To re-cap, in the last issue of Ambush, I had decided to commit a random act of kindness
I reached to give her a hand with one of the gigantic Bed Bath & Beyond bags she was clinging to and she said;
“Oh, I got these. I need you to carry that.”
Here is the continuation and conclusion of Like a Good Neighbor…
Sitting on the curb, looking as if someone left it out for the trash was a large window unit air conditioner. No wonder this girl was so exasperated by the time I came along. There’s no telling how many people before me considered being a Good Samaritan, until they saw the size of this air conditioner and kept on truckin’. Looks like my gym workout came to me on this day.
In a true act of coincidence, I hadn’t noticed until that very minute that the building that Katie was moving into was the same building that I lived in fifteen years ago, with my then-boyfriend, C.J. I know this building very well.
It has no stoop or landing or clearly defined markings, except for the street address, haphazardly stuck to the door in self-adhesive, mismatched numbers. The entrance is a bit unusual, and a bit precarious for passersby. The front door of the building opens right onto Ninth Avenue directly into pedestrian traffic. Over the years I’ve seen countless pedestrians smash themselves into this random, metal door that opens out of nowhere.
This residential brownstone is over a hundred years old and has become wedged in between commercially rented spaces. The structures surrounding the building have changed over the years but this brick and mortar pre-War relic hasn’t changed much at all. There was no elevator and I distinctly remember, from my own experience moving into this building, that the staircase was extremely steep and narrow. So narrow that carrying two bags of groceries was a tight squeeze. The thought of hauling this massive window unit up those stairs brought back my own moving day nightmares.
What if I just said, “Fuck it” and ran? Chances are I’d never see her again and if I did, so what? New York is a rough town, deal with it.
But that’s not who I am.
Like a steam engine barreling down the track, I knew that once I lifted this thing there would be no stopping.
“Which apartment?” I asked.
“2D”, she said.
“It’s the first apartment on the right at the top of the stairs,” she added.
I knew exactly where it was since it was the very same apartment I shared with my first real boyfriend. I also knew that the apartment numbers in this building are misleading. The first flight of stairs is actually two flights of stairs, so apartment 2D, was really on the third floor. Fuckers!!
Walking through the door into 2D was like walking into a time capsule. Little had changed since then. The same narrow kitchen, a bathroom that went from ‘cozy’ to ‘coffin’ once you added a few towels and amenities, and two cute itty-bitty “French doors” that looked so appealing in the apartment listing but underwhelmed in reality.
This A/C could fit into only one window, so I went directly to it and put down what felt, at that point, like a refrigerator. Meanwhile Katie was on the phone arguing with her boyfriend. It was impossible not to overhear their conversation. Not wanting to interrupt, I took a few minutes to catch my breath.
Standing in the bedroom, looking out over Ninth Avenue brought back a flood of feelings and emotions I hadn’t expected. Probably because I’ve purposefully put this apartment and what happened there out of my mind. Until now.
Now this space is almost empty, except for a few piles of boxes and several assorted baskets of clothes hangers and everyday appliances, There was a time in my life, however, when it was filled with my worldly possessions, combined with those of a man I loved. And for a moment, things were perfect.
Unfortunately, what I remember most about this apartment is my thirtieth birthday
In an effort to make up for his lack of sentimentality over several years of missed anniversaries, holidays and forgotten birthdays, CJ and our high-rise neighbors had arranged a casual, intimate birthday dinner, to be held on the terrace of their penthouse apartment. A rather sweet and unexpected gesture on C.J.’s part, I looked forward to it.
I was standing then in the exact place I was standing now. It was summertime and our A/C was running full blast. I remember putting on my shirt and glancing out the window. Standing on Ninth Avenue was a growing crowd of people looking back at me. Some were waving their hands in the air, some were just staring. It looked as if some were shouting but the roar of the A/C, combined with the steady stream of fire and ambulance sirens made it impossible to hear what they might be saying.
The crowd was getting really large now. Something was wrong. There was one, older woman, standing in the street and waving her hands. She seemed determined to get my attention, so I focused on her and read her lips. “FIRE!”
In that instant, the New York City Fire Department kicked in our front door, with a resounding; “Fire Department! Evacuate the building now!” The FDNY systematically cleared the building in this manner until all occupants were safely removed. There was no time to think or speak. C.J. and I ran out of the building, half dressed, into the street and into the crowd that had been trying to warn us of a fire that had started in the apartment directly above ours.
Fire trucks rolled in from every direction, parting the sea of onlookers that continued to gather. Thick, black, toxic smoke was seeping out of the closed windows as a hook and ladder team hoisted a lone fireman into the smoke.
“What’s he doing?” someone asked.
“The fire needs oxygen. There is too much smoke.” someone replied.
Within arm’s reach of the building, the fireman speared the smoking windows, shattering glass onto the sidewalk below. The bystander was right. Adding oxygen diminished the black smoke but also fueled the fire causing the entire fourth floor and roof to erupt and explode into a massive inferno.
There was nothing we could do, but watch as hundreds of thousands of gallons of water poured onto the building, not only washing away the flames, but also washing away the fourth floor and every floor below it. Water had surged through our apartment, destroying everything in it. I feel like I know the true feeling of helplessness. Standing in the street, among total strangers, and watching everything you own and cherish be destroyed while there isn’t a thing you can do about it, is something no one should experience. And, no, we didn’t have insurance.
Lost in thought I hadn’t realized that Katie had finished her phone conversation and was now standing in the bedroom with me.
“Oh my God! Thank you so much,” she said. “I never could have gotten that up the stairway on my own. Let me give you some money.”
“No. It’s fine. Really,” I said. It felt good to help somebody out who needed it. I’d forgotten the spiritual benefit that performing random acts of kindness can bring. As an added karmic bonus I was able to take another look at a period of my life I’d been avoiding for so many years because it was just too uncomfortable to re-live. But standing in the restored space, and seeing the apartment the way it looked when C.J. and I moved into it, allowed me to remember a few of the moments spent there that were not so horrific. Some were romantic, many were sexual, and a few were perfect.
“Good luck with the internship.” I said as I made my way to the front door.
“Thank you. And thanks again for helping me. Now I need to track down my parents and hope mom hasn’t driven herself ‘around the corner’ and out to Brooklyn,” she replied. “Got any tips or suggestions for me?’ she asked.
“Yes, since you asked. Get a new boyfriend. You deserve better. But more importantly, get insurance. Men come and go, but if you want to hold onto the things in your life that you really love, get insurance.”