Monday, Bloody Monday. I hate Monday. I have a plan: how about a 4 day work week? If we all put in 12 hour days, minimum, Tuesday through Thursday, would we be less productive than we are now? I doubt it. Instead of special 3 day weekends we could have rare 5 day work weeks. As a free democratic society there are options open to us, so how about we put it to a vote. All in favor? Universally accepted. Good. See you all next Monday when we do nothing, and get paid for it.
This morning on my way out the door at 8:30 I ran into one of my neighbors, a short man with thinning blonde hair, slight build, suit. He nodded to me; I nodded back, jeans, blue striped button down, sports coat, yellow wrist sweat band and iPod. I’ve never really known any of my neighbors. In the year I have lived in this building, that is probably the 5th time I’ve run into any other fellow occupants, and two of them were on the night of the big blackout last year. I had just arrived home after walking across the Brooklyn Bridge with about 200,000 fellow foot travelers when I ran into them, a young woman and a man in his late-40s or early-50s. “Hey, we’re up on the roof drinking wine and smoking pot, waiting for Manhattan to get dark. Wanna join?” I didn’t. Instead I headed down to the Promenade to shuffle into one of the exultant groups with radios and guitars. I have enough friends. I don’t need to make cozy with the neighbors, but I have a suspicion I’m not the only New Yorker who looks next door thusly. There's only one person I had any regular contact with in the years I've lived here.
I’ve had 6 different apartments in the 5 years I’ve been in New York. In the first, there was an eager woman across the way who couldn’t help but come over at least once a week to check in. Asking inane favors was a specialty of hers. “Jarret, the light in my living room is out, and I’m scared of ladders. Would you mind coming over to change it?” Yes. Yes, I would. But I did, begrudgingly, and told her about my day, my week, what I did, who my friends were. By the end of my year there she knew them all by name, though she’d hardly met any of them.
My next apartment was in Cobble Hill, an eclectic, ethnic neighborhood in Brooklyn. I lived above a husband and wife a few years older than me who ran a not-for-profit theater group downtown. In there spare time, she worked at the local plant shop, he read and analyzed scripts for a studio. They were nice, I think, but all I knew of them was that they had frequent BBQs with friends in the summer, and felt obligated enough to invite me to one or two, usually after we bumped into each other on the way up. They, lugging a grate or sack of meat, me heading for the top floor. “Oh, hey, um, sorry, I forgot your name,” they wife would intone. “Jarret. No worries, I forgot yours, too.” “Oh, right, um, I’m Karen. My husband is Rob.” “Right.” “Right. Um, you should stop by, if you get a chance.” They weren’t really inviting me, this we both knew, but thought it would be impolite to not pass along an opportunity. I never went.
I lived shortly with my parents near Central Park after that. I had shared the Cobble Hill space with someone, and let her stay in the place while she figured out where she was headed next. I would have preferred to crash with friends, no one wants to return home after they’ve left, but decided against putting any of my friends out. And the rent was free. And my dad made these brilliant egg sandwiches on the weekends with bacon and cheese on an English muffin (two for me, please), and Robin had this wonderful habit of waking up before I roused and dripping coffee. I lived there a few months, and didn't meet a single other family in the building, which takes up approximately half of a New York City block.
On to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, world capital of the hipster nation, God bless it. Bob, Leah, and I moved into a loft on N. 9th Street. I met two of our neighbors. The tattooed man across the way and his beautiful pierced girlfriend, but only twice, or so, when they were walking their dog I was being dragged around by Bob’s dog, Mooks. The two animals went in to sniff at each other before Mooks growled and lashed out, as he always does. Mooks is antisocial to all living things but his acknowledged family, so in a way he was the perfect dog to live with us at the time. The dogs tugged at each other, we tugged on our leashes before apologizing and moving on. The girls down the hall invited us to party one time, but we declined.
The Magnificent Geebs (a.k.a. Leah) is actually much nicer, more welcoming, than either Bob or I, one of the most personable people there is, and even she did not, to my knowledge, meet the neighbors.
I moved to a tiny studio in Manhattan on Chrystie Street across from Sarah D. Roosevelt Park. I lived there for a year, and the only neighbor I knew in the slightest was the girl next door. Much was acquired from from the 16 inch wall we shared between us, and most of that came in the form of all the sex she had. Lots of tons of aerobically loud and enthusiastic sex. I know she heard me a few times; she gave me a knowing nod one morning as I went to get sandwiches when Mel was in town. Her smirk said, “I know what you were doing. Good on ya.” I blushed. She was never embarrassed the morning after her screaming orgasms, not that she should have been. Sex should be celebrated (and celebrate she certainly did), not shrouded in humiliation. Still, I would have thought she’d be at least the tiniest bit self-conscious about her Hallelujahs.
After a year I’d had about enough. The crack addicts, hookers and homeless people around my door could have had equal effect, but we’ll leave it to Screaming Mimi for now. I moved to Brooklyn Heights, where I live now. My building is a mix of middle age success stories and young, studio dwelling, urban adolescents. I live in what used to be the attic. My ceiling is lower than those on the bottom floors, but for the same rent as the studios I have my own bedroom, living room, and writing space where I pen, or rather type, these little things each night. I know how my apartment compares because I’ve managed to peak into two; one this morning, and the other on the night of the blackout.
This past weekend I sat next to a husband and wife recently relocated to Brooklyn from Chicago. They were unfamiliar with the neighborhood, were marveling at the buildings and eclectic people around them. “Look at that young dad with the tattoo on his shoulder,” the wife said. “Lots of different people here. I love the energy of this place.” I leaned over and told them about a couple of nice restaurants down on Henry Street, the coffee shop down Montague, the best time to take the paper out to the Promenade on Saturdays and Sundays and commandeer a bench overlooking the water and Manhattan, the cheapest of the four laundry mats in the hood, and the best Thai delivery place. And that is typical New York for me. I don’t speak with the strangers I share a building with, but I’ll give away every secret of my tiny neighborhood to anyone who seems the slightest bit interested. And it fits in with my experience of other people here. I’ve yet to have my bell ring to go to the door and find a woman in sweats and a hoody. “Hi, I’m Janice. Me and my husband live just below. Welcome to the neighborhood.” You’re on your own here when it comes where you live. Maybe the hours I work don’t do much to help that, but I’ve yet to hear any of my friends say different. The most contact New Yorkers seem to have with each other comes in the form of a note, left by the landlord.
Dear, Whatever Your Name Is,
This letter is just to inform you that one of our tenants complained about the noises and blaring music coming from your apartment. I would like to remind you that we all have to live in this building together. I am certain that you do not intend to impinge on the comfort of those you live around, in this community, and appreciate your help in rectifying the matter.
This letter should also serve as your introduction to your neighbors, whom you do not know, but who no longer like you anyway. They’d love it if you would fuck off, then, and be as invisible as possible.
When you live in New York, you are witness to innumerable examples of open-hearted generosity. Smiles on the street, people stopping to give directions, huge biker dudes stopping to help a woman carry her stroller down the escalator. You will have long, personal conversations with the family sitting at the table to your right, sharing ditties and experiences and thoughts. You just won’t, at least in my experience, know jack about the people you are on top of, below, surrounded by, and, to all effects, live with.