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Archive for October, 2008

The Incident

It was a Saturday night, and I was home alone, cooking some late night dinner (it was about 10:30pm).

Suddenly, it sounded like someone was knocking on my door. Now, once again, I don’t know very many people in Charleston, and of the one’s I do know, few know where I live. I figured that it was maybe the previous tenant again, or maybe just one of my neighbors, but being home alone, I thought it would be easiest to just ignore it.

However the person at the door did not seem to agree with my decision to ignore them. They kept knocking. In fact, one could say they were knocking incessantly.  At this, I came out into the hallway to “have a look”. I don’t know what I was hoping to see, my door has no windows on it, it does have a peephole, but I didn’t realize this at the time.

I stood in my dark hallway (I am pretty neurotic about keeping the lights off, since electricity is the only utility bill I pay) listening to the knocking, starting to get a little creeped out. Who the hell could be knockinf on my door? Noone. Noone I know, at least.

I grabbed my phone and dialed 911 in it, but didn’t push send. Then I thought about calling my mom, or maybe my boss because he lived nearby, but I didn’t want whoever was at the door to hear me call.

What the fuck does this person want? I didn’t know what to do, or if it was actually a threatening situation or what, so I just went back in my kitchen and waited. But then I heard a noise, and it wasn’t knocking. It was my balcony screen door opening.

See, I have a front door, which is wood and opens up to the hallway and which I keep locked and shut, and then I have a balcony door that only opens up to my isolated balcony. There are no stairs, not even a ladder, that leads to my balcony. So, since I don’t have air conditioning, when I come home I open the wooden balcony door, and just keep the screen door shut.

Well now this screen door was being opened by someone, who was entering my home.

I came out into the hallway and saw a scrawny black man entering my home. This is it, I thought. This is one of those moments, this is what I’ve always feared, it’s going to happen now. Something is going to happen to me.

I screamed, at the top of my lungs.

Then I thought the man was my crazy neighbor Billy, and I was less afraid. I don’t know why it being Billy climbing in through my balcony made anything less scary, but it did. I guess if it were Billy, I figured I could deal with it, talk to him. But it wasn’t Billy anyways. It was somebody else.

“I’m sorry to scare you,” he said with an incredibly raspy voice, as if he only had about one vocal cord left, “I’m Elvis, your neighbor, and I’m locked out.”

He was older, maybe fifty years old, skin and bones, with graying hair.

“How did you get on my balcony!?” I asked.

“You’ve met my girlfriend, Monica,” he explained, ignoring my question.

It’s true, I had met her. She was a lot younger looking than him, maybe thirty. She had sat smoking a cigarette on our front porch steps one day when I was moving in some furniture.

“I’m your neighbor, Laura. I live in number 6,” I told her.

In a tired way, she uttered, “Nice to meet you sweet heart,” between cigarette puffs.

It’s just my neighbor, I told myself. And he’s just locked out, that’s why he was knocking for so long. You didn’t answer, so he had to walk in.

“But how did you get on my balcony!?” I asked again.

He came a little closer to me, I moved towards the door and opened it. This was not dramatic, but happened very slowly, and casually on both our parts.

“If you ever need anything, you give me or my girlfriend a call, y’here?” He was very close now. I could smell the liquor on his breath. He was putting his arm around me. I wasn’t scared though. It was unwanted, but not threatening. It felt like something I could deal with.

“You need to be careful here,” he went on to tell me. “Don’t go down and do your laundry in the basement at night,” he told me. It seemed an interesting time and place for him to be lecturing me on safe living. And then he said again, “You ever need anything, you just give me or my girlfriend a call.”

“Okay, okay,” I told him. By now I was out in the hallway.

“You know they put a light out here, right?” he told me.

I didn’t know this. He showed me where it was. We turned it on.

“Okay, well nice to meet you Elvis,” I said, similar to the way you might say “nice puppy…” to a strange dog that you’re hoping won’t snap at you.

“Very nice to meet you too,” he said. He was hugging me now, and his mouth grazed my neck, and sort of kissed it. Again, it wasn’t all that creepy. It just felt like when you’re at a party and someone is drunk out of their mind and trying to cop a feel with every girl they see. That said, I certainly didn’t want it to amount to anything more.

I easily wriggled out of his grasp, said goodbye, and shut the door on him. I immediately called my boss, who I kind of think of as the closest person to a parent that I have in the region.

His wife, Marcelle, answered. I know Marcelle just as well as Michael because I stayed at their house for about two weeks before I moved into my new place.

