The crutch and the walker had been there for nine months, and Art had intimated that he eventually planned to remove them. “I was wondering if I could take those down to the curb?” Kate asked him the last time they intersected in the hallway. “Oh, sorry,” he laughed. “I’m kind of attached to them for some reason. I think I may use them in one of my theater productions.” Art was part-time therapist and part-time experimental theater man. He advertised his therapy sessions on street lamps and utility posts throughout the East Village in New York City, where he lived across the hall from Kate.
The other day he skulked through the hall complaining that someone was tearing down his signs—photocopied sheets of printing paper with grainy photos of himself, a brief description of his expertise and slips with his phone number. Leaning closer than was comfortable to Kate, he reenacted what he said to the culprit: “You do that again—and I’ll kill you.” Kate knew Art wasn’t violent, but he said the man he caught tearing down his signs seemed afraid. Art said, as a therapist, he understood why the man would tear down his signs. “There’s something about signs—they can really mess with you—do something to your brain,” he said drilling a forefinger into the side of his head as he said it.
“Oh, I didn’t know that,” Kate said, backing away slowly toward her apartment’s door, trying to make a graceful exit from the conversation. “Are you sure you don’t want help taking that stuff down to the curb?”
“No,” Art laughed again. “I’m sorry about that, but I’ll do it. Really, I’m sorry,” and he laughed again.
“It’s OK, but it—eventually—it would be nice if you could take it to the curb,” Kate said. She laughed a little, but it was forced. She was irritated by the stack of books, the walker and the crutch that made the end of the floor their apartments shared look like an invalid’s ward. It was depressing to see those signs of decrepitude on the way in and out of her home everyday. Art had a hip replacement surgery nearly a year earlier and hadn’t used the crutch or walker in over six months. Kate hadn’t seen him for months, and had just been grateful for the quiet. Then one day she saw him hobbling to his apartment on crutches and presumed he had suffered an accident. “How did you hurt yourself?” Kate asked. “I didn’t hurt myself at all,” Art said irritably as if she should have known. “I had both hips replaced.”
Art was liable to catch Kate in a conversation any time she came or left her apartment because his door was nearly always ajar. But Kate never looked inside to acknowledge him. She considered the slightly open door with radio on full blast or Art on the phone as an intrusion of her privacy—he was encroaching on the hallway’s shared space. “What’s up? How’s it going?” he would say, popping out from the slightly opened door like a jack-in-the-box. Kate began to dread leaving and returning to her apartment, wishing there was a backdoor or an easy way up and down the fire escape. She had never heard of anyone living in an apartment building in New York City with their door nearly always open a crack, and she found it disturbing. One morning while brushing her teeth, she heard Art watching pornography. When she was awoken at around 4 a.m. one morning by Art arriving home (he usually left around 7 or 8 p.m. and came home between 3 and 4 a.m.) and kept awake by a door ajar with a blaring talk radio show, she left him a note tacked to his door. The next day Kate found a note from Art (written on the reverse side of the note she had left him) posted to her door with his profuse apology. But the door continued to stay ajar throughout the day, including overnight with NPR blaring out. After confronting him several times face-to-face about turning the radio down and closing his door, Kate gave up, bought earplugs and used her ceiling fan (even when it was cold) to drown out the noise from his apartment.
But the noise flowing from his apartment in the middle of the night and early in the morning wasn’t enough. Art, who once lived on a kibbutz in Israel, seemed to crave the communal life and couldn’t resist spreading himself out into the hallway. The walker, the crutch and the stack of books may have been his way of reaching toward her, Kate thought. She realized that it was probably related to his love of living a communal life rather than insensitivity to her comfort, but she still felt irritated and encroached upon.
“But the crutch, the walker and the stack of books?” she said to Art during their latest hallway interaction when Art was on a tangent about experimental theater in Berlin (where he hadn’t been for at least 20 years). “Do you think it would be possible to remove them from the hall by next week?”
“Oh, sure, definitely,” he said. “What’s happening next week? Are you having guests?”
“No, it’s just getting cumbersome for me with all this stuff abutting my door. It would be great if you could get rid of it. I could help you take it down to the curb tomorrow if you want.”
