Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Neighborly

So there's an elderly, mostly-deaf, fragile old woman who lives in the apartment below us. She's a relic, really: one of the few Irish-American citizens left in Inwood (Inwood was, until the '80s, mostly peopled by Irish immigrants or whatever--I know this because of Wikipedia, which also helpfully informs me that the Irish evacuated to the suburbs when the Dominicans moved in. The Dominicans are still here, so I guess the Irish are biding their time, waiting to return).

The elderly woman's name is Josie O'Something. She's got brittle, spider-webby dark hair, and is around 5 foot two or so, thin as glass, with large dark eyes buried inside of pale melting flesh. She has a heavy, mumbley Irish brogue, so it's almost impossible to understand her when she speaks, but that's fine because she can't really hear anything you shout at her anyway.

Josie O'Something often positions herself just inside the front door of the building, where she acts as an ersatz gatekeeper. If she recognizes you, she'll press the little red button beside the door which unlocks it. If she doesn't recognize you, she'll simply stand there looking at you as you fumble for keys or press various apartment buttons hoping someone else will buzz you in. Greg's first encounter with her, just after we moved in, was as he was hauling home several bags of laundry--she didn't recognize him, so just stared her cold stare where you're not quite sure she sees you as he balanced the laundry and slid his hands into various pockets in search of keys.

ANYway, I've often come home to find Josie standing inside the lobby (she now opens the door for me). Sometimes she's standing there, hands in the pockets of her very small and narrow pants, talking to the neighbors (they speak only Spanish, she speaks only unintelligible English, and yet somehow they work out a conversation), and sometimes she's alone, hands still in pockets, staring into the space between her face and the building's door. I wonder what she's thinking, why she stands there, for hours.

When she's there, alone, I know I'll be forced to speak. I anticipate this, and, while approaching the door, try to psyche myself up: this time, I will concentrate very hard, and finally understand what she's saying to me, and resist the urge to ask her about Lucky Charms.

Josie is constantly annoyed with something in the building. The few times I've managed to work out what she was saying, the subject has been about the low-lifes hanging outside the building, or about the "renovation fee" incorporated into our rent, or about the time our former super was caught by the landlord secretly renting out apartments to illegal aliens, who then set up a sweat-shop (complete with industrial-sized sewing machines!) on the fifth floor.

I usually smile, nod, coo, make exaggerated facial expressions, roll my eyes in a kind understanding way--anything to show I sympathize, which I age-istly assume is all any old person wants: sympathy for the various gripes and grimaces of being an old person in a unrecognizable, changing world . Once she went off on a tangent, then pointed to a brief note taped next to the mailboxes announcing a 'Neighborhood Meeting Hosted by Representative Whats-his-face,' so I was able to work out that she was asking me if I was attending; another time she pointed to the stoop stairs and spouted off a string of curse-sounding words so I managed to work out that she was, I don't know, unhappy with the cracks in the stair cement. Last night, though, when I came up to the door, and she unlocked it, she rambled on and on about "teabags."

Seriously. Out of all the words coming out of her mouth, the only word I caught, quite clearly, was teabags.

Since she's an old lady, I assumed she was out of tea, which I am certain old ladies quite like. Tea for the elderly is like sex toys for the young, I'm sure.

"I have some tea, Josie, if you want some," I shrieked at her.

"Irish Irish Irish teabag Irish IRISH IRISH." There was a lot of ire in her Irish, and she was putting some english on it. I tried harder to understand.

I plucked out my earbuds. This, for me, is a high compliment. It means you have my full attention. "I'm sorry?" I exploded, smiling. "I didn't get that." I put one finger up to my ear, to I suppose make it more clear that it was I, and not she, who was hard of hearing.

"Irish Irish vote tomorrow because Irish teabag people Irish fuckers."

Fuckers. She said fuckers.

And I understood. I think.

"I am voting tomorrow," I screamed at the old woman. "Those teabaggers ARE fuckers."

She smiled, which I'd never seen Josie do before. Wince, yes. Pinch her lips together, yes. But smiling was new to her, and an odd thing to see her do.

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