Sunday, February 26, 2012

A New York Story

It was a Saturday. My friends started showing up a little before 6:30 pm. They were gathering at my apartment to do a reading for the web series I’ve been working on. After almost a year of delays we were getting the cast back together, along with some new additions, and I was very excited.

It’s the kind of gathering that drives my soul. Take one part creativity, five parts friends, three parts wine, and you have a tremendous evening on your hands.

As I opened the door to let my friends into my apartment I noticed there seemed to be a scent of bad cooking in the air. I am very fortunate to live above somebody who frequently cooks delicious smelling meals. However, every once in a while they have a miss and what they prepare smells less than extraordinary. I though it unfortunate that it should coincide with my reading but once in the apartment we couldn’t smell it anymore.

The reading goes tremendously. There is laughter and stories and more laughter. A couple of people take off early but we sit around drinking and talking.

At around 10:30 my buzzer rings. Through the peephole I can see police officers. I am confused because we aren’t being that loud at all. I open the door and the officer asks me if I know the person in the apartment across the hall. They point to the apartment of the guy who I’ve seen maybe twice. The guy who plays his TV way too loud.

No I say, I don’t.

He says my neighbor called them because there was an awful smell coming from his apartment. He tells me that heard us talking in my apartment and wanted to see if we knew anything. I tell him no and he wishes me a good evening.

The evening continues. We joke about the smell. We make extremely lewd jokes about it. The jokes continue as everybody files out and heads home.

The next morning, slightly hungover, but extremely satiated from wonderful time with my friends I am awoken to the sound of drilling.

I make my way to my door and look through the peephole to see my two Supers drilling into the apartment across the hall.

It is at this point that I realize the smell is much stronger than the previous night and has infiltrated my entire apartment. It’s not just bad it’s excessive. Somewhat like rotting fish but far more significant, as though this smell has the ability to reach more corners of my nose.

On my way out to get a bagel I ask my Supers what’s going on but they don’t respond, caught up in their seemingly amateur approach to opening this door. Why don’t they just call a locksmith? Wouldn’t that be simpler?

As I walk out of the building I pass my neighbor who called the police. I ask him what’s going on.

The smell is awful, it’s gotten into our kitchen, and it stinks.
Well, I’m glad you called the police then.

And then I am off to get my bagel.

I return about 90 minutes later. And since I have recommitted myself to living a healthier lifestyle, I climb the six flights of stairs to my apartment. By the time I get to my floor the smell is just as bad if not worse, and my supers are still there however they have stopped working.

Their tools are on the ground.

The lock has been pushed through the door leaving a hole no more than three inches in its place. And Raul, in his mangled English, calls to me.

Richie, look. Look here.

He points to the hole in the door. He gestures the way you might tell a child to look into a bird’s nest to see the new eggs. I lean over slightly to look through it. He urges me on again.

Look, look!

Hesitant I inch closer, feeling slightly like this is some sort of antique peep show where you pay a quarter to look at a strange picture inside of a box.

Bending over to peer through a tiny hole, which leads to the location of an unbearable scent makes me physically, visibly nervous. I hesitate again before getting closer, not sure what to anticipate.

But I do get closer. I bring my eyes to the level of the hole in the door. And I see it.

A body.

Lying on it’s back, visible from knees to chest, belly protruding from the shirt.


He dead Richy.

And then it hits me; the worst fear of some of my friends, something that we laugh at it when we see it in movies has come true.

Suppose nothing happens to you? Suppose you live there your whole life and nothing happens? You never meet anybody, you never become anything and finally you die one of those New York deaths where nobody notices for two weeks until the smell drifts into the hallway.
-Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally

I’m suddenly part of an urban legend, the plot line of an episode of Law and Order. Overheard in the city. All of that. Except real. Realer than I could ever imagine.

I move quickly back into my apartment. Trembling. Shaking. I call one friend, I text another. I chat with others online. Somebody contextualize what this means. Somebody explain this.

The smell is no longer just bad it has taken on a whole new level. It haunts me. It makes me over think things. I am spooked. I am disgusted. I am terrified.

I light candles. One, two, five. I spread them around the room. They don’t mask the smell with it. They mix with it. Infuse it. I try to sit next to the window. I make phone calls. I try to distract myself.

There is nothing on the planet powerful enough to distract me from the smell of a dead body. Words flash through my head.



How long was he there? How long had he been dead? Was it drugs? Alcohol? Certainly not foul play since the door was still locked. It takes the coroner 7 hours to finally remove the body from the apartment.

In that time no less than 3 different detectives and police officers ring my bell. Two different ones ask me questions; one asks to use my toilet.

They ask me if I knew anything about my neighbor. I tell them all the same thing, only that I never saw him but he played his TV loud all the time.

