SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
May 1, 2016

They’re Coming to Get Me

 

After the pods went away (leaving a broken front door that would neither close nor lock), the next terrifying question became, who was going to take their place?

            Morgan and I had long pondered a move to the first floor, mostly to gain easy access to the backyard. It’s a nice backyard, with a nice table, a nice bench, and a nice big deck ringed by a garden. It’s a pleasant place to have a few beers on a summer afternoon if you were so inclined. Even our next door neighbor was encouraging us to take it, mostly because he’s even more particular about his neighbors than we are, and preferred the prospect of having someone he already knew down there. But the realities soon became apparent. Between my eyes and Morgan’s work schedule, there was no serious way we’d be able to maintain the garden in anything beyond the most haphazard and clubfooted manner. It would be a mess unless we just decided to pave the whole thing over. But that was just a part of it. We’d heard a couple of stories over the years about raccoons and feral cats and ocelots and other assorted diseased wildlife just kind of wandering into the kitchen down there. The apartment was right on street level, it got no natural light, and besides, the whole place just gave me a weird and creepy vibe, and always had. On top of all that, I didn’t feel much like packing and moving again.

            Having decided we didn’t want it ourselves, we immediately began lobbying the landlord to offer it to the Greek kid in the Bunker downstairs. He was a quiet, hardworking kid who called me “sir” and shoveled the steps and sidewalk whenever it snowed. After what he went through with a backed-up sewer pipe and some flooding down there, we figured he deserved a break. Even as we pushed for that, we further began lobbying friends who might be interested in moving as far away from Manhattan as possible, down to the very southern tip of Brooklyn. We left out the ocelots and the creepy vibe and the hellish commute to anywhere, plying them instead with all the joys and wonderments of a backyard in this last vestige of old Brooklyn. We also conveniently neglected to mention the landlord’s laissez-fair attitude when it came to building maintenance. There were a couple of friends who were interested, right up to the point at which they learned how much he was asking.

            Meanwhile, as I was running my daily errands following the departure of the pods, I found myself stopped more and more often by other people on the block, some who had relatives interested in the apartment, others just wanting to chat about the apartment and the weather. It was strange. Although everyone around here had always been pleasant to a fault from the moment I moved in, this was the first time any of them stopped to chat. It was almost as if, with the departure of the pods, we suddenly and officially became residents of the block for the first time. It’s a bigger deal than you might realize. Since leaving Green Bay in 1983, I’ve never known any of my neighbors, not by name and not by face, and certainly not well enough to chat with. Not even people in the same damn building. In a block as hermetically sealed as this one, where most of the residents have lived here their entire lives, and where strangers are eyed with more than a little suspicion, to break into that level of acceptance was an odd victory. Not that acceptance by anyone has ever been a goal of mine, but I get the sense now if need be these people would have my back, which is not something I could say about any other place I’ve lived. That also helps explain why it was so important to everyone involved to get someone who was somehow connected with the block into the downstairs apartment. That way everyone could rest easy.

            I dropped the landlord a note passing along the neighbors’ queries. I heard nothing back from him, and we grew increasingly worried. Although we had no real say in the matter, we still wanted to do what we could to at least get someone we sort of kind of knew down there, right? I mean, the landlord wasn’t the one who was going to have to live with their habits and predilections day in day out. What if it turned out to be six generations of a Chinese family? What if they blasted polka music at all hours of the day and night? What if they were born agains whose chosen sect decreed they had to proselytize constantly? What if they camped out in the laundry room eighteen hours a day and tossed their trash out the front window? And my god, what if they had KIDS?

            It seems all my quiet nudging was being ignored by the landlord who, it should be noted, didn’t live on the block himself (though his parents and a few cousins did).

            Anyone who’s had any experience with New York real estate knows word travels very quickly, and within hours after Morgan saw the apartment had been listed online for every damned loser and Christian and Manhattanite to see, the doorbell rang. I went downstairs and opened the (still broken) front door to find two men and a woman standing there, all of them in their fifties.

            “Is Veronica here?” one of the men asked,

            I paused and thought about that. “I don’t think anyone named Veronica lives here.”

            “Doesn’t she own the building?”

            “She might, but if she does no one’s told me about it.”

            “You don’t have a basement apartment for rent?”

            “Um, no. We have a first floor for rent.” Oh, I’m an idiot. Why did I have to go and open my big fat yap? When you got right down to it, we didn’t want anyone moving in down there, whether we knew them or not. Things were nice and quiet the way they were, and that’s the way we wanted to keep it. We no longer had to fight to do a load of laundry and dragging the trash out was a snap when we and the Greek kid were the only ones here. I could go out into the hall in my underpants to dump my empties and listen to devil music all day without bothering anyone.

            “Oh,” the man said. “That’s too bad.” Then they thanked me and went away. It was a tremendous relief.

            The next day shortly before Morgan got home from work I heard voices downstairs. That wasn’t good. I reflexively went to the stereo and slapped on some Butthole Surfers, which I then began playing just a shade too loudly. Couldn’t hurt, right?

            When Morgan got home about ten minutes later she seemed upset. “Are there people looking at the apartment?”

            “Seems to be, yeah.”

            “Because there’s a stroller parked out front.”

            “Oh, god, no.” I stepped back to the stereo and cranked the volume some more. “Should I drop my pants and go down to check the mail?”

            Six years ago after I’d made it perfectly clear what I’d thought of them, I’d been forced out of Park Slope by a battalion of Stroller Brigadiers wielding torches and pitchforks. Although there were a few strollers on the sidewalk down here, the neighborhood mostly tended toward the geriatric. That was another thing we liked about it, but we’d always feared the inevitable Asshole Incursion that’s killed off most of the rest of the city. Fuck, we’d just gotten settled in, we’d been accepted, we loved the place. But now those Park Slope fuckers had taken it upon themselves to track me down and make my life a dark and fiery nightmare once again.

            Maybe it was nothing. We’d snuck down and looked at the vacant apartment, and it was filthy. The floors were a mess, the back door was in tatters, and hell, the front door wouldn’t close or lock. Anyone looking at it now knowing what the asking price was would run screaming. Right? Anyone with a brain would, anyway, but I guess that’s not saying much anymore.

            In the days after those one and only potential new tenants came through with their fucking stroller, the front door got fixed. The apartment was painted. A couple of workmen sanded and polished the floor. Then they moved into the entry hall, patching up holes, painting, replacing light fixtures, in short doing more to improve the building than had been done in the entire time I’d been there, a stretch during which we had to beg to have someone come over and fix a busted furnace or a clogged sewer pipe.

            Things were looking more ominous than ever, but since we didn’t know anything for certain we tried to maintain hope. I dropped the landlord another note when a couple more people on the block inquired about the apartment. Whoever they were I didn’t care so long as they didn’t have a fucking stroller in tow. A woman three doors down said her son, who was childless, unmarried, and owned two neighborhood bars, was interested. Sounded like a mighty perfect match to me. Which is why my heart went black when at last I heard back from the landlord, and all he wrote was “The apartment’s not available.”

 

You can contact Jim Knipfel at this address:

With occasional exceptions Slackjaw generally appears weekly. For email notification of other Jim Knipfel publications (books, etc.) and events please join the Slackjaw email list here.