“Marcelle, this is Laura. I need you to come to my apartment and pick me up immediately. I’ll explain in the car.”

“Okay, we’ll be right there.”

And then I was in my apartment alone, so I decided to call my mom, tell her what happened. While I was on the phone with my mom, he started knocking again.

Through the closed door, I said, “Uhhhh, sorry I’m on the phone right now,” and went out onto my balcony. The hope was that if he came for me while I was on the balcony, maybe someone would see it. Or, if worst came to worse, I could jump, it was only the second floor.

He stopped knocking, but didn’t come out to his balcony. I stayed out on the balcony talking to my mom until Michael and Marcelle pulled up. The food I had been cooking was surely done by now, and I was hungry, but I just wanted to get out. I turned off the stove, and left.

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One night I was lying in bed in my new apartment, reading the David Foster Wallace book that I checked out at the library, the day I heard on NPR that he had died. Infinite Jest, his most famous piece, had been checked out (there was a little gap where it should have been on the shelf), so I had ended up with Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and was really quite enjoying it.

All of a sudden, I could hear people in Billy’s apartment, on the other side of the wall just next to me, very clearly. Their voices were so clear, that they broke me from my concentration. I heard the squeak of springs as two people climbed into bed, and shortly thereafter I heard a women begin to moan, very. clearly. Like, we’re talking, the wall may as well have been a curtain.

The most unusual part was that I had never really heard Billy inside his apartment before (I heard him a lot from the balcony, but I had never heard him from inside), and now I was suddenly hearing him very clearly, inside a woman.

The most disturbing part: upon analyzing the lady’s moans, a highly sophisticated science, I concluded that the lady wasn’t very old, and that she was not crazy. Probably about every five thrusts she would let out a medium-lengthed, low moan. I imagined crazy Billy having sex with whoever this woman was. How the hell did Billy get a lady? I wondered. Was she possibly a hooker?

Suddenly, a cell phone started ringing, but they continued to screw. The moaning continued, and eventually a cell phone rang again. This time it was answered. I could not make out the nature of the call, but all of a sudden, and we’re talking less than a minute after the sex stopped and with no sound of a door opening or closing in between, I could distinctly tell that there were now two men in the room. Who was this other guy? And had he been in the room the whole time?

I could no longer make out the words, but the three of them bantered for a good while. Sometimes it sounded like they were joking and laughing, and then it would sound like they were arguing.

* * *

I later realized that I think a younger couple actually lives with Billy and so it was probably them having sex, which is a lot less creepy, but it sounds like Billy was very nearby, perhaps even in the same room, which is still a little disturbing.

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A-Part-Meant For Me, Part II

The apartment I decided to move into is in an eight unit complex.  Each unit has a front balcony to itself, and shares a back balcony with the unit in the same half of the building, on the same floor level.  There is a living room in the front, a bathroom, a back “bedroom” area, that has no doors, and a kitchen.

When my landlord first showed me the place, we walked in and the carpeted floors reaked, ever so slightly.  “Will you be cleaning the carpets?” I asked.  I had asked this to another landlord while looking at a previous place, and she said that it just needed a good vacuum.

“Do y’all supply a vaccum?” I asked her.  I’ve taken to saying “y’all” since I’ve been here.  She looked at me like I was crazy.

“Honey, we’d go broke if we gave free vacuums to everybody we rented to…”

“No, I just mean like one that you let your renters borrow, or one that you use before people move in…” This clarification did not make her think I was any less crazy.

So here I was asking the same question, to a different landlord, and poised to receive that “you ridiculous little girl” look, but instead, in his South African accent, Jan (pronounced “Yan”, like in Dutch) told me:

“Oh, yes, we have a Rug Doctor that you could borrow.”

If that hadn’t been what sold me on the place, the answer to my next inquiry might have been.

“What’s with this furniture, does it come with the place?”  There were two lime green couches, two glass end tables with gold posts, and a large, box-shaped wood televsion, complete with a VCR.

Jan glanced down at one of the tables, there was a note that instructed a local charity which items to pick up.  “Would you like them?” he asked me.

“Well, I don’t have any furniture, so yeah…”

He crumpled up the note, written by the previous tenant.

****

I moved into the place on a friday night.  Some of the other tenants, mostly black, were out drinking tall boys on their balcony.  I nodded to them as I passed, and said hello.  One of them introduced himself.

“I’m PJ” he said, “I just moved in about a month ago myself.”  He looked to be about mid to late thirties, with a bald head, and some round glasses.  He was dressed in a t-shirt, basketball shorts, and flip flops.

