The Man Who Wasn’t There


Location Fort Greene (Brooklyn)

Rent $1,159.84 (rent stabilized)

Square feet 624 (duplex in turn-of-century building)

Occupant Gabriel A. Tolliver (writer, producer, founder of GFR Media)

Your neighbor was CIA?! That’s what Steve said.

Who’s Steve? My super, who lives next door.

What was the neighbor like? He got in around ’96. I moved here in ’94. He kept really odd hours. I’m very attuned to sounds. The shades were always down, no lights. I’d ask my super, Steve, “What’s with the guy across the hall?” Steve said, “He works for the CIA.”

How did Steve know? Steve has the scoop on everybody. It was weird, in the summer before 9-11, the guy just up and moved. He’d cleared out the apartment, but he hadn’t turned in the keys. Steve couldn’t get in for a month. When he did, the place was just torn up, full of trash, bank statements.

If you’re a spy, you cover your tracks. It was almost as if the guy really didn’t live there. He just came and went.

Do you think he was using it as a lookout? His windows face the subway entrance. Who knows what was going on in the area?

Maybe it was a front? And he was checking out organizations.

What did he look like? Portly black guy, very unassuming. You wouldn’t look twice at him on the street. He didn’t give off an air of tough guy. He very much kept to himself. So being CIA kind of made some sense. Once I even slipped a note under his door. At one point in time, I was thinking of a career in the multimedia aspect of the CIA. This was after NYU. I was very into that electronic warfare, hacking and stuff. Though I’m not a hacker. I slipped a note under his door: “I understand that you work for the Central Intelligence Agency and I was interested in hearing about your experiences.” His being African American and all.

What happened? Nothing.

Did you tell Steve what you did? No.

Maybe we’d better talk to Steve. He’s on patrol.

Patrol? Doing work on the various buildings. [He calls Steve: “Steve, hi, someone’s here talking about that neighbor I had—well, this is just a little information reporter thing,” and hands over the phone.]

Steve, how did you know the guy was CIA? [Steve, on phone] The building office told me.

Of course! They want to know who your employer is! Steve, did you see him much? [Steve] Any packages that came for him, I’d take them. No, I don’t know where they came from, all different places. [We hang up.]

Did he ever have any visitors? [Gabriel] He was by himself all along.

Four years! Wasn’t he lonely? I don’t know. He had very wary eyes, always taking in a lot. Once I saw him coming from the pizza place with a slice in a bag.

Did you ever hear anything through the walls? I heard the TV. It seemed like it was movies. I did hear him once like crying out loud, sobbing, like he was having a very private moment.

Even spies have emotions. [The doorbell rings. A very large deliveryman is outside the door.]

Oh, God. It’s just a package for a neighbor.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 1, 2003

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