When Nadine moved into a new apartment, a neighbor’s shrill voice and incessant shrieking drove her up the wall—at first. Then she finally met Gertrude, the neighbor, all the noise made sense—and provided cover for her own young family’s ruckus. Here’s Nadine’s story.
I live in an East Village rental apartment next door to Gertrude, who is over 100 years old and definitely the oldest tenant in the building. She is also the loudest tenant in the building and is completely unapologetic about it. After all, when you live that long you no longer sweat the small stuff, and Gertrude doesn't sweat at all.
When I moved into the building, 18 years ago, I was taken aback by the sheer volume of Gertrude’s noise. I was curious why this woman shrieked so much and at such an ear-shattering decibel. What was she so angry about? What was she saying? Most of the time, I couldn’t understand what the fuss was about.
Back then, I had newborn twins, and I remember thinking that if they ever ran into her in the hallway, she might easily make them deaf.
[Editor's Note: Brick Underground's series “Living Next to” features first-person accounts of what it’s like to have an iconic or unusual New York City neighbor. Have a story to share? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.]
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As time went on, I made friends in the building with several neighbors, especially the ones on my floor. Still, I never saw Gertrude, even though I knew she was somewhere on my floor. My favorite neighbor is Eddy, who lives right next to me. He used to be a policeman, but then he injured himself on the job and had to retire. I feel safe with him around because he looks big and scary, but actually has a heart of gold.
One day Eddy asked me if I'd like to come over for a visit and meet some of his friends. I was grateful for the invitation. Eddy was such a nice guy, and I was sure all his friends would be nice as well.
Imagine my surprise when I rang his doorbell and heard the shrieker inside! I was stunned and somewhat scared to be in the same room with someone that aggressive, but it was too late. I was already at the door. Was this loud talker related to him? An aggressive roommate? Someone deranged? I thought he lived alone!
As I entered the room, I heard the woman's very loud raucous caw. It was terrifying! Then all of a sudden there stood Gertrude, in all her colorful glory. Just over a foot tall, she was all bark and no bite. Turns out Gertrude wasn’t a woman at all; she is Eddy’s 100-year-old parrot!
She wasn’t angry at all. In fact, she likes to step out of her cage and go for shoulder rides. She is not discerning; anyone’s shoulder will do.
When realized my mistake, I couldn’t help but laugh. But then Gertrude began to laugh exactly like me. As a matter of fact, she sounded so much like me that it was downright creepy. Gertrude is an excellent mimic. Over the years she has perfected my voice.
In fact, Gertrude likes to mimic and chat with neighbors so much, Eddy often has to tell her to keep her voice down. I love when I hear him yell at her, “Shuddap!” She often screams back, “Leave me alone!” which makes my family laugh uncontrollably.
If it sounds like they are an odd couple, well, they are. Gertrude and Eddy have been roommates for over 40 years. They weathered Eddy's difficult and drawn-out divorce. Eddy left with nothing but Gertrude.
When my twins first met Gertrude at the age of three, they were fascinated by her. My daughter was initially terrified, but my son immediately offered his tiny shoulder up to Gertrude, which she happily accepted and they became friends. My kids spent time at Eddy's teaching Gertrude how to talk, but because they were too young to enunciate clearly, Gertrude eventually got fed up with them. After all she is a very old no-nonsense kind of dame and their young voices had started to grate on her nerves.
In New York City, you can’t pick your neighbors. You never know what kind of annoying disturbances you might have to put up with, so I realize how lucky I am. Gertrude is the least of my worries.
Would I prefer living next to a quieter pet? No way, I had twins! For a long time, when my kids were little, we were the ones no one wanted to live next door to. With all the “Shuddaps” from Eddy and the “leave me alones” from Gertrude—there was plenty of cover for the ruckus my family made. In fact, most people don’t realize my kids are all grown up now.
Gertrude also reminds me that one can grow old ungracefully and still be on top of their game!
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