The Landlady Held My Hand


Location Lower East Side

Rent $906.59 [rent stabilized]

Square feet 300 [two-room apartment in tenement building]

Occupants Sue Weston[social worker]

Spitzer’s Dress Store is down the block, as is “Esther Apt 1930,” carved in stone above the door. Esther must have been the builder’s wife—or girlfriend. Your stairs do not match. A sign on the wall reads: “On July 20th, power will be turned off . . . Sorry for All Incontinences.” There’s so much about this building. There’s spit on the stairs or chicken wings or cigarette butts.

Are the red streaks blood? They paint something, wipe their hands on the walls. We send our rent checks to a P.O. box in a very wealthy town in New Jersey.

Who’s your landlord? Landlady. We were on good terms. There have been a couple of brief episodes. I used to have a refrigerator that wasn’t self-defrosting. So I happened to wedge some frozen food in, pierced something so Freon was pouring out. I said, I need a new one. So she wheels in this refrigerator, she and her two lackeys. By the way, she took a valve off this radiator and never came back for two or three years. I’m sorry I’m talking so fast. I open the refrigerator and 100 cockroaches come pouring out. She said, Listen, I buy you bug bomb.

How would you describe her? She’s tiny. She always wears nice makeup. She often wears a cap, like when people go on a boat, like on Gilligan’s Island. She’s from Taiwan. There was a day when we were still on friendly terms. We had to get a key. We’re walking down the street, she’s holding my hand. We used to have a door in front of the building that flapped in the wind. Last year, there was an attempted burglary—my apartment and the people’s next door. I came home, the door was jammed. I called, thinking she’s going to hightail it over. She said, You have to get a locksmith. I said, Who? She said, Get someone from the phone book. These people damaged the door so badly, it took the locksmith two hours. I decided to deduct $400 from my rent. I wrote her a letter. She went ballistic. I said, Take me to court. I had so much proof against this woman.

Our relationship went poof. Then she calls with this story that I’ve been late with my rent. I said, Where’s the proof? She wants to charge me $25 each time. I said, End of discussion. She brought me over to her office, closed the door. It was a little intimidating, let me tell you.

The Hispanic family upstairs used to have live chickens. At night, I’d hear this constant pounding. A lot of the people here, for extra money, will cut chickens into pieces. Now, upwardly mobile Caucasians are moving in. Nine years ago, eight guys were across the hall in this same-size apartment.

What’s clinging to the stair window gates, like droppings? It’s disgusting. I get mysterious piles of sand behind the radiator. I recently had an infestation of mice. I went on the Tenement Museum tour. Those apartments look exactly like my place. I can’t believe I’ve lived in these conditions. I . . .

You’re leaving. I’m moving to Ireland. I’m getting married, a man I met in passing. I have cousins there. Last year, when I was in Galway, a town in Dumore, I wanted to climb Crough Patrick, a mountain people climb in penance. It’s where Saint Patrick spent like 40 days thinking about the Irish people. It’s a tricky, kind of scary mountain. As I was chatting about doing this hike, PJ came into my cousin’s house. He said, I’ll take you up Crough Patrick. So we got to the top and had a bottle of wine. The priests would probably look down upon that. PJ said the mountain spoke to him. He’s building a house in Connemara, all stone faced. It’s property he’d bought eight years ago, after he worked on the tunnel from England to France.

He was under the ocean? Welding. He’s also a sculptor. He came back and bought this property. The house has four bedrooms and a view of the ocean. I’m walking out of here on September 11.