I turn the corner down East 95th St. Almost home. I gaze down the block and there you are. Quietly pacing with a cigarette in hand, like a sentry guarding a priceless artifact, you take a few steps, turn, and retrace your path.
No matter the weather, your vigilant eye is fixated on the area surrounding our pre-war, five-story, brick walk-up. Trash is consolidated into big, thick bags to deter any vermin from a free meal. Recycling is neatly sorted and placed in the appropriate container.
“Hi Michael,” you boisterously say with a wave of the hand.
“Hi Fred,” I reply. “How’s it going?”
“Good, Michael. And you?”
The friendly exchange has been replayed countless times in the two-plus years I’ve lived in my Upper East Side studio apartment. Once you complimented my shoes — I got them on sale at Zappos, thanks! You’ve held the door for me, especially during that stretch when I was on crutches. You signed for a package that one time it needed a signature and I wasn’t home.
Outside of our few exchanges, I don’t know much about you. I know two summers ago you were on vacation back home in Serbia. I only know because I was astonished to not see you for almost a month and had to ask if everything was OK. … I would have put money on complications due to your constant chain smoking, but you were just kicking back in the homeland for a little R&R. Other than that, I think you have a wife and kid(s) … at least there are other people who regularly go in and out of your apartment. They seem friendly, too.
I wonder how much the other tenants know about you. Do a few of you have a weekly poker game I’m not privy to? Do you and your wife double date with a couple in the building? Do you grab a beer with the guy in 1A on Saturday nights?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not jealous, but definitely curious. You are an enigmatic character who lives on the floor below me. We chat more frequently than I do with my mom, but we don’t say much. Maybe it’s time we had a real chat.