“It’s nice to meet you PJ, I’m Laura,” I told him.

****

Later that night, someone was knocking on my door.  Who the hell could that be? I wondered.  I didn’t really want to answer it, since I wasn’t expecting anybody, but if it was one of my neighbors, I didn’t want them to think I was the freaked out, little white girl.

“Who is it?” I asked.

“It’s Star, the old tenant.  I just wanted to see if they picked up my furniture.”

Part of me felt like I was about to get robbed, but I opened the door anyways.  She looked in over my shoulder.

“Shit, it’s still there!”  She said.  “I paid $30 for those mutha fuckers to take that shit.”

“Do you need to take it?” I asked her.

“No, it’s just that I paid $30.”

“Well shit, yeah then you deserve your money back.” I told her.  “But I don’t mind it being here, I don’t have any furniture anyways.  So don’t feel like you’ve got to get it out of here, unless you need it…”

She thought about this for a second.  “Nah, I’ll just leave it here then… and try to get my money back.”

“So why did you move anyways?” I asked, “Since you’re still in the area, it appears.”

“Oh.  Uh, family emergency,” she said.  And shortly after that she left.

****

The next morning, EARLY, the next morning, I was awakened by loud, early nineties, R&B/Soul ballads being blasted from my neighbors’ balcony.  The kind with synthetic drum beats, and a slow, grind-worthy base line.  Or as Janet Jackson might describe it, as she did her own music (I recently learned, in a Trivial Pursuit question): “Baby-making music.”

The neighbor in question, with a balcony completely covered in parts of old blinds, tarps, sheet metal, various pieces of furniture, and Christmas lights, so that it was almost completely private and hidden, appeared to be shouting things like “Yeah!” “Oh come on!” “Sing it, sister!” and so on, along to the music.

“I’m really going to like this place,” I thought to myself.

****

A few days later, I came home from work, and this same neighbor was out on his balcony, shouting things, but this time, not to music.  He was saying things like, “Take me to the liquor store!  Listen to me people!  Why isn’t anybody listening to me…?  Fucking Jerks!”

The lady on the balcony below, was calmly responding to him, saying things like, “Billy, honey, you got a bike… no one’s stoppin’ you.”

To which he would respond, something like, “Fuck you bitch!  Who asked you?”

I had to get something out on my own balcony, and Billy must have heard my screen door open and shut, because just as I was re-entering my apartment from the balcony I heard him shout, “Is that my new neighbor?  I wanna meet my new neighbor.  New neighbor, get your ASS out here!”

So I came back out.  “Hi there,” I said.

He was quiet for a second, and then I heard some rustling and, and a small, scrawny black man with grey hair, emerged between two different sets of blinds.

“Well hi there, new neighbor,” he said, in a more calm voice, but still quite raspy.  “I’m Billy, I’m your neighbor, and don’t nobody mess with me.”

“Well, hi Billy, I’m Laura, nice to meet you.”

“You got a man?” he asked, in the sly, curious way many men here do.

“Uh, yeah…” I improvised.  “But he’s in Seattle.  He’s moving out here in a month…”

“Okay, okay,” he said.  And then, “It’s trash day.  Did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t, thank you.  What do I do with my trash.”

“You put it in a bag, and put it around the corner with all the other trash… just there” he told me, pointing around the corner.

“Good to know, thank you,” I told him.  “Now I just need to find a bag…”

“You don’t have a bag!?  You don’t have a bag!?  Sister, uncle Billy’ll get you a bag.”

He slid back into the abyss of his balcony.  I heard a screen door open and close, and about thirty seconds later it opened and closed again and he reemerged in the same gap between his blinds.  “Here you go, darlin'” he said, handing me an entire roll of bags.  I broke one off, and tried to hand the roll back to him.  “No, you keep that roll, I don’t want that back,” he told me. “That’s for you.”

“Okay, well I better go take my trash out then,” I told him.

“Yeah, you betta…” He agreed.  “You betta.  Cuz it’s trash day.”

When I came out the downstairs front door with my trash, the lady on the balcony below Billy, motioned me over.

“Sorry about that,” she said.  “Don’t pay no attention to him.  He’s harmless, really.  Whenever he gets a little money, you know, he just gets this way whenever he goes and gets himself a little money.”

“Oh, it’s not a problem,” I assured her, “But thanks.  He seems sweet.  And he gave me free garbage bags,” I said, “lifting the bag in acknowledgement”.

To be continued…

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