorcery to absorb all the odors from everyone’s apartment and siphon them off into my stuffy little studio.  Sometimes it’s a guessing game, like, oh, what is that? is that… menthol? now what is she putting up against my closet??  that smells like.. mothballs!  The worst is when she, with her evil powers, spreads the smell of urine right where I’m sitting on my couch.  A few years back, I thought it was me.  But then, I was like, I haven’t changed my hygiene habits- I still bathe everyday.  When I realized what she was doing it really grossed me out.  Now every time I get a nasty whiff of her dog, I feel like I’m on the verge of getting pink eye.

It’s supposed to get up to 90 degrees this weekend, and I can’t wait to blast that AC so I can finally inhale without getting any gritty particles in my nose or a whiff of any disease inducing odors.

Summer can’t come soon enough.

 

When Rent Control Is Controlling You

Nora was so ecstatic when she got the apartment on Spring Street that she was in tears when she got the news.  It was December of 1967, and she just broke up with her fiance Rod.  She was going to have dinner with her girlfriend last week, but Dottie cancelled, so she decided to surprise Rod by stopping by his place to grab some pizza at their favorite joint down the street.  She never imagined that she’d  find him splayed out with Gwen, the downstairs neighbor, in his bedroom.

“Oh, and just before the holidays, too!” was all she could muster up to say before she ran out of Rod’s apartment and his life forever.

She couldn’t afford to stay at her current place on the Upper West Side, even though she had put some money set aside for her wedding dress.  She picked up the classifieds and landed a place Downtown.  The landlord was only asking for $49.16 a month.  The one bedroom was dingy and smelled of cigar smoke, but Nora felt that it just needed some new curtains and a fresh coat of paint to make it habitable.  Soon, however, the white lace curtains she picked up from Gimbels browned from the smokers that hung out on the stoop right below her kitchen window.  The garbage trucks and police sirens that passed by her building at all hours of the night never let her get a good night’s sleep.  She could hear the super while he was hacking up the morning of phlegm with his breakfast of unfiltered Camels as she headed off to work.

Her new living arrangements made it even harder to get over Rod, but she was never able to trust any one after that.  She went on dates and to cocktail parties here and there, but there was no one that measured up to her Roddie.  She let the rest of her twenties go by without being attached, and she then grew to like her rent-controlled apartment.  She caulked up her windows to block out the smoke and the noise, and always had fresh flowers on her nightstand to brighten herself up first thing in the morning.  Then, it happened.

His name was Bob, and he was charming and would take Nora out to dinner and to the theater.  He was eight years her senior and had flecks of gray in his distinguished sideburns that reminded Nora of Peter Lawford, her favorite actor.  He worked for an accounting firm on Madison Avenue and lived on the Upper East Side.  He was recently divorced and had three kids in boarding school.  Bob would take Nora up to his cottage in Maine for entire weekends together.  Nora was in love, deeply in love.

When Bob proposed, it came as a complete shock, even to Nora, when she turned him down.  She just couldn’t give up her apartment.  Her rent had stayed the same while everyone else’s had tripled.  How can she ever give up such a fantastic setup?  She was offered a promotion to head the Chicago office, but it still wasn’t enough to make her leave her treasured home.

After breaking up with Bob, she avoided relationships altogether- of any kind. She didn’t want to risk getting her heart broken again, and she got rid of all her friends after they grew envious of how cheap her rent had become. She was content to be a mid-level editor at the publishing company she worked, and to deal with the increasing crime in her neighborhood, she got an extra deadbolt for her door and never went out after dark. Nora wanted to get new appliances for her kitchen, but that would have meant a rent increase, so she told her landlord that she would live with just the one functioning burner on her stovetop.

New construction began on her street, and Nora became nervous.  Word spread that her new landlord was trying to kick out all the rent-controlled tenants.  Nora never answered her door or left her apartment for too long since she was afraid that someone would come and change the locks on her.  She became a recluse and a hoarder, but nothing meant more to Nora than to keep her dwelling for $49.16 a month.

Goodbye, Cape Cod

It was a cloudy Tuesday when Marc packed all that he owned into his ’97 Honda Civic. The clouds were ominous, and he hoped he remembered to wrap his drawings tightly enough so they wouldn’t get wet in case there was a downpour. The day was bittersweet. He was torn leaving his mother, who would not have anyone to check in on her now that he was leaving for the city, but he’s been itching to get away from the sleepy beach town he’s lived in all his life for as long as he can remember.

The breeze coming off the ocean brought an unwanted chill. The leaves were just beginning to change color, with a few blowing about his front lawn in the biting gusts. His ex-girlfriend was standing by the hood of his car.

“I wish it could be the beginning of autumn year-round,” melancholy filled her voice. Her eyes welled with tears. This is exactly the kind of scene Marc was wanting to avoid.
“I told you not to come.”
“I couldn’t help it. I just needed to see you one last time.”
“Today is hard enough as it is.”

She reached to touch his hair. Marc tried not to recoil from her touch. It would be a bigger deal if he did. He just wanted the moment to pass quickly.

He finally got in the car, his pants almost falling down, as he lost twenty pounds over the past month. He pulled out of the driveway and turned onto Rt. 6 and headed west. It was a four hour drive, enough time to clear his head for the new phase in his life. He was tired of the artists he ran into in the area who didn’t take art as seriously as he did. He was far too ambitious for the beach bums back home, and he was even willing to go commercial. He sent a bunch of his drawings to a dozen firms and heard back from a startup. The CEO was twenty-five years old and founded his business by linking certain commercial products to Disney cartoon characters. It is now a Fortune 500 company.

As he was crossing the state border, he realized what little he had left behind. He would see his brother every now and then, but he had his own circle of friends that centered around his wife and kids. He lived on the other side of town, which might as well have been the other side of the world. All his art school friends left town ages ago to San Francisco, Detroit, Paris.

Marc ended up in Sunnyside, Queens. A nice, quiet, serious neighborhood where young couples live to start their families. He checked out Brooklyn a little by staying at various apartments he found through Airbnb and he felt the artists there were nothing but a bunch of entitled trust fund babies and posers.

Marc couldn’t do hipster if he tried. He had soft wavy brown hair that has never seen a decent haircut. He would look great in skinny jeans but his legs have only ever known khakis. He was born for Queens.