As a general rule, New York is a city where everyone knows a ton of people, but nobody knows their neighbors. There are good reasons for this. On the practical front, there are no common areas, and hallways are weird places to hobnob; psychologically speaking, you can escape your friends, but you can’t escape your neighbors. It's risky getting to know people you can't escape.
Like all rules, this one isn’t universal. We get to know some neighbors, at least a little bit, because we see them out at local bars; or they require our help carrying their groceries up the stairs; or their faulty plumbing causes a torrential downpour through our ceiling; or we’re so sexually magnetic that one night they just follow us into our apartments and do stuff (that’s a “We” I’m still waiting to join, but I’ve heard it happens).
I got to know my neighbor in apartment #3 very well. I know that he was some sort of stock trader in the ‘80s. I know that by the 2000s he’d almost certainly become a drug dealer to homeless people and prostitutes. I know that he didn’t believe 10am was too early to get high on his own supply. I know that he assumed everyone else was also racist against Asians. I know that he had short-term memory issues -- because when you’d explain that you weren’t racist against Asians, he’d say something like “Oh, man, I didn’t mean it like that!” and then the next day he’d make another weirdly racist observation, followed by a wink and a nod.
And I know that he probably did remember, and that his aggressive wink-nod -- combined with his 6’3” stature -- was his alpha dog way of bullying people into agreeing with opinions they didn’t actually hold.
I didn’t come to know any of this in the normal ways. I came to know it because, as you might have already guessed, “#3” is a psychotic asshole who’d inflict himself on anyone in close proximity. I was #4. For nine years, the proximity didn’t get much closer.
The acts of neighborly terrorism committed by #3 are so numerous it would be impossible to go into all of them in detail. Some highlights, though:
- He called my roommate a prude b____ for not succumbing to his middle-aged wiles, then by way of threat casually mentioned that he had a key to our apartment.
- He once threw a kitchen worker from the Japanese restaurant beneath us against a wall, then personally blamed him for the East Village’s rat problem. On another occasion he left a dead rat at the same restaurant’s doorstep.
- He was so menacing in his harassment of the couple above him (for "making noise like a bunch of Asians in heels," which isn’t even a stereotype) that they moved to the West Village.
- He allowed his wacked-out ex-girlfriend to bang on his door from her knees for three hours, screaming at him to please let her in so she could (once again experience the penis whose magnificence had turned her into a virtual sex slave?) get drugs.
- He almost definitely bought something from an upstate gun store on my credit card after my idiot bank inexplicably decided my mailing address ought to be “Apartments 3 and 4” instead of just “Apartment 4.”
My favorite story, I will go into detail on. Let’s call it "The Third Prostitute."
One Sunday morning in February, I walked out of my apartment to find #3 lurking in the vestibule. He got right up in my face -- or his chest did; he had seven inches on me -- and started yelling some of the best crazy stuff I’d heard since moving to New York.
#3: “Did you call the fucking cops on me last night?”
#4: “Why the fuck would I call the cops on you?”
#3: “I was fucking two hookers, and I heard a knock on the door. I thought it was the third hooker, but it was the cops! I know you called them, motherfucker.”
#4: “Motherfucker! Why would I give a shit if you were fucking prostitutes?”
#3: “Well the music was really loud! So maybe you called the cops because of that!”
#4: “Well maybe I didn’t! I think you need to get out of my face!”
#3: “Yeah, well if I find out you called the cops on me, there’s going to be trouble.”
#4: “Whatever, asshole.”
I didn’t see #3 again for a week. Then on Valentine’s Day, I was walking by the news kiosk at Astor Place, and he was sitting amongst the periodicals with the old Greek guy who ran it. He called out to me, all smiles.
... he seemed to genuinely want to bond over a shared experience with a sex worker
“Hey, #4, this is Nikos.” Nikos nodded his head somberly. He’d clearly seen enough, that to him, #3 was just another character. “Hey man, I’m really sorry about last week,” apologized #3. “I was just pissed off because somebody called the cops and I thought it was you.”