And that’s when it strikes me. Of all my neighbors he was the only one I thought about every morning when I left for work and every night when I got home.

What is he watching? Why is it so loud? Why is he watching TV so early? Every day, never a change.

His body leaves and eventually so does the scent, replaced with a broken door with a duck taped over hole, and a green sticker that seals the door and reminds me that where I live, yet again, will never be the same.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sleeping Around

My friend Michelle who has an irrational fear of escalators volunteered to go mattress shopping with me. Seeing as I had never done it before, I wasn’t sure what a good mattress shopping co-pilot needed to have.

As it turns out, somebody who is afraid of things that move automatically is a good partner for buying something that stays completely still.

We started our search at the second largest department store in the world, the Macy’s in Herald Square. We made our way up to the mattress floor where I was immediately overwhelmed.

There were easily over 100 mattresses out. This was going to be way more complicated than I had hoped.

Luckily a salesperson comes over to us and starts to walk (or lay as it were) us through the process.

He starts us out on some $2,300 dollar mattresses. I assume this is standard practice. Start the customer out on the most expensive mattress and then gradually work them down to the less expensive mattresses.

Except we never really got to the really inexpensive ones. He just kept taking us from one expensive mattress to the next. I was too embarrassed to tell him I couldn’t afford to sleep that well.

The sales person then ask me if I want to try memory foam. I thought I wanted to. But Michelle who, in addition to her irrational fear of escalators, also has a wealth of knowledge about eco-friendly products for the home, whispered in my ear “Memory foam is the most toxic element in your home. It off gasses throughout the night.”

Little did I know I had to be aware of off-gassing, which apparently is not just something I do during the night. Technically it means to emit toxic fumes based on the chemicals that were used to prepare the material.

Great. So not only am I crippling myself I am also gassing myself to death.

I turn back to the sales person.

Umm I don’t think Memory foam is for me.

So we continued testing out the non-memory foam mattresses.

Firm, plush, cushion, plush firm, cushion firm, medium plush. Every single time I laid down on the mattress I immediately forgot the type of the mattress I was laying on.

Also, I started dozing off.

Some it was easy to tell right away were too hard or too firm. I felt like Goldilocks and the 100 mattresses.

Some of the display mattresses had two different feels, split right down the middle so you could test out both sides. Michelle and I did this by doing a mattress fire drill. One of us getting up and running around to the other side, the other rolling over.

The whole time I was testing out mattresses I kept wondering two things to myself:

Is this mattress right for me?
Am I getting bed bugs?

While I was focused on flopping around on every single mattress like a fish...

And also, how much everything cost, Michelle was focused on important things like, asking questions that made sense.

Despite her best efforts to learn things, we had a lot of laughs, and we made a lot of jokes, many of which our sales person did not laugh at.

But even though we were having a ball, we were there on serious business. My mattress was killing me and I needed a solution. But as the testing went on I realized that this probably wasn’t going to be something I could accomplish in a single day.

There were definitely mattresses I did like, but after lying on two dozen different mattresses of varying levels of firmness I couldn’t really tell the differences between the ones I did like.

Michelle suggested we go to another store that had some more eco-friendly options. I readily complied. As we made our way to the next store we passed another mattress shop and Michelle grabbed my arm:

The mattresses in here are $35,000, let’s go lay on them.

Michelle can be very convincing.

So we walk into the beautiful airy space and lay down on mattresses that cost more than any car I have ever driven, never mind owned.

We lay down on a mattress and I feel good knowing that I am laying on an organic mattress made from sustainably acquired horse hair, even though I’m not quite sure what all of that means.

Michelle then expresses interest in trying out another type of mattress.

At this point I’m just along for the ride since I have resigned myself to just having bad nights of sleep on the floor for the rest of my life.

Our sales person then starts to speak. 

You can try out this next mattress but it’s in the display window…

Things were about to get awesome.

So there we are lying in this mattress in the display window.

And our sales person is talking to us but I am having a hard time not smiling because out of the corner of my eye I can see people on the street laughing at us which is making me laugh.

It’s ridiculous to pretend that this situation is not ridiculous so I start waving at people as they walk by. Which in turn makes them laugh more, which makes Michelle laugh, which makes me laugh even more, so that I’m laying with my friend, in a bed I can’t afford, laughing at strangers I don’t know, while a sales person I just met slowly comes to the realization that there is no way I’m buying anything today.

We went to one more store where Michelle dared me to dive into a pile of 12 down comforters. I though this was a good idea. The staff of that store did not. The sales person there kindly asked me to get up but I could tell she really just wanted to kill me.

So to avoid death in a mattress store, we gladly left, moderately unsuccessful. And I returned to sleeping on my couch until I host some sort of mattress fundraiser or win the lottery.

