Monday, June 26, 2006

The People Next Door

Astoria, probably much of Queens, is filled with row houses. I don’t like them. Forget about being fire hazards. Just the concept that real estate developers at a certain time were so cheap and money hungry that they came up with the idea of packing in houses one right next to each other with no breathing room. My landlord’s house is basically a row house by design, but luckily separated from the next house by a driveway, with a good-sized patio in the back, and the street on the other side.

She has an odd relationship with the people next door. I have no relationship with the people next door. I honestly don’t even know who lives there at any given time. Most of these houses, the owner lives on the first floor, and usually rents out the second floor and basement as apartments. The house next door, I have no idea who owns it, no idea who the second-floor tenants are, but unfortunately have had contact with the revolving door tenants in the basement apartment.

Like Saturday night for instance. I think the situation in that basement apartment now is a thirtysomething Hispanic woman living there, who has two girls who don’t live with her there (could be nieces, too, but visit occasionally on Saturday afternoons), and an asshole boyfriend who seems to spend a lot of time there. How do I know all this? I can hear them. Apparently, they don’t have A.C., and she tends to leave her alley-side windows (I’m assuming her only windows) open. (I keep my windows facing them shut.) Even more annoying, she seems to be a great fan of bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling in terms of tasteful lighting – bare light bulbs positioned right by the window, which put out way too much light, sometimes to the extent where I’ll put stray pillows in my windows on that side of the apartment to block it out.

She’s the kind of person who will blast senseless music for short 10-minute bursts, goes silent for two hours, then blasts the music again for 10 minutes – always some nondescript salsa or hard rock. (Why is it that people who blast music never, and I mean never, have any sort of developed musical taste? They’re either one trick ponies in terms of style or obviously own only one or two CDs.)

I can often hear her asshole boyfriend laughing. You can tell a lot about people by how they laugh. And this guy’s barking, coarse laughter says one thing: “I’m a fucking moron.” It’s obvious, as is his speaking voice. The guy’s just a zero, trash in any color, the kind of guy you meet too much of in the 718s. It’s odd in that sometimes her apartment will appear vacant for days, and other times, it seems like she and the asshole are camped out there nonstop for a week. I've gathered that she's a lot more peaceful when he's not around (but he's usually around). They also come and go at weird hours, sometimes numerous times in the course of night, which leads me to believe there could be some type of drug action going on, although that's pure conjecture. There have been a few times where I've heard him drunkenly stumbling through the alley with a friend.

I hadn’t realized how trashy things were until this past Saturday night when, in a driving rain, the woman had a screaming, throwing-shit match in the alley and in front of the house with her asshole boyfriend. It was like something out of COPS. I don’t even know what it was about. The net result was her screaming the usual stuff an angry woman screams: get the fuck out of my life, you creep, fuck you, you’re a piece of shit, etc. He didn’t say much of anything, as I think he was too busy dodging small pieces of furniture and full beer cans being hurled at him. Someone did call the cops – I pretty much just sat in my apartment laughing, and hoping this episode would serve as some impetus for whoever owns that building to kick her out.

It was quiet Sunday, various broken household items and full cans of Old Milwaukee still in front of the house, so who knows what the fallout of that night was. I’m pretty tired of living around trashy people. I’ve met plenty of cool, sane people in the 718s, but, man, without fail, every place I’ve lived out there, there have been COPS-style goons in the immediate vicinity, people who just exude negative charisma, bad times and borderline criminal stupidity. If you've seen the somber, defeated look of a mug shot, these people look like that all the time.

I don’t even know when she moved in – probably in the winter, when people close their windows by necessity. Before her, there’ve been cab drivers – there still must be at least one cab driver in the ground or top-floor apartments as there’s a yellow cab parked in the driveway on occasion. I remember a Puerto Rican couple moving in over there a few years ago. I was coming home one night, when I saw a woman parked out on the steps of that house, she waved at me and said hi, and I thought, well, that’s nice, a friendly person moving in. I went into my apartment, next thing I hear, very loudly, is a male voice, saying, “Oh, no, don’t tell me we live next door to white trash now. Shit.”

I got out of my apartment in a hurry, onto the street, took one look at the guy, who was a 5’ 5” stack of nothingness and said, “You got a problem with me, buddy?”

He didn’t answer. So I added, “I’ve been living here a lot longer than you have and will be here long after you’re gone. You want to be an asshole, that’s your problem, but I suggest you shut the fuck up. This aint Corona, shithead.”

No answer. He sort of just slunk down the alley after that. Any time those folks saw me on the street, they avoided eye contact, which was fine by me. What he had done to me would have been like me barking, "Oh, no, a bunch of spics just moved in next door" -- so if you are Hispanic, ask yourself how you'd handle some annoying white asshole you've never met before pulling that number on you. Normally, I wouldn't give a shit, but not when it's right next door.

Well, we never got much of a chance to get along or not get along, because they were gone two months later. Again, there’s a revolving door on that apartment, probably because the rent sucks, and as I’ve seen, whoever’s renting out the apartment has zero common sense and keeps leasing it out to fucking bozos who more than likely start falling behind in rent after a few months. When I first moved in, I recall coming home after work one night to see a guy looking at all his personal items neatly stacked in front of the house. Just sort of let that one pass. Came out the next morning, and both were gone.

The strange thing is, the rents in Astoria have gone through the roof in the past few years, and it should be very easy to find a stable tenant of any color, someone with a good job, who doesn’t mind paying $800 or $900 for a studio apartment, who wouldn’t fit in on The Jerry Springer Show. People like this are getting harder to come by in the neighborhood, which is good on one hand, but indicative of the gentrification that the higher rents are fostering. Still, whoever’s running that building next door has a real nose for trash and, against all odds, manages to find them without fail.

But there is a nice thing about the people next door. Every evening when I come home from work in warm weather, I usually find my landlord sitting on her front porch with a portly little old man in a wife beater and shorts. She sits in a lawn chair on her porch, and he’s sitting on her steps. He looks like an older Bob Hoskins. With my landlord’s husband passing away a few years back, I’m assuming he’s some sort of itinerary sixtysomething boyfriend, which is cool. He doesn’t speak a word of English. All he does is smile at me, laugh and say, “Hey, A-Billy, hey!” He’s one of those people who smile at you, and you smile back.

He lives next door, I think in the first-floor apartment, but I’m not sure. I have a hard time believing he’s the one calling the shots on apartment rentals – he seems more like an older family member hanging in there in his later years. It’s always nice to see him and my landlady, chuckling away in Greek. One of these days, I should ask my landlady what goes on with the people next door. But I understand that she’s had a huge blowout with “the lady of the house” – probably over an issue she was equally at fault over. But I’ve never seen the lady of the house, or for that matter, anyone else but that old laughing man and whatever reject who's temporarily taking up space in the basement.

The past few summers, I’ve made it a point of sweeping out their alley when I do my landlord’s sidewalk. Those big, fluffy cotton ball tree droppings are just starting now and tend to congregate as much in their alley as on her sidewalk. I’m not sure of the legality of whose responsible for cleaning up droppings from her tree on their property, but I think this year I’m going to stop doing that. Half because it’s not my responsibility and I was just being a nice guy, and half because I don’t want to get hit by a TV set heaved at me by a very angry, not very smart woman whom I wished lived somewhere else.

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