“I’m sorry, I feel horrible,” he said. “I’m going to get rid of it this week. I’m going to move it to my office.” Oh, his office, thought Kate. She imagined a room at a YMCA or in a low-income housing building of some kind. Art bragged to her when she first moved in that his rent was only $370 a month, so she supposed he took advantage of that low rent (having lived in their rent stabilized building for at least 20 years, having his original rent set when the neighborhood was a slum) to also have an office. His therapy sessions took place at the office and he also could be heard some mornings as she left for work talking to therapy clients over the phone from his apartment.
“OK, well, if you could do that that would be great,” Kate said, turning on her heel into her apartment. “Well, have a good night.”
The next few nights were quiet, with Art staying away from his apartment from around 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., as if he had a night shift job, which Kate knew from forced conversations with him that he didn’t. When she first moved in she figured he had a job like overnight subway engineer or operator that necessitated his strange schedule. When there was a mass transit strike a month after she moved in, and she heard Art’s radio blaring in the middle of the night, she was forgiving because she thought he was listening to find out if the strike were over and he would need to go back to work. When the strike let up and there were no other local crises and the overnight blasting radio through the door ajar continued, she was less forgiving, and one night at around 4 a.m. , had enough and banged on his door to no avail. The door wasn’t open wide enough to see him and she was too shy to push it open so she slunk back to her apartment to wait out the rest of the night and confront him the next day after work.
“I had no idea you could hear it in your apartment,” Art said apologetically. But why shouldn’t she hear his radio in her apartment, which was across a tiny hallway with his door ajar, Kate wondered to herself.
“I think if you could just keep your door shut all the way and maybe turn the volume down slightly—at the same time as you shut the door all the way—it would help a lot,” she said. “It’s just that my bedroom is directly across from the front door to your apartment, which you’re leaving open.”
Art raised his eyebrows at the mention of a bedroom. He lived in one of the building’s un-renovated apartments, which meant his apartment had just one large room with a kitchen at one end and a “living room” at the other end along with a small room with a toilet. There was a bathtub in the kitchen that was covered with a board during the day. The board allowed it to serve as a kitchen counter when it wasn’t in use as a tub. He hadn’t done much to spruce up the place. He barely had any furniture—just a gray upholstered easy chair that looked like it came from a garage sale or the Salvation Army, possibly a small desk with a chair, and maybe a single bed in the corner. Every time Kate talked to him with her own door ajar in the hallway between their apartments, he eyed the inside of her place with longing, but not to live there. He just seemed to want to be let inside. “Wow, Reynolds did a good job with the renovations,” he said of their landlord as he looked over her shoulder into the little bit of her apartment he could spy from the hallway. “It’s small but it works for me,” Kate said trying to be kind as she backed into her doorway ready to shut and bolt lock the door as soon as she slipped inside. “Anyway, if you could shut your door all the way and turn the radio down overnight, I would really appreciate it.”
The next night the same occurred. This time Kate didn’t wait until the next morning to confront Art. Instead she knocked on his door at around 2 a.m. “What’s up?” he said pushing open the already slightly opened door. “It’s 2 a.m. and your radio is blasting with your door wide open,” Kate snapped. “Could you turn it down and shut your door all the way?” He looked at her, finally annoyed: “Well, I have to be able to hear it myself.” Kate thought it was funny that he seemed put out that he should have to worry about keeping his radio on low with his apartment door shut in the middle of the night. “It’s just the time of day—it’s not like it’s two in the afternoon,” she said. “But this is the only time I’m home,” he said. Kate was eager to get back to bed so she didn’t take it further. “Alright, well, do whatever you can.” With that she stepped back in her apartment, closed, locked and drew the bolt chain across her door and went back to bed. Later on she wondered how it could be true that was the only time he was home. If that were the only time he was home, then wouldn’t that time have to be reserved for sleeping rather than listening to the radio? She wondered where else he might sleep. Could he sleep on a bench or on the grass in a park, or maybe on a sofa in his office? She was puzzled but didn’t want to ask him any questions. The last thing she wanted to do was encourage him to start conversations with her. When the summer came and he was gone for most of the night, she imagined him sleeping outside in Thompkins Square Park like a bum to escape the stuffiness of his un-air-conditioned apartment. He appeared one day with a tottering pile of old books under each arm.
