by Friar Dave
(copyright held by the author, February 2003)
The only reason I'd hesitated at taking the apartment - on a beautiful block in east Midtown Manhattan, walking distance to my office, and below-market rent - was that it was not on the top floor, because, after all, one man's ceiling is another man's floor. In the end, I was seduced by the wood-burning fireplace, set in a beautiful, gray marble mantel. I decided I'd take a chance.
I have been fortunate with most of the tenants who rented the apartment above mine. With only two exceptions, they have been very quiet and considerate. And only one was really noisy and inconsiderate, but after I explained to him how cranky I get when I am excessively disturbed, he decided he'd rather live elsewhere than abandon playing Really Bad Disco loud enough to drown out jet engines or the screams of a man who has just had his liver ripped out and displayed to him.
But in six years, much to my disappointment, the only young (i.e., younger than me) women who'd lived in the building were invariably living with someone of the male persuasion. Not that I was neglected, mind you; I had a couple of close friends - and one in particular - of long standing, not to mention strong survival instincts (necessary in this age of killer STDs). If only for aesthetic reasons and the pleasures of the occasional harmless flirtation, however, I really wanted to know why, in the heart of a city that may have more beautiful, available women per square yard than any other in the world, none of them were in my building.
Then Chloe moved in.
Someone was walking around in the vacant apartment upstairs. That was what had awakened me. Over the course of showering, feeding the cat, drinking coffee and checking the news online, I heard heavy footfalls up and down the stairs and occasional muttered grunts of effort. It was a May Friday, around nine in the morning, and glorious sunshine beamed down. As I reached the vestibule doors - both wedged open with books (a good sign) - two large and very good-looking young men were just entering, lugging a steamer trunk.
"Good morning," I said, and stepped back and out of their way. "Just moving in, eh?"
"Not us," replied one, a blond.
"No, just helping a friend who has the heaviest collection of junk on the planet," added the other, a crewcut redhead. Between the two of them, they looked like an ad for the Aryan Nation.
Outside, in a Stanza - with Kansas plates, for crying out loud - was presumably the friend who had the heaviest collection of junk on the planet. At the moment, said friend was kneeling doubled over on the backseat, rummaging among miscellaneous shopping bags and, not incidentally, flexing, through a pair of pale green tights, a pair of buttocks that could have polished a dime.
"Hi! I'm your downstairs neighbor, Michael."
She backed out of the car and stood, turning to me. "I'm Chloe." She smiled. She had a great, soft smile. She was tall, maybe 5-foot-7, had frizzy dark-brown hair pulled back with a band, big brown eyes, an honest nose and slightly overwide lips. But did I mention her smile? Oh. Since she was clad in a baggy sweatsuit, I couldn't even guess at her figure, but that smile was - well, great.
"You don't by any chance have any pets, do you?"
She shook her head. "I thought pets weren't allowed in the building - "
"It's not a problem unless someone complains," I said. "I have a cat."
She raised her eyebrows and looked plainly pensive. "That's... nice."
I chuckled. "It's not a conversational ploy or obsession. Nobody else in the building has pets; I was hoping you might, so we could work a trade."
"I don't understand."
"Take turns looking in on each other's pets. I'm going out of town for a week."
"Oh!" She brightened. "I really wouldn't mind - "
The two guys came out of the vestibule. "Chloe, for someone who had so much stuff to move, that apartment looks pretty bare."
"It's OK; furniture is supposed to start being delivered this afternoon." She turned back to me. "I really wouldn't mind - "
"Naaahhh, that's okay; it's got to be an even trade. I'll get someone in my office to look in on Arnold. I work about five blocks from here." I gave her my card. "Don't hesitate to ask for help or information. Even just to use the phone. Welcome, Kansas."
She blushed and hit me with that smile again.
As matters worked out, I didn't see Chloe again until almost a month later, on a drizzling Monday. We were leaving the building simultaneously. She was, I learned, in her residency at a nearby teaching hospital. Ahhh - that explained why I occasionally found a doctor's greens in the basement laundry room.
