He banged from below over the slightest noise but he was quiet tonight. Then the buzzer rang. Most of the time that meant it was the landlord or a vulturous religious nut, but when I opened the door, this time I found a small thin man in his early fifties. His suit, although sickly green, was crisp and neat. His greying hair was styled as if he had nothing else to do with his time. He pushed his wire frame glasses up his pointed nose and smiled. Although I had never met my cantankerous neighbor from the apartment below, I knew it was him.
“Can I talk with you?” he inquired as he entered my apartment.
“Sure” I said, pretending I had any choice in the matter. He scanned my sitting room smiling as if it was exactly as he had imagined it.
“Your water is leaking down” he said, pointing to the bathroom.
I was in the bathroom, casually showing him the bone dry floor tiles when I realized we were actually strangers.
“The water is not coming from here.” My voice became stern.
“Let me show you.” He said motioning for me to follow him downstairs.
His apartment was organized and sterile. It was a mix of fashions from several past decades. The furniture ranged from retro to antique; collectively it resembled a thrift store. The bare light bulbs made him look older and the apartment far bigger, but less inviting. It lacked a woman’s touch. It was a man’s apartment, minimal and efficient.
He showed me the ceiling where I eventually spotted a faint watermark. I decided to put an end to this as I had cold beers waiting upstairs and a free evening in which to drink them.
“I work in construction,” I said. “What’s happening is that some water has leaked in through the outside wall between our apartments and trickled down. It’s not coming from my sink, toilet, kitchen or shower, okay? I suggest you let the landlord know about it as it’s his responsibility. Get him involved, not me.” I was polite but firm.
“I’ll call him I suppose, maybe tomorrow.” He shrugged. It didn’t seem so urgent now. “Another thing…you have music here.” He pointed up to the corner of the ceiling.
“Yeah, that’s where my computer is. You’ve seen it!”
“You have a subwoofer or something.”
“I don’t, but I’ll try and keep it down.”
“I can hear it sometimes y’know? Boom! Boom! Boom! Y’know? And the walking, you make a lot of noise walking around.”
“All I’m doing is living up there and that’s not going to stop anytime soon.”
I snapped. We stared at each other in silence for a few seconds. I felt guilt rising in my gut.
“How long have you lived here?” I asked him.
“Where are you from?”
“Romania. Where are you from?”
“You here long?”
“That’s not very long.”
“It is to me.”
We stared at each other again in silence. This happens with immigrants sometimes. We should have so much in common but we don’t. I turned to my left and saw a cabinet with a large collection of vinyl records and a record player. Below it was a large bar with every liquor you could want. He saw me looking at it and snatched a bottle like a child grabs candy.
“You want a drink?” He widened his eyes.
“No thanks” I said. He forced a smile and lowered the bottle back.
“You live here alone?” I was just trying to make conversation.
He leaned back into the cabinet and told me a brief history of his life up to the moment he rang my buzzer. He came to New York with his wife to study. She died soon after arriving and he married again. His second wife left him. They had no children and now he lives alone. He showed no bitterness towards his second wife and I could tell how much he loved his first by his face when he spoke of her. He was a software engineer but lost his job many years ago. Now he worked in wallpaper.
“You design wallpaper patterns?” I asked.
“No, I hang wallpaper.”
I looked around his apartment and its bare painted walls. “You don’t have any wallpaper in here.”
“I know” he said with that dismissive shrug again. The silence started again as we both stared at the walls.
“I gotta get back.” I started moving towards the door.
“What have you got planned tonight?”
“My girlfriend is visiting her mother so I’m gonna sit in and have a quiet night. I need to catch up on some stuff anyway.”
“You sure you don’t want to have a drink here?”
“Thanks anyway but I really should be getting back.”
I made my way to the door. He followed me out to the corridor.
“You should call the landlord,” I said.
“I will if it happens again,” he replied. “It’s not really that bad”
“No, it isn’t I guess.”
I was making my way up the stairs when he called after me.
“Do you like fishing? I go fishing.”
I made a face, I did not.
“I like eating fish.” I smiled.
He nodded and returned to his apartment and I returned to mine.
Both of us spent the night drinking alone for entirely different reasons.
– April 2008
* New York Shots are those small moments that happen while living in New York. They’re so small that they are rarely mentioned yet take up considerable space in various notebooks I carry around with me at any given time. This blog was started as a writing exercise and I thought this would be a nice way to write shorter snippets of life in NYC. They won’t always be interesting but I don’t want them forgotten either.