Kate smiled and said hello as she turned toward him in the hall after securing the lock on her door. “All these books were just left on the sidewalk,” Art said. “Someone must have died and his kids didn’t know what to do with all these books.” He was almost breathless he was so excited. “Oh,” said Kate smiling and trying her best to be friendly, or at least not off-putting, “You could sell them to The Strand.” Art had a more nuanced strategy. “They’re all mystery and true crime books so I’m going to sell them to this bookstore in the West Village that specializes in mysteries.” Kate couldn’t imagine to going to that trouble and found it sad that some old man’s collection had been left on the sidewalk instead of being distributed among relatives. The collection was probably a prized possession and it was now in the hands of Art who would sell it for pocket change. It was depressing.
“You probably won’t get much for them—you could keep them or give them to friends,” Kate said. Art gestured toward his stagnant and building stack of books in the hall and laughed. “Don’t have room. Do you want some of them?” Kate didn’t have any room either, so she shook her head. “How are you going to be get them over to the West Village? Won’t the cab fare be as much as you’d get for the books?” He laughed and nodded his head. “Maybe, but I’d like to see. You want to come with me?”
“No,” Kate said immediately without considering it. “Thanks for asking but I’m in the process of organizing my kitchen things.” Art laughed as if he didn’t believe her and began loading the mystery books into an abandoned grocery store shopping cart he kept in the corner of his kitchen. “Suit yourself.”
Kate didn’t see Art for a few days but heard and smelled him through the crack in his door as she passed by on her way into her apartment. His radio on full blast, she could hear it as she climbed the steps and smelled what she thought might be mustiness as she paused just long enough to turn the lock on her door. She sped through it always hoping he wouldn’t pop his head out at her—“How’s it going? What’s new?” Kate jumped as Art’s door creaked open. That creak had become like an alarm clock from her inner world. She tried to just smile, say hello and turn on her heel into her apartment, but he stopped her. “I saw you today on Broadway but you were somewhere else,” he laughed. “It’s like you didn’t even see me.”
“Oh, sorry about that,” Kate said. “I’m a big daydreamer and pretty spacey.”
“Take a look around you, see what’s around you,” he said.
“Yeah, you’re right, I should, but I like to live life in my inner world. I’m more of an introvert.”
“Don’t miss what’s happening around you,” he said sounding to Kate like a preacher or motivational speaker. As long as he was hyped up and inspired maybe now was the perfect time to push him to finally move the walker, the crutch and the stack of books from the hallway.
“I was wondering,” she said, “if it would be possible to move that stuff in the hallway into your apartment? I understand if you don’t want to throw it out yet, but if you could move it into your apartment, I would really appreciate it.”
“Oh, gee, I’m really sorry—sure thing. I’m just waiting to hear back from my friend Fred who works at the Salvation Army and my friend Amy who works at a thrift shop down the street to see if either of them wants it. I should know in the next few weeks.”
“OK, thanks.” Without the energy to argue about, it Kate went back into her apartment wondering when to involve the landlord who wanted Art out anyway. Kate hesitated to involve the landlord not for Art’s sake but for her own. She thought it was unlikely the landlord would be able to kick Art out—he had been trying for years—and also that once Art found out she had complained about him, her situation would grow worse. Then, on top of living across a narrow hall from a perpetually ajar door with noise streaming from it, she would be living next door to a hostile neighbor. So, she would give Art exactly three weeks to get rid of his hallway junk—and then, and then—what? She knew she wouldn’t go to the landlord, so maybe she would just take the stuff to the sidewalk herself without asking, and if he objected, she could then point out that she gave him his chance and he wasn’t doing anything himself, so she took matters into her own hands.
Sure enough, three weeks went by and the crutch, the walker and the stack of books remained, so after coming home from work one day, Kate carried it all to the sidewalk to be hauled off by the next garbage truck making its rounds. She didn’t see Art for the next few weeks, but a week after dropping his junk off on the curb she noticed a new assortment in the hall—what looked like an urn with a Chinese-style trim of dragon designs; a painting of a clown, a child and a dog; and a straw basket with office papers and a pack of cards. It was like there was an ongoing garage sale in the narrow space between their apartments. He didn’t seem able or willing to keep his personal belongings to himself.