Or I could just buy a memory foam mattress and sleep in a gas mask.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Leave Off the Last S for Scoliosis

My mattress is trying to kill me.

First I thought it was my yoga teacher. When he said through his thick accent:

Now we do easy peasy.

Easy peasy? I thought he was just making stuff up. It wasn’t until the third time he said it I realized he was saying “Easy Pigeon.” If you are unfamiliar, easy pigeon is a move where you sit on the floor and bend one leg under the other so you form a… oh what does it matter, I can’t do it anyway.

Never mind the fact that I had never seen a pigeon bend into the position I was now failing at.

But I thought it was yoga that was causing my back pain. Then I thought it was my desk chair. But after 4 days in a hotel I realized it might be my mattress. I started to wonder how long one should go before getting a new mattress.

I polled my friends on how long they keep their mattress fully anticipating that I knew the answer.

Apparently ... The correct answer was not 15 years.

Not even close.

Most people said around six. Some people said as long as ten. One woman said she gets a new mattress every other year. That seemed excessive. The only new thing I get every single year is a new bodily ailment.

As soon as I realized the problem was my mattress and that I should have gotten rid of it around the same time I graduated from college, I tried to fix the situation.

I flipped and rotated my mattress, which, I realize now, flipping a Queen size mattress is a two-person job. I almost knocked every single thing off my walls while simultaneously trying to avoid a hernia and being pressed to death if the thing fell on me.

After a couple of nights of continued back pain I went info full out panic mode. What could I do? For some ungodly reason I thought it might be best to sleep on the floor.

A note about my sleeping habits.

My favorite sleeping position is what I like to call the iceberg. My head is outside the sheets on the pillow on the right side of the bed, while the rest of my body cuts a 90-degree angle down to the lower left corner of the bed. This will ultimately be a problem if I end up marrying a woman taller than 4 foot 3.

The floor space next to my bed does allow for the iceberg position. It doesn’t allow for much at all.

I set myself up on the rug next to my bed, trying to give myself enough padding so as not to immediately regret my decision.

I roll out a yoga mat, a blanket, and lay out my duvet. I get onto my make shift bedding and then fold the duvet over myself so it looks like I am sleeping in some kind of flat bread sandwich.

Which I’m sure, if possible, would have been a better solution.

After 5 minutes on the floor I start to regret my decision. I try some mental calisthenics to convince myself this is good for me. I think of research I have never read. I think about my friend Sophie. 

She slept at my apartment the night before she ran the New York City Marathon. “I'm a floor sleeper she kept saying.” “That's not a thing!” I would reply.

I stand by my argument.

However, I wake up the next morning for work, not feeling like I was kicked in the back by a large donkey. Instead I feel like I received a series of soft kicks from a collection of very tiny donkeys.

As I got up and examined my bedding situation I saw that it looked like there had been some kind midnight sleepover thrash dance. Which, seeing as I can’t watch myself sleep, there might have been.

It was at that point I realized I couldn't continue sleeping on the floor.

But when I got home the next night I couldn’t bring myself to lay in my bed. It was like doing something I knew was bad for me. But it was sleeping! I had to sleep! When I eat 5 donuts in a row there’s no need biological behind that. Sleep had to happen. I couldn’t just not sleep.

So I slept on the floor again the following night. This time with an additional blanket under me which made absolutely no difference.

I was at a loss.

My bed, my best friend who had been through everything from puberty, through adulthood had suddenly become public enemy number one. I couldn't bring myself to sit or lay in it. I had gone 15 years with never a thought of a new mattress and suddenly it was all I could think about.

I found myself just staring at my mattress. It didn’t look bad. It looked fine. And when it was naked from sheets it looked new. Nothing about it said “donkey kick” yet that’s what it was delivering to me night after night.

I had planned to use my tax return for a vacation abroad but instead I was going to have to spend it on killing the donkey that kept kicking me in my sleep. I was going to have to buy a new mattress, one of the most enjoyable and confusing endeavors.

To be continued…

Sunday, February 5, 2012

New People in Old Orleans

I looked up at the fare meter on the dashboard of the cab. Though ticking slowly it had already hit $5.50.

I leaned over to Megan, who was still holding a half full cup of beer, and whispered:

I only have 4 dollars in my pocket. Do you have any cash?

She rummaged quickly through her purse before looking up at me.

I have 3 dollars.

At that time we were only halfway back to the hotel. We didn't have nearly enough cash.

I quickly spoke up:

Excuse me sir, would you mind passing the Chase bank on Royal street, I just realized we don't have enough cash.

