May 29, 2014.
It was billed as a throwback to the old Beatnik days, minus the bongos and clove cigarettes.
As such, New York City was a mandatory locale; Brooklyn made it perfect.
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My neighbor, whose name I’ve of course forgotten—if in fact I ever knew it in the first place—(and, being roughly my age, never objects to and always answers my irrefutably cordial salutations which include chief, dude, bro, and the ever appropriate and all purpose man) is standing outside my door: I can see him through the peep hole.
While I wonder if I should wait to see if he’ll knock again, he knocks again. It’s eight-thirty in the morning, what’s the worst thing that could happen?
“Hey Byron,” he says, embarrassed or anxious. Or both (at least he remembers my name).
“What’s up my man?” I say, not missing a beat.
“Listen, sorry to bother you…you on your way to work?”
“Yeah, actually…why, is everything okay?”
“Uh, yeah, listen, do you mind if I come inside for a second?”
I back up obligingly, resigned to roll with it. What choice is there? After all, I did open the door.
He corners me in my kitchen and asks if I know anyone who might be interested in buying a condo. His condo, for instance.
“I’m sure there are plenty of people who would love to live here,” I offer.
“Yeah, I know, but…I mean, do you know anyone who’s looking to buy a place?”
“I’d be happy to ask around, you know, put the word on the street and whatnot…”
“Yeah, that’d be cool, I’d appreciate that.”
He looks away and it’s my turn to say something.
“Yeah, well, I got laid off, you know? So I’m just gonna move home for a while, with my folks. You know, ‘til I get my shit straight.”
“I hear you,” I say as encouragingly as possible, but it’s only half true. I do hear him, but I also hear myself (saying I hear you) as well as the voice inside my head, which is processing this situation and repeating the verdict: Not good, not good, not good.
He is sweating, his hands—which seem puffy and pale, I’ve never noticed what unbelievable meat hooks he has, though admittedly, the only times I bump into him are in the hallway as he disappears into his end unit with a case of Miller Lite cans under one arm, McDonalds or some other fast food monstrosity in the other—his hands, exhibits A and B, are shaking like the lid on a boiling pot, they are very obviously not obeying their master, and before I have half a chance to put two and two together he interrupts my internal assessment and looks at me searchingly.
“Hey Byron, you got any beer?”
At eight thirty-three in the A.M., there is only one possible answer to a question like this: “Sure,” I say.
I open the refrigerator and remember: I drank my last beer last night, which makes me a liar.
“Actually, I don’t,” I start, but sense that will not suffice, so I hold the door open and let him inspect for himself, which he does, making us both feel better—or worse—depending on how you look at it. He accepts this answer, but is clearly not satisfied with my response.
“Oh. I have plenty of liquor, if…”
“Yeah, do you care if I take a shot of something?”
Are you sure you’re okay? (To myself I say this).
A pint glass is obviously inappropriate, so I grab a juice glass and put it down on the counter, sliding it over to him like a bartender from a black and white western. He has eagerly grabbed my fifth of single-malt and I tell him to help himself.
He pours a generous, bordering on unbelievable, belt of my booze and inhales it in one febrile motion. This is strictly business (to myself I say this).
“Better?” I inquire, and actually mean it, I actually want to know.
“Uh…do you mind if I get another one?”
“Hey bro, knock yourself out,” I say. Stupidly.
He doesn’t notice because he’s too busy securing the second round in case I try and give last call at the last second. Even the sweat on his forehead seems relieved. Although I know exactly what time it is, I can’t help myself from looking up at the digits blinking on my oven: 8:34.
He looks at me and nods his head, expressing gratitude with his burning eyes. The eyes never lie. Then he snatches a tube of toothpaste out of his front pocket, puts it in his mouth and pulls the trigger.
“So, you wouldn’t mind asking around, you know, just see if anyone is looking to maybe live here…I’ll cut a deal…”
“No problem,” I assure him.
“…I’ll hook you up with a finder’s fee too…”
“Oh don’t worry about that man, I’m happy to help.”
Not good, not good, not good.
“Let me give you a card,” he says, putting the toothpaste back and reaching into his other pocket. I’m surprised, in spite of myself, that between the shaking and the sheer size of his hands he can even fit them into his shirtsleeves.
“Fuck,” he says, frazzled or furious. Or both.
“What’s up?” I ask.
“I left my fucking cards in my place…”
“Well don’t worry about it, let me just write your number down and…”
“No, let me run and get them, and you can hand them out and shit…”
I wait (too long) and go down to get them myself.
On the way, I think: Gambling debts? Drugs? Or both?
Drugs, it must be drugs.
Whatever it is, it’s something I know I want no part of. It’s obviously something my neighbor wants no part of either, or we wouldn’t both be here right now.
I knock on the door.
It opens, quickly, and my neighbor walks out, shutting it behind him. Apparently I’m not supposed to see inside. Perhaps I don’t want to see inside.
He follows me into the hall.
“Hey Byron, I appreciate anything you can do.”
“No problem dude, I’m happy to help…”
“Listen,” he leans in close. “Do you mind if I grab another shot?”
I’ve already locked my door on the way out, so I let myself back in, tricking my dog into thinking a full day has already passed.
The bottle and glass are still on the counter, forming sticky circles of an early morning crime scene.
“Do you mind if I pour a stiff one?”
“Help yourself, chief.”
You want to take the bottle with you? (To myself I say this).
He pours a shot that would give Liberty Valance pause, polishes it off, and then pulls out the toothpaste from his holster.
I ask no questions, he tells no tales.
I tell my dog to hold down the fort (again) and my dog looks confused or disappointed. Or both. I lock the door (again) and escort my soon-to-be-ex-neighbor out.
“Thanks again Byron.”
“Okay man, take care of yourself.”
“Give me a call if you hear anything.”
Both of us seem to understand, as we go our separate ways, that we’ll never see each other again, and we are each somewhat deflated, probably for opposite reasons.
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