Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ding Dong!

I don’t mean to brag, but I got a new doorbell yesterday. It took three handymen to install it. Apparently I bought the wrong kind of doorbell from Home Depot and they needed to bring in “the big drill.” I’m still not sure if the big drill was the actual drill (which was huge) or the six foot tall, bulky Slavic man who brought it upstairs (also huge). While the handymen were drilling, my 78-year-old neighbor Helen walked by. She was bundled up for the Tundra in a heavy overcoat and scarf (it was 62° yesterday). “What’s the news?” she wanted to know. “I’m getting a new doorbell,” I answered. “WHY?” Helen demanded. “Because the old one didn’t work,” I explained. Then Helen turned to the handymen. “I know she’s a pretty lady but three men in her apartment?!” Helen laughed. Good one, Helen! Meanwhile, this was her dream come true. Three eligible bachelors in my apartment. One of them with a big drill! Maybe some news will come out of this. I told her as much and she laughed even harder.

The elevator came and Helen got in. As the doors were closing, I heard her say, “It’s warm out?”

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Everyone's A Critic!

I live in an unofficial retirement home. The average age of my apartment building is approximately 80. My neighbors don't seem to have jobs or places to go or any sense of privacy. I got to know Helen, my 78-year-old next-door neighbor, when she was trying to steal my newspaper and I caught her red-handed. I heard a rustling sound on the other side of the door, and then swung it open to find Helen crouched down over the New York Times. "Hi Helen," I said. She immediately defended herself, "I just wanted the Arts & Leisure section." That was a weak argument but I let her borrow it anyway.

I had met Helen before but she had never been nice. The first time we spoke, she asked if I was loud or quiet. Then she eyed me as if to say, "I'm not asking, I'm telling you to keep the volume down." But since the paper-swiping incident she’s warmed up a bit.

Helen has a femur-sized mezuzah on her door and starts every conversation with, "What's the news?" I eventually learned that the "what's the news" was code for "are you engaged yet?" At first, I would respond with how I just braved the lines at Fairway or got a new freelance job. But this wasn’t the news Helen wanted. Her eyes would glaze over and she would eventually interrupt with, "Have a good one!" and walk away. Sometimes, Helen would share news of her own. "My grandson just got engaged. His fiancĂ© is a pediatrician!" or, "My granddaughter just got engaged. She lives in California!" One time she reported, "Only one more granddaughter to go! She's 26." Then Helen's face darkened. "But Rebecca is, you know...I don't know." I had no idea what Helen meant by that but decided that Rebecca was either overweight or a lesbian. Or maybe she was just single and 26. One thing I was sure of was that Rebecca was probably sick of being asked for some news.

Helen is friends with another elderly woman on our floor named Pat. I like Pat because she calls me honey and she’s friendly. She wears tracksuits and walks around our hallway for exercise. She usually wears a wig but not when she’s power walking the halls. Pat is also very into recycling. Whenever I run into her by the garbage chute, she wants to know if I’ve triple-checked my trash for every piece of recyclable material. Pat and Helen are like good cop, bad cop. Sometimes I get paranoid that Pat is holding me hostage at the trash chute with recycle chitchat while Helen is busy stealing my Arts & Leisure section.

I haven’t run into Helen lately. Sometimes I don’t see her for weeks and get nervous, like I should knock on her door and make sure she’s okay/still alive. But then she’ll resurface and ask me for the news.

The lobby in our apartment building is currently being renovated. My neighbors –including Helen- have been complaining during every phase. The construction is too loud. The paint smells. The mirror is too high. Today, I was in the lobby and an elderly lady with an aluminum cane noticed that the new carpeting looked uneven. I nodded but only because I’ve learned that it’s easier not to argue with someone who’s probably hard of hearing. Then she looked at me and declared, “Everyone’s a critic!” and shuffled away.

I have yet to get Helen’s opinion on the carpeting. Stay tuned to find out. I intend to track my relationship with Helen and my other neighbors on this blog. I know, it’s thrilling stuff.

Also, I’m new at this whole blogging thing but once I get more proficient, I’ll take pictures of people and things to accompany my stories. Helen, Pat, my newspaper, the carpeting…get ready people! Welcome to THE SCHLOG!!!!!