Since the advent of the credit card machines in New York this was a situation I had rarely found myself in. I never needed to check my pocket before getting in a cab in New York. It was a liberty I had taken for granted the whole time we had been in New Orleans.

The cab driver responded.

Oh don't worry about it. I got a big tip earlier this evening. These young guys were going out tonight and they gave me 30 dollars and it was only a 10 dollar cab ride. So don't worry about it. It all works itself out.

Megan and I thanked the cab driver profusely. I turned back to her and shook my head. Why did this keep happening to us? Why did strangers keep doing nice things for us in this city?

Everybody was so friendly and sincere and welcoming. We were so embarrassed. Here we were, staying at one of the nicest hotels in the French Quarter and we didn’t even have 10 dollars between the two of us.

I had spent most of my night, heck, most of my nights, giving my money to bartenders who couldn't hear me over the loud music in the bar, mouthing my words so they could understand what I needed.

And now the one person who could actually hear me, the one person who was probably more deserving of my money than anybody I had given it to that entire trip, said he didn't need it. He had already received a nice tip that evening.

I can't imagine saying those words to somebody. If I drove a cab I don't know that I would be that generous and understanding.

Everywhere we went we found more people who wanted to tell us their story and their unique point of view. More individuals who wanted to share the history of the city, of what we've seen and what we should see.

So it should have come as no surprise that our dinner plans for our last night in New Orleans ended up completely changed because of somebody we met.

Megan and I had been out and about, doing what we do best, eating, drinking and walking around the city. We followed that up with the other thing we did best, synchronized napping.

Since losing the ability to sleep past 9 am, my ability to spend all day exploring a city and partying deep into the early hours of the morning is severely compromised without a nap.

We had dinner plans for a restaurant in the heart of the French Quarter. When Megan's Miles Davis cell phone ring woke us up from our nap, it could only mean one thing, her father and his girlfriend were ready for a pre-dinner cocktail.

But as it turns out they were calling for a different reason. They had been having a drink at a local landmark when they met a woman named Rochelle and her friend David. Rochelle and David were extremely friendly and inviting. So much so that David had invited Megan's father and subsequently us, to join for a pre-dinner drink at the restaurant his family owned, a famous French Quarter establishment around the corner from our original reservation.

By the time we got there, we were immediately overwhelmed by the owner, her son, her son's friend Rochelle, and Rochelle's friend Theresa. And the invitation for a drink had turned into an invitation to stay for dinner. It was like kismet. We were supposed to have dinner at this New Orleans main stay that only 100 years earlier had served as horse stables.

We were inundated by questions and directions.

Tell us about yourselves, where do you work, have a drink, would you like a tour, have you met so and so, get your drink it's time for the tour and so on and so on.

We changed our dinner reservation with reservations of our own, but figured when the owner of a restaurant extends you an invitation to eat at their restaurant while on vacation in their city. You have no choice but to say yes.

By the time we got to dinner, the stories we had been hearing so far started to seem more like tall tales, and the kismet started to seem slightly fixed.

Dinner was underwhelming, despite the folklore that was imposed upon us.

Try the oysters, you have to have them. They’re on me, I'll send over two orders.

And the prospect of turtle soup seemed curious. I asked the waiter about it.

What is this turtle soup?
It's turtle soup! Made from turtles. It's delicious

And that was that. So I tried some of that, though I couldn't figure out if I liked it or was turned off by it. Either way I had never felt a guilt like that consuming anything else in my life.

Rochelle made several appearances throughout our meal, standing next to our table and talking for slightly longer than seemed necessary. Theresa showed up as well, considerably drunker than everybody.

We began to wonder aloud, though quietly, to each other... was this a setup? Had Rochelle and David set up camp at that local watering hole waiting for unwitting tourists to stumble in so they could bring them to their delightful though probably overpriced restaurant? Were we a bunch of rubes, so caught up in the magic and charm of the city and it's people that we couldn't realize a setup when one literally looked us in the eye?

It was no matter at that point. We were far and away past the point of no return.

By the time our longer than necessary meal ended and our bill came (foreshadowed by claims of "comps" and "on me" though devoid of such fulfilled promises) we were ready to have our own night. And as politely as possible, we excused ourselves from our hosts company and ventured off on our own.

So by the time Megan and I were more than our fair share of sheets to the wind, and met that cab driver whom we had waited too long for, we were absolutely primed for genuine gesture.

We were ready to accept such an incredible event as routine. Because this one couldn't be anything but real, there was nothing he could get out of it. It was just New Orleans charm at it's finest. And that's how I, and probably all of us, will choose to remember that city.

Oh and that turtle soup? Despite my waiter’s enthusiasm for it, 12 hours later, because of poor preparation or massive guilt, I decided I was done with it and returned it the hard way to the hotel toilet.