Cathy Rose: Neighbors

            Out the window is a notice for a vacant apartment I can’t afford.  “Fine Victorian building, dog friendly, neighbor friendly, gay friendly, cooking friendly, glorious rooftop garden with a view, a cozy seat at your bay window, the best place to live on Ivy Street, the best place to live in all the world!”  My own apartment is fine, it really is, and I tell myself it’s my own fault it isn’t nicer.  In the months I’ve lived here, the only thing I’ve hung is a shower curtain.  The thing is my apartment is a studio, there’s only room for one, and fixing it up is like saying, this is it, your life, alone.
      My block is not on the best part of Ivy but it’s not that bad either.  Lofts have gone up at the end of it, with sun pouring in from all directions.  You see the backsides of a number of well-maintained Victorian buildings, then there’s mine, a flat faced art deco in need of a paint job.  It needs love, but it’s not unfriendly.  In fact, I’ve nodded to all my neighbors in its narrow halls, and I have even spoken with one of them.  He and I met in the laundry room when I offered to let him use the dryer before me.  A bald, beanpole of a guy about my age, he wore a T-shirt with giant calligraphy brushstrokes that spelled “yo.”  He invited me into his apartment for tea, and I went.  I was curious to see if he slept in his walk-in closet.  It’s a thing people do here to create more space, and I was considering it.
        “Want to try something?” he said. 
       “We’ll time it.  I’ll tell you about myself for five minutes without interruption, then you’ll go.  We’ll switch back and forth, back and forth.”  His finger swung from me to him.  Me, him.  Him, me.  Him.
        Don’t ask me why I agreed to it, I’m not into that sort of thing, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else.  But these are a few of the details I learned about my neighbor.  He calls himself Lane Six, a name inspired by the drug Ecstasy.  He’s a triple Sagittarius, considers himself a cross between Homer Simpson and Bruce Lee, and has made a sculpture to depict this which he displays on his mantle.  He was once a guitarist in a punk band, and now is collecting unemployment.  His father is dying of brain cancer in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio.  He expects to inherit very little. 
       We ended up going to his favorite sushi place down the block.  Just dinner, I told him, nothing more than dinner.  He ordered Unagi, enough for two, but I told him I was eel averse.
      Homeless folks do camp out on our block of Ivy.  It’s just off one of those busy arteries where the car window panhandling is particularly good.  So after a day’s work on the curbs, you hear the homeless outside swapping stories.  They’ve got full lives, these folks, don’t kid yourself.  A brick warehouse across from me was recently bought up and renovated by something called The Apartment Association, the jackhammers have been relentless, but that’s another story, and the other night, it was drizzling, then pouring, and one of our homeless guys decided to sleep in its covered doorway.  I’m sure he was thinking, Apartment Association, this was like sleeping on the steps of a church.  These are compassionate, for-the-people sorts of folks.  This is safe, maybe even hallowed ground.  But in the morning, all of us on Ivy were awakened by a young woman in a navy-blue blazer, wide collar, screaming, I mean screaming, “Get the goddamn fuck out of here!  Get the fuck, get the goddamn fuck, you filthy bum!” 
        “Gutter mouth,” I called out to her, then ducked beneath my window sill.  And upstairs, I heard Lane Six chuckle out his open window.  And after the homeless guy packed up his things and left, the woman dragged out a heavy red garden hose, a bucket of soapy water and a steel brush broom, and for close to an hour scoured and scrubbed the entranceway to her association like Ivy Street was in some little village in Germany.  And on the internet that afternoon, I learned that this Apartment Association supports property owners and is no friend to the tenant.  Wrong doorstep to sleep on, but, hey, who knew?  Buddy, they had me fooled, too.
       Then an hour after this, there was a rather confidant knock on my door.  It was Lane Six, of course it was, he was my only acquaintance in the building.  He had on a T-shirt with finger paint handprints on it, like someone had pressed their palms against his chest, either that or had shoved him.  He took a quick glance into my apartment, then he got right down to it.  “You’re different than I thought,” he said.  I gathered it had to do with hearing me yell out the window, and I didn’t want to know more, but you have to ask with something like this.  “Before, you seemed more closed,” he said.  He waved his flat hand in front of his face to signify a wall.  I have to say, I was a little put off.  Hey, I’d played his game and all.  I started to politely inch the door closed.  But then I noticed the landlord had finally changed the hallway bulb.  Lane Six had a kind of karate calm beneath the glow.  “So, hugs?” he said, his arms opening wide.  The hands on his T-shirt were the brightest kindergarten colors.