Chapter 1: How It Happened
It began innocuously enough. I came home one evening to find a pale green notice crudely taped to the front door of my tenement. It was from Con Ed, and read: “All Gas Service Shut Off Due To Leak On Building Piping.”
I shrugged and trudged up the stairs to my third floor flat. Such notices were not uncommon. Apartments were being renovated all around me. All day long fire alarms wailed, piles of lumber fell over with loud thuds, and electric saws came to life with a metallic whir, and this had been going on for over a year. A thick carpet of construction dust spread over everything.
My West Village building was being converted into a condominium by a shadowy real estate entity that had paid $8 million for the 21-unit building a couple of years previously, even though the asking price had been $4 million. Even $4 million had seemed high for a building with a crumbling infrastructure, and the building had been on the market for five years at that price.
The building (technically, a “New Law” tenement) was really not much to look at. It was built in 1918 with weird, off-white brick, which seemd to get more “off-white” with every passing year. When I moved in, the area surrounding the building had been furnished with bodegas, gypsy fortune tellers, and vegetable stands, but now the neighborhood was being invaded by designer labels–principally Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren–who had rudely commandeered multiple storefronts and used them as glitzy, 3-D billboards. It was rare to see anyone buy anything in these stores, where t-shirts ran as high as $600.
What’s more, Sex in the City had turned my street into a permanent tourist magnet, attracting hordes who lined up in front of Magnolia Bakery to get cupcakes that were three-quarters frosting, before wandering dazedly off to get their pictures taken on the stoop of Carrie’s TV house.
I reached my apartment on the third floor, nimbly hopping over a pile of construction debris, and turned the key in the lock. Sniffing for gas as I opened the door, I ran immediately into the kitchen and inspected my stove. It was the tenement special–four burners forming a tight matrix, so tight that two large pans couldn’t fit on adjacent burners. I often had to cook complex meals with pans hanging half-off the stove.
I turned on one of the burners and was relieved to hear the familiar click-click-click of the electric ignition system. Unfortunately, no happy flames leapt up to greet me.
Next: I gird my loins and go out to buy a hot plate.
[Robert’s Note: An installment of this story will appear every Friday morning at 9 a.m., until my gas gets turned back on.]