Kate peered into the as-usual ajar door and saw something she only glanced at for a split second before gasping, swinging on the balls of her feet and dashing into her apartment, locking and drawing the bolt chain across her door—Art with a shirt but no pants or underwear (big bare white rump) in the window frame. She guessed the cool breeze must have felt good airing out his private parts, and she couldn’t blame him, but that’s definitely the kind of thing a person should shut and lock the door before doing—and make sure there’s no unsuspecting person on the front receiving end of that view. Luckily, Kate believed his window looked out onto nothing but a vacant ally, but he should have known she would be passing by in the hall from the rear perspective.
A few days later, when she ran into him, Kate was too embarrassed to bring up the bare-rear-in-window-view incident, so she stuck to the new gathering of junk. “I hope you don’t mind, but I had to take down that stuff of yours to the curb last week. I had family visiting and wanted it to look nice,” Kate said lying about the visiting relatives. “Sure, no worries,” said Art. “I was planning to get rid of it myself. You just beat me to the punch,” he said laughing. “Actually, about this new stuff,” said Kate, gesturing toward the urn-like vase, clown painting and straw basket filled with office papers and playing cards, “I was wondering if you could also move this stuff into your apartment or have it thrown away? I’m happy to help you carry it out to the curb, if you want.” He looked at her and laughed. “Here we go again! I’m sorry, no, no really. I’ll get rid of it all soon. I just have to get in touch with a friend of mine who wants me to donate it.” Kate smiled and tried to laugh to be cooperative and keep the tone friendly. A few days later the vase that looked like an urn was gone but a large white board was now leaning up against the wall (along with the remainder of the other junk—the basket with playing cards and the clown painting). It was a rotating carousel of personal junk connecting her closed, locked door to his forever ajar.
Kate decided to give Art one final warning before calling the landlord. “I hate to do this, but I don’t know if I can live with all this stuff constantly in the hallway,” she said to him the next afternoon. “If it doesn’t stop I’m going to have to talk to Reynolds about it.” Art looked surprised but without panic. Kate guessed she wasn’t the first person to talk to the landlord about Art. “It’s not getting in your way is it?” he said. “You can still get in and out of your apartment, right? You know, this is a common space between our apartments, for us to share. I choose to—from time to time—store a few transitional items in my share of the space. Did you ever think of it that way?”
Kate nodded and smiled politely as she listened. In fact she had thought of what he was saying, but the sprawl of the inner life of his apartment into the space she had no choice but to walk into everyday was disturbing. “Yes, actually, I have thought of that,” she said. “But, as a space we share we also have to be respectful of each other’s comfort, and I hate to say this—sorry, don’t mean to be difficult—but I’m not comfortable with all this stuff in the hallway all the time.” Her voice rose defensively toward the end and she looked away self-consciously. “Ok, Ok,” he sighed. “I’ll get rid of it.” Art was annoyed and turned away from her, ducking back into his apartment but, as always, he kept his door slightly open even with his back to her through the opening.
Not surprisingly to Kate, he didn’t get rid of it, so she called Reynolds, the landlord”: “I hate to complain about this—I feel bad about having to do it—but I was wondering if you could talk to my neighbor, Art West, about removing his stuff from the hallway we share? But don’t tell him I asked you. Maybe you could just say it needs to be removed because it’s a fire code violation.” Reynolds laughed in a big snort. “What? You don’t need to apologize. You don’t want his junk in the hallway, so he needs to get rid of it.” Kate began to panic thinking she’d just unleashed an uncomfortable situation for herself. “I know I don’t have to apologize or lie about it, but I don’t want to create an uncomfortable situation with Art. He’s my neighbor, so I have to see him all the time. I just want to keep things pleasant.” Reynolds laughed in a snort again. “OK, your choice. I’ll just ask him to get rid of the stuff. I won’t tell him you asked.”