"How did you decide to get into advertising?" She asked, as we crossed Lexington Avenue.
"Necessity of food. Some years ago, I learned that it was not a good sign to have your published novels sell fewer copies than your collected poems. So I made the rounds and eventually got a job. You've already adopted some New York traits."
She wrinkled her nose at me and unleashed that five-megawatt smile. She was wearing a light raincoat over loose jeans and a loose blouse. "Such as?"
"Identifying people by their work. At least you didn't ask me my sign." I smiled to let her know it was a joke.
"Oh; you're a Gemini."
I blinked. She had me.
She laughed softly. "Sorry; I couldn't resist. It's adapt or perish."
"No - it's adapt and thrive."
She gave me an odd look. "I like that," she said.
She had to go south on Park, I continued west, and that was that.
It was the Fourth of July in New York City. Which meant I - along with Gina - was jockeying for a good perch from which to see the fabled fireworks display over the East River. (Which is not really a river; it's an estuary - but, I digress.)
Fortunately, Gina had an acquaintance, a "person" (Gina-ese: someone for whom she had the hots) named Karen, a putative artist, who had a studio at the tip of Greenpoint, which is the neighborhood that occupies the northern triangle of Brooklyn bounded by the East River, the Newtown Creek and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Greenpoint is a great neighborhood to be from, as in "having left." I speak from experience, here. It took its name from the description of Dutch sailors in the 1600s, who referred to a "green point" of land interrupting the flow of the river. (I mean "estuary." But, I digress.)
So we took the No.7 train (Anyone remember John Rocker? Never mind.) to Long Island City (known as "Lie City" in the Point), and then we walked across the Pulaski Bridge (named for Kasimir Pulaski, the scion of a noble Polish family, who was so swollen with the ideas of Robespierre and Marat that when he learned the colonists in the New World were fighting to establish a land of equality for all [white male property owners] - a radical idea at the time - he sailed to North America and offered his expertise. As the scion of nobility, he'd grown up the way a mascot would grow up in West Point, and he taught the bumbling but undeniably brave and committed hayseeds of the Continental Army how to function as an army, which was a terrible shock to the mercenaries hired by England to quash said bumbling hayseeds... but, I digress) to the Point, since Karen's studio was actually closer on foot that way than taking the G [formerly the GG] to the Greenpoint Avenue station. (Which is yet another digression.)
So we got to Karen's building, and we searched for the entrance - this happens in Greenpoint; don't ask - and in the process we met and cross-introduced ourselves to William and his friend, Christine.
I was struck immediately by two things about William: He was about my age but not carrying the years as well (which I say with no modesty whatsoever), and he was a dweeb. Worse: an overbearing dweeb, but I'll get to that.
Christine struck me a different way. She was wearing faded, baggy denim and an old giveaway ballcap, and she was the most beautiful woman I had every seen face to face.
(Elaboration: I wrote ad copy for a New York City agency that specializes in the fashion industry. I have had occasions to meet some of the most beautiful women in the world who get into the public eye. Christine made all but a few of them look shabby - and the few exceptions didn't come close to Christine.)
Gina summarized it superbly:
"She is the perfect Nordic blonde."
And she was. Maybe eight inches shorter than me, her hair was almost - not quite - platinum. Her complexion was almost but not quite translucent yet glowed with good health. Her eyes were the color of blue ice. And her lips, under the lipstick, were lush, pale and small - in fact, her mouth was small. I guessed she was somewhere between 22 and 26 years old, because there was maturity in her face, yet she still had that wonderful, barely contained vitality that in most people seems to fade out by the 30th birthday. She was wearing jeans that had to have been tailored, because her legs were a bit long for her height. Ahhhh! A flaw! She had a lightweight, matching denim jacket that was unbuttoned over a navy blue tee-shirt. The tee-shirt was tucked into the waist of the jeans and was beautifully filled by breasts so firm that she had to have been wearing a bra, even though no lines showed.
She was so beautiful; I was intimidated. Yes, me, who traded bad puns with Iman (before she got the boob job and a spouse) and got a peck on the cheek from ...