Valley of the Squinting Windows
My sister Claire lives in Astoria, Queens, at the last stop on the N train. Her landlords live downstairs. Charlie and Rose are in their eighties, and have remained alive only in order to monitor her goings-on, as far as we can tell. In the past year, she has learned to despise Charlie and Rose, whose blinds twitch whenever she has ‘company’.
The apartment was so poorly wired that if she plugged in her hairdryer or toaster oven, everything went dark. She would scrabble for her cellphone and brace herself for the barrage of accusations delivered in whining, old-lady Queens.
‘Claire, I told you you couldn’t plug in all those things together. Didn’t I? Didn’t I explain that you couldn’t plug in the hairdryer and have the TV on? No, I know you had the TV on. Otherwise the lights wouldn’t blow. Chawlie! Chawlie! Claire blew the lights again.’
Claire is usually firm with them, but as they’re half-deaf it washes over them.
Once I let myself into her apartment when she wasn’t there, and managed to blow the lights. I lit a candle and found Rose and Charlie’s number in her address book. Rose got ready to launch into her usual tirade.
‘This isn’t Claire. This is her sister. I blew the lights when I plugged in the toaster. I’m very worried for Claire. This wiring doesn’t seem to be safe. I’m afraid it’ll burn the apartment down and there aren’t any smoke detectors. You need to get it fixed.’
Rose was shocked. She sent Charlie shuffling up the stairs to look at the plugs, gathering evidence of Claire’s carelessness. But there wasn’t any. He was an apologetic little man.
‘My wife, you know’I guess the last person who lived here was an old lady, and she didn’t have no hairdryer or no toaster. I guess we should get this fixed. But my wife, you know”
It was fixed the following week. Claire enjoyed two days of peace until she got a call from Rose, yelling about imaginary houseguests. Next they took to calling her at work every day.
‘Claire? What did I tell you about the showah? There’s water dripping down through the ceiling. Ya have to put the showah curtain inside the tub, otherwise the water drips on the floor. No, I know ya have the showah curtain outside the tub. I just went upstairs to check.’
In desperation, she went across the hall to see Lisa, the only other tenant. Lisa peeped around the door.
‘Um, Lisa, I was wondering how you got along with Charlie and Rose.’
Lisa opened the door wide.
‘I hate them! And they hate me!’
Lisa’s moment of truth had come early, the day she moved in. Her boyfriend had helped her move. Charlie and Rose peered out all day, but she took no notice. The next morning, when he left, Rose climbed the stairs in a fury.
‘I won’t have you turn this into a house of ill-repute!’ she yelled.
Lisa didn’t yell back until months later, when Rose and Charlie challenged her on condom wrappers they had found while searching her trash. Now she’s moving out.
Claire’s epiphany came the day Charlie let himself in to fix the leaking sink in the bathroom (having finally given up on her shower curtain crimes). She came in to find he had mopped up the dirty water with her pajamas, now lying in a gritty puddle under the toilet bowl.
So, we know that a thousand dollars buys you a month in a small two-bedroom in an ugly house in Astoria, with an Italian grandma conscience thrown in for free. Anyone have any better ideas? Email me and I’ll pass them on. And I will try to put aside my fantasies of calling the housing board for the surprise inspection that might cause them to keel over at last, and let them make their own miserable old age.