I lived in a building near the corner of West 85th Street and Amsterdam between 2005 and 2007—clearly a very nice neighborhood. But as I always liked to say, we were the crappiest building in that very nice neighborhood.
I worked at home most of the time, and I began to notice when I came in from my dog's midday walk that there were often different young, Asian women hanging around in the lobby. They were always either checking their phones or on their phones.
It's easy in New York to just shut your eyes and ears to everything going on in your building as long as your hot water is working and no one is making too much noise, but after this went on pretty consistently for about a week, I began to study the women more closely.
They wore lots of short shorts and cutoffs, occasionally accessorized by that evergreen fashion item, the mesh stocking. Camisoles with lace, tiny tank tops decked out in fringe or gently bedazzled. Towering platform shoes, of course.
When I finally put two and two together, I said to one of my neighbors who also worked at home, "Hey, uh, did you ever think those girls might be prostitutes?" She looked at me and said, "Of course they are—they've got an operation going on in an apartment on the third floor. They have a system where they give out numbers to their clients who call them when they get to the building, they meet them in the lobby, and take them up."
Oh. Well, that explained the awkward, nervous men standing on the steps also making phone calls while staring at the building number.
All of their business seemed to be focused around "lunchtime quickie" or "way-home-from-work delight." We rarely saw anything going on in the evening, so it was pretty much just those of us who were at home during the day who saw any of this. Of course my sharper, more worldly neighbors had already complained to the landlord, but it seemed like it took them another few months to get anything done. I don't know if the process was difficult or if this was just another example of our landlord's seeming inability to do anything but use our super to paint his house in Westchester.
Regardless, when they finally did break it up, the super's assistant went in to clean out the apartment. They took out mattress after mattress after mattress, and then just a few folding chairs, which I found both hilarious and sad. I remember the whole thing fondly, in a weird kind of way.
They renovated the apartment and the next tenants to move in were an Orthodox Jewish family with four young kids. No one told them what had gone on before them.