Since I was a kid, I’d always wanted to live in New York. The lights, the glamour and fashion, the endless throngs of people and things to do. It’s not perfect, but it is great fun. I don’t live there anymore, but I spent three fun years in my mid-20’s getting to know it.
I shared 600 or so square feet with my best friend in a clean but far from glamorous 5th floor walkup. In any other city in America, this place would be the size of a studio, but in New York it had been somehow mangled into 2 bedrooms, living room, and kitchen.
I’d been moved in for 3 days when my phone rang at work and I answered, puzzled why the super would call me mid-day.
“There’s been a fire,” he started out, “and your unit is definitely affected.” The apartment below had caught on fire, and NYFD had broken open our door and demolished a bunch of walls to make sure the fire hadn’t spread. It took forever to get it cleaned up, but we stayed, and over time we got to know our neighbors, at least as much as you do in the city, which is to say – wild speculation and a random hello on the stairs.
Delores lived next door; she was older, as you might imagine by the name, and lived alone. She carried all manner of things up and down the stairs, and I came to believe she was a hoarder. I once thought she had passed away during the night and had no idea what I, as her neighbor, was supposed to do about it. Her alarm had been going off for at least 12 hours, so I called NYPD. They came, seemed concerned, climbed onto the roof, looked for a way in via the fire escape, and finding none, told me to call back if it started to smell and went away. Luckily, she wasn’t dead.
Our floor did smell, however, of Chinese cooking, as Mrs. Chen across the hall made fresh food every day. I’m not sure how old she was, but she looked to be at least 90 and lived with her very middle-aged daughter, and next door to her other middle-aged daughter. She was definitely the nicest neighbor we had, although the only English I ever heard her speak was to say “Hiiiii” or “Raining!” in her very friendly voice. One of her daughters would sit on the stairs outside our door every morning and hack up a lung as she chain-smoked and drank her coffee.
Downstairs lived the psychic, who people in the building referred to as “the gypsy,” although I’m not sure whether that was true or pejorative. I don’t much believe in those things, although she kept offering me a neighbor discount to tell me my future. One night in the spring of 2009, I was walking home from my favorite local bar when I saw her sitting outside a pub, set up with her cards, telling fortunes. Being a bit tipsy, and feeling bad that she seemed so hard up for money, I took her up on her offer.
She put on a bit of a performance about it, and told me lots of things about myself, most of which weren’t true or just had no bearing on anything. She also told me that I was about to fall in love, which I’m sure I laughed at.
The psychic got evicted a few months later, but just before she did she saw me on the stairs one day and said “You see? I was right.” I asked her what she meant and she said “You are in love with that boy. I see him come and go all the time.”
And she was right. I had fallen madly in love with a wonderful guy. Our relationship didn’t last long, but I still miss it sometimes, and it’s one of those weird “only in New York” things that I’ll always remember.
I still don’t believe in psychics, but I do believe in love.