A month later Art’s personal extensions still sprawled into the hallway. Kate wasn’t surprised because she knew she was easily disregarded—she was often disregarded for some reason—but she didn’t expect the landlord who had the power to kick Art out to be ignored. So, she gave Reynolds a call to see if he had ever bothered to talk to Art about the problem, like he said he would. “I talked to him, dear, but he’s stubborn. I can’t do nothing about it,” Reynolds explained over the phone. “It’s mean, but what if you told him that if he doesn’t clear out the hallway, you’ll kick him out?” Kate suggested. Reynolds laughed. “I wish it were that easy. He’s been living here for 30 years—with the laws in this city, it isn’t easy to get rid of him. I can’t even raise his rent more than 1, 2 percent a year. I tried, but he don’t listen to me.”
Kate began to think of her alternatives and searched the listings for apartments in her neighborhood, but soon became discouraged, finding nearly everything comparable out of her price range. Her building was rent stabilized, and to top that off, Reynolds hadn’t bothered to raise the rent at all in over five years. Just when she was at the point of resolving to ignore Art’s encroachment, she came home to a succession of cages lining the walls—albeit with a space around her door so she could still access her apartment. The cages looked large enough for those big colorful parrots who sit on pirates’ shoulders, but there were no parrots or any other bird—or anything else—in any of them. But they were all painted colors like bright pink, green, red, orange, neon yellow. The colors were brilliant and the cages might have made an interesting experimental art display at the Whitney Museum, but they surrounded her door waiting for a foot to get caught in them, a toe to be stubbed or the corner of a long coat or dress to catch. As Kate inspected the cages, she heard Art clamoring up the stairs, his sneakers squeaking. “What is this?” she asked irritably. “Oh, this,” he said, sweeping his hand across the cages. “My friend Bernice is having an art show for charity next week and Sandra, her brother-in-law’s cousin is doing a cage motif—an allegory, actually–” Kate interrupted him at that point, not able to continue listening because she just felt so mad to be surrounded by bright cages with just enough room to creep into her apartment at the end of the day. “Actually—actually, I don’t care!” she snapped, her voice breaking. “I can’t live like this! This isn’t fair to me.”
Art smiled kindly when he heard her voice breaking and saw her eyes begin to tear. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I had no idea it bothered you so much! But you can still get into your apartment, right? It’ll only be here for a few more days, I promise.”
Kate tried to suppress her crying, not wanting to embarrass herself. She downplayed her anxiety about the personal garbage surrounding her door. “It’s OK. I would just prefer to keep the hallway clear of our personal stuff. It’s nicer looking that way and safer—so nobody trips.”
Art was already on to something else by then, traipsing back into his apartment and out with a full-length mirror. “How do you think this would look stuck right here?” he said, pushing the mirror up against the dead end of hallway bordering their apartments. “Sure, I guess—whatever you want to do,” Kate said forcing herself to smile and then quickly getting away from him and behind her closed, locked and bolted door.
The next few weeks were a revolving hall of boxed nuisances liked birthday party noisemakers, dog chew toys that squeaked when brushed up against and novelty gags like plastic vomit and whoopee cushions. Art said it was for one of his upcoming experimental theater performances. The show, he said, was about adults who regress into their six-year-old selves remembering all the things they got punished for as children. Kate was not amused. She was getting madder by the day and wondered constantly if the spillage of Art’s personal pursuits into their shared hallway was malicious and done out of spite. She was so angry she wondered how to get rid of him. The landlord wouldn’t or couldn’t do a thing and he wasn’t going anywhere—he had been there nearly 30 years, after all, and at a rent that had barely changed since he first moved in. Kate thought about making up stories about him to push him out; thought about giving him a shove out his window; about even buying a gun to get rid of him with. She would just claim self-defense (she was at least 50 pounds less). Or even buying a dozen fertile rats to throw into his always slightly opened doorway. Well, what are you going to do? You leave your door open a crack long enough, who’s to say rats won’t get thrown inside?
