Apartment 1009.

13 Mar

I moved into Apartment 1008 in 1992.

My neighbor was old then. A tall thin man, slightly stooped and thinly mustachioed, salt-and-pepper on the sides, and taken to wearing tams to cover his buffed and shiny head, he had a certain old-world elegance I found appealing at first. I felt a little more “adult” having moved next door to this man of some means with his French flying saucer hat.

I was chattier and happier back then, emotionally facile, and at our chance encounters in the hallway waiting for the elevator, regardless of my particular mood, I would brighten up and offer a cheery “hello” only to be dismissed with angry aggressive silence. I tried many more times to no avail. Then I actively decided not to speak to him as two could play at this game, but I kept forgetting I was playing the game, I kept saying hello, and I kept getting dumped by his dismissal. It was infuriating.

There were other little games going on between us. If I played my piano, he would bang on the wall. So I got headphones for the piano. But if he could hear my television, he would turn his television up to deafening decibels. I would turn mine down and down would go his. It was like living next to a cranky poltergeist.

One day, over a decade ago, I decided to hang four pictures up along the hallway that leads to the front door. It is his wall as well, so despite our years of non-lingual communication, I thought I would pre-empt any shenanigans on his part and just tell him what was coming.

I knocked on his door. He opened it slightly and I had my very first opportunity to glance into his world. Peering over his freckled head, I could see it was a lovely room, very English-looking with a sofa and end tables all turned out with the gentle cabriole of Queen Ann legs, stately Ormolu table lamps with satin shades and two gilt framed pastoral scenes side-by-side on the wall, more the measured manicured bucolia of Capability Brown than the messy wilderness of Inigo Jones. That’s all my prying eyes could see through the doorway that barely cracked.

I decided to introduce myself as if I had just moved in. I could gaslight him by now just as well as he could me. “Hello, I happen to live next door to you (I specifically chose ‘I happen’ to suggest, ‘You may have happened upon me here in the hallway approximately 3,650 times by now.’) and wanted to let you know I am about to hang four pictures along our adjacent wall. It should take no longer than fifteen minutes. Would this be an appropriate time to proceed or would you prefer I wait until a time more convenient for you?” All bases covered, right?

Wasn’t prepared for this: “Are they political pictures?”

To this day, I, the master of camouflaged sarcasm, have no idea if that was a joke or if he was an odder duck than I or than I presumed. He got me.

Time went on. Our stoic silences became rock-hard, both of us, deep in our trenches. In the last few years, as my hearing went, his must have gone faster, or the fire went out of his belly. There were no more fists on the dry wall, no more the rise and fall from the television set in 1009.

A month ago, an “Oxygen Present” warning sign went up on his door and I thought I saw a visiting nurse leave the apartment one morning. I actually felt a little concerned for this lonely old man, in decline, silent and in need of air. I thought about slipping a note under his door. “Hi. It’s your next-door neighbor. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.” Just like I thought about sending him a Christmas Card every year. Just like I thought about giving him an old Rachmaninoff CD of mine as he seemed to always be listening to one of his. Just as I thought about sending over a tray of cookies for no other reason than our shared history. After all, we both made it to 2011 in our respective corners.

Until he didn’t.

And I never did any of those things. Three days ago, he silently slipped away, alone in his apartment, in the oppressive air of an early urban summer, a tiny oven over Hell’s Kitchen, and I didn’t even find out until today. His name was Mortimer. There are no Mortimers left in the world, are there? He was one of the last, certainly. And I saw and see myself, or the last scary part of my future, in the presently empty apartment that is currently on the other side of my western wall, all quiet on the eastern front.

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8 Responses to “Apartment 1009.”

  1. paul March 18, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    what a lovely read, thank you. ps… 1009 may be available at a very reasonable price……

    • NC Coot March 18, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

      2200/mo. What is the world coming to? Thank you for reading, truly.

  2. Dugutigui March 21, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

    Well, that’s is Writing… grateful to plunge in here …

    • NC Coot March 21, 2012 at 10:08 pm #

      An honor from such a distinguished blogger. Thanks, D.

  3. wheresmytbackandotherstories March 25, 2012 at 2:35 am #

    Oh this is so sad. I don’t want to grow old ‘his’ way.

    • NC Coot March 25, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

      Oh you won’t. It was, sadly, his choice to close his door. You’re an open book.

      • wheresmytbackandotherstories March 25, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

        I hope his epitaph didn’t read “What Are You Looking At!”. May he RIP

      • NC Coot March 25, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

        I imagine it is a warning to keep quiet in the vicinity.

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