We’d pretty well established that point the week before, but I’m conciliatory to a fault, so I just said, “Hey, don’t worry about it. Just ask me next time instead of accusing me.” We shook hands, and he agreed that [next time someone called the cops on him when he was doing prostitutes] he would give me the benefit of the doubt. Then I headed to McSorley’s to meet a bunch of dudes, because it was Valentine’s.
A few hours later, I was enjoying six very small beers with an equal number of very large guys, most of whom I knew from college in Texas. Who walks in but #3, with his old, friendly, sideways-waddling black lab in tow. He was clearly a regular (his dog put its paws up on the bar and nobody seemed to care), which surprised me, because even though I knew he’d lived in the East Village since before people called it the East Village, I imagined him only hanging out in vans doing drugs with homeless guys. Mostly because he owned a van, and one time I ran into him walking his dog, and as we passed said van on our way back towards our building it was filled with expectant looking homeless guys, to whom he said “I’ll be back later.”
Did I mention that he always had a fat stack of hundreds on him, and every Christmas he’d peel one off for everyone in our building and try to force it into our wallets like some kind of cut-rate Nino Brown?
Anyway, I wasn’t about to give him a shout out, but I was kind of hoping he’d notice me. Having the biggest nutjob neighbor is the New York equivalent of having the best lawn in the neighborhood, and I wanted to show off my 1st Prize ribbon. Of course I got what I asked for when he walked up to our table, leaned over and put his hands on it with a familiarity that alarmed even my friends who had no idea how volatile he was.
“Hey #4, I just wanted to apologize again for the other day. I’m getting some more hookers tonight if you want to join me. It’s Valentine’s!” Amazed expressions on all faces.
“I’m all good,” I demurred. “I’m just going to hang out with all these dudes.”
“Okay, but you don’t know what you’re missing out on!” he said, more manically happy than I’d ever seen him -- he seemed to genuinely want to bond over a shared experience with a sex worker. He looked around the table. “Maybe some of your friends want to get some hookers?”
That was kind of rude. Was he implying that my friends were cooler than I was, and that I shouldn’t let my lameness get in the way of them having a good time with an awesome dude such as himself?
“No, bro, we’re all good,” said one of my friends, the warning in his voice diluted by uncertainty. These guys hadn’t seen me in a while, and for all they knew, New York had changed me enough to where I actually would hop into a 3- (or 4-) way with an old weirdo with a ponytail. #3 shrugged his shoulders, told us it was our loss, and left to go spend his hard-earned money on some girls who had to work a whole lot harder than him.
Two years ago I moved a few avenues East. These days my terrible neighbors are in the next building, just a few feet from mine. I’ve never met them, or even seen them, but I can hear them every night, because they TALK VERY LOUD and never close their window, even during a faux-blizzard. She complains about other people, he offers up a stupid analysis that backs up her assessment even though he clearly doesn’t care what she thinks, and then they either drink too much or do too many drugs and she starts yelling that he’s bipolar and he starts mumbling at an astonishingly high volume -- a mumble yell, something I’ve never heard a human emit before -- about her generally sucking. And then they wake up at 6am and have bizarrely happy conversations with his parents over Skype.
I don’t know how to make it stop. Yelling “shut the fuck up!” certainly hasn’t worked -- I know, because I’m quite honestly yelling it even as I type this. I wish I could confront them in the vestibule and tell them that, based on an assessment that rests on a foundation of having heard literally every word they’ve said for the past god knows how many months, they are both awful human beings. In a way I miss the relationship I had with #3. He was a psychotic, but at least he was a psychotic I could look in the eye. Sometimes, the crazy neighbor you know is better than the crazy neighbors you don’t.
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David Blend is an executive editor at Thrillist, and a damn fine person to live next door to, provided you don't mind occasionally hearing the music of Tesla blaring through your wall. Follow him on Twitter here.