When Kate saw the stocky, balding, t-shirted frame of Art hanging black and white photo after photo on the concrete hallway wall one afternoon—she had grown so hopeless, she didn’t bother to question it anymore—she came up with an idea. “Oh, Art, I heard something I wanted to mention to you,” she said. “What’s up?” Art said in the springy tone that always made Kate think of a Jack-in-the-box. “Well, I noticed some men in here the other day who wouldn’t say who they were but were taking photos of the apartments and jotting down notes.” Art looked up excitedly, raising his eyebrows and licking his lips like a dog contemplating whether to run for a ball. “I tell you, we’re getting closer and closer to living in a police state. I’m going to call Reynolds about this,” he said. Kate assumed her charade would end once Art called Reynolds, but she was having fun with it anyway. It was as if she was exacting a kind of revenge for the discomfort he brought into her life.
When Kate ran into Art next, a few days later, she prepared herself to control laughter as he told her how it turned out it was nothing—that he had spoken to Reynolds and the whole thing had been a misunderstanding. Instead, she found Art drilling into his door. Could he be installing a heartier lock—surely not. She bet it was just another of his crazy hallway art/personal garbage installations. “Hi,” she said smiling as she passed him by. “Another of your art projects, or should I say, a friend of a friend’s art project? ‘Eye through East Village Key holes?’” she joked. Art didn’t laugh.
“You have no idea how devious these people are. I bet Reynolds hired a private investigation firm to check up on all of us—especially ones like me who don’t pay much—to see if he can find something on us to get rid of us with. You have no idea who these people are. Of course he denies it. I called Reynolds up about those photos you saw being taken and the people writing notes, and he played dumb—like he had no idea what I was talking about .You have no idea how devious these people are,” he ranted.
Kate felt a miracle had occurred. She wasn’t sure why she had lied about the spy photographers in the building except that it was fun, but now she couldn’t believe it had finally closed the door on Art—locked it actually. The coming weeks saw the removal of his personal extensions from the hallway into his locked apartment (Art couldn’t have the landlord’s spies taking pictures of his personal belongings, after al) and a door that was firmly closed and locked regardless of whether he was home. But the only problem was Kate still felt put upon whenever he popped out of his apartment after hearing her come up the steps or when they ran into each other on the street.
So one day: “Art, you know it was the funniest thing—I feel kind of dumb mentioning it—”
“No, no, nothing is dumb—never be afraid to ask questions in life,” he said in a voice that he saved from his days in the kibbutz in Israel. “Well, yesterday, when I was coming up the steps, I overheard two men I had never seen before talking about a new security system Reynolds was installing,” Kate said. “I didn’t hear all of it, but I heard them say something about capturing images of people leaving their apartments and then the apartment building so they would have a record of comings and goings in the building and also would be able to keep track of movements in the hallway to prevent apartment break-ins. It’s kind of nice in a way—like that security camera they installed last year above the door to the building.”
Art smoothed back what was left of his hair several times and looked up and down repeatedly as if he were contemplating the capture of himself in still life. “Believe me, they aren’t doing us any favors. You have no idea how devious these people are,” he said. “We’re losing our freedom every day. My friend in Berlin is doing a show with monkeys and circus performers that’s an allegory for the repression of the state and you try to do that here—forget it! We’re losing our freedoms everyday. You watch. This hallway monitoring is just the beginning.”
Whether or not the citizens of the East Village could have a performance with monkeys and circus performers that criticized the government was interesting to ponder, but mainly Kate listened with interest as Art showed signs of retreating further into his apartment, shutting the door fully and drawing in the extensions of himself that had drooled out into their shared hallway for the past five years. Any sensible person would simply call the landlord, ask about the hallway monitoring and be satisfied that it was all a misunderstanding when the landlord informed them that no such monitoring was going on. But Art was more hysterical visionary than sensible person, so no matter how much Reynolds assured him nothing was going on, Art would never believe it. He preferred to believe we were in a fight for freedom. Kate just felt, on the other hand, that she was in a fight to keep her neighbor’s personal self from intruding on her. “Yeah, that’s true,” Kate said trying to knit her eyebrows together and not smile. “Well, anyway, I better get going. I have to give a friend a call.”
Now, not only was Art’s door shut most of the time, but Art no longer lingered in the hallway and no longer left his personal junk in the space between their apartments. The fight for freedom meant evading the cameras Kate let