The nicest thing my neighbor ever did was lie to me -- so I wouldn't fall and die.
It was my upstairs neighbor, and I was certain he was a drug dealer.
He vacuumed four or five times a day and at all hours -- 1 p.m., 8 a.m., 4 a.m. I imagined some 80-pound woman cutting the powdery product, while a paranoid, pale, tattooed greaseball religiously ran the Hoover to dispense of any evidence.
Meanwhile, my boyfriend thought our apartment was haunted.
"No," I told him, with water-is-wet mater-of-factness.
I'm not a medium, but I've always known these things. My last two apartments were definitely haunted, with the stove and the radio turning on by themselves, doors opening and closing on calm summer nights and the washing machine opening up and shooting out laundry mid-cycle.
But our place now has the spirit of a tax seminar.
When we rented it, somewhere on page three of the novel called our lease it said, "Tenant will not occupy spaces not meant for use, i.e., roof, fire escape."
I had signed knowing full well that every time my boyfriend upset me I would sit on the fire escape and smoke a filterless Lucky Strike, a passive-aggressive sign for him to F-Off for a bit.
I made plans for the roof space outside my kitchen window, which quickly became my urban sanctuary, my ghetto-getaway, equipped with BBQ, potted plants, two chairs and a small table before I even bought a cutting board.
The first beautiful spring day, I threw a pound of lemon dill salmon on the grill and tended to my potted herbs.
The window above me opened and out popped the head of a gentle-looking 60-something Ukrainian neither pale nor tatooed.
"Hi," he said.
A conversation ensued, in which I learned he lived alone. He had lived in the apartment caring for his mother for the last 40 years and she passed three years back from pancreatic cancer. He did little but play bridge and gossip--and because he had been in the armed forces, he liked to keep his home very clean.
He lit a cigarette and, weary of craning my neck, I sat on the edge of my "balcony" to look at him.
"Oh! Be careful!" he warned. "A girl fell."
"Yeah, a few years ago, pretty, young girl like you, about 25-years-old. She fell over the ledge there and died."
My face drained - perhaps my apartment was haunted after all, with the ghost of a fervent, anti-authority BBQ-er like myself.
He put out his cigarette and retreated back through the window, saying "Don't burn the fish. Americans always burn the fish."
I hit the obituaries the next day and found nothing.
Then I started knocking on doors. "Hi, I live next door. Say, you don't know anything about a girl falling of the roof outside my apartment and dying do you?...No? Hmm..Ok, have a good one."
The woman across the hall just laughed, "The Ukrainian? He's just trying to scare you I think, darling. Now be careful out there and bring me over some of that fish sometime."
My boyfriend was as disappointed to find that his sense of the netherworld was null as was I that I would never be privy to a real-life bust of some Upper East Side drug trafficking cartel.
Above us is just a sweet, tidy, old man who is watching out for his foolish neighbors below in his own clever way.
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