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.

 

The Good Office Girl

Heather was upset.  It had been seventeen years since she started working at the firm, and she deserved better than this.  She was fed up with how Ruth and the others were treating her and how they always sucked up to Fred, who was terrible at his job, but because Fred had this banal way of talking to people, they would just give in to doing things his way instead of wasting another minute listening to him talk.  Heather was ok at the beginning covering up for Fred, but after the Burton incident, she knew that Fred would throw her under the bus if he had to, so ever since then, she made it a point, with an exclamation point! to provide due diligence to all her clients.  Fred eventually caught on to what Heather was up to and, in order to save face, he started spreading rumors about her.  They were little ones at first, like how she was having a bad hair day or how she didn’t know what ganache was.  Giggles and odd looks from the secretaries didn’t bother Heather at first, but when she found out that she was being left out of important meetings and that clients were being diverted to Fred, her temples burned and her heart sank.

I am way smarter than this, she thought, on her way to meet Mia in TriBeCa, I know way more than the other associates.  Sure it was okay at first to not get the recognition she deserved.  Heather’s Midwestern sensibilities kept her modest and stopped her from gloating.  But it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and she was stupid enough to think that she can just sit around and expect the praises for all her good work for the firm come rolling in.  Instead, she laid there like a lost sheep just waiting to get eaten alive by the all too eager wolves in her office.

And that’s exactly what happened.  It had been happening slowly, steadily, right in front of her very eyes.  The CEO wouldn’t reply back to her emails directly, she didn’t even get invited to Betsy’s retirement party.  Not that I care, she thought, but it would have been nice.

When she saw Mia at their favorite cafe, Heather felt the pain in her heart leave.  The furrow between her brows disappeared and her face was back to its old cheerful self.

“How’ve you been, girl?” asked Heather as she greeted Mia with a kiss on the cheek.

“Oh, can’t complain, you know same old stuff goin’ on.  How’s everything with you?”

“I just can’t stand it anymore!” Heather blurted out.  She just exploded right in front of Mia.  She couldn’t share anything at all how she felt at work because there was no one to confide in.  Heather felt better now that it was all out, but her atrocious work situation remained the same.

“Girl, you’re going to have to find another job.”

“I can’t.  There is no way any of those monsters would give me a good reference.  They’ve even turned my clients against me.”

“Can’t you just change careers?”

“Doing what?!?” Heather asked in complete exasperation.

“I’m sure you can find something, because, honestly, Heather, you have been miserable for a long time.”  Heather was grateful for Mia’s honesty.

That night, on her way home, Heather got to thinking.  Her friend Tom had been telling her about this great new job he got up in Harlem and was always reminding her that they were still hiring.  She called the number he emailed her and a pleasant sounding guy in his early twenties picked up.  “Hemmer and Associates, how may I help you?”

“Yes, I was referred by Tom Prescott.  Are you still hiring?”

“Oh, yes.  Hold on, please.”  There was a long pause.

“Miss?  Can you come in for an interview tomorrow at noon?”  That was her lunch hour.  She’ll find a way to sneak out early to make it up there in time for the interview.

“Sure.  I’ll be there. Thank you.” Heather hasn’t been this excited about something for a long time.

The next day, Heather didn’t put any makeup on except for some blush over her nose.  She wanted to look sick for Fred.  When she got to the office, Fred told her to take the day off.  She stopped by a Sephora and put her face on on her way to the interview.

The office was on the seventeenth floor of an old prewar skyscraper.  When Heather got off the elevator she couldn’t block out the musty smell of the old carpets in the lobby.  She went through the double glass doors to find the young guy she spoke to on the phone the day before sitting behind a high but tiny desk.  “Hi, I have an interview at noon.” Heather wasn’t as nervous as she was before she saw the office.

“Oh, yes,” the young guy looked down at the appointment book, “Heather?” he asked as if he might have gotten the wrong name.

“Yes, that’s me,” Heather muttered as she looked around the tiny reception room.

“Right this way,” the young guy said as he led her down a narrow hallway to a small windowless room with two metal folding chairs facing each other.  Heather sat down in the one closest to the door.  Then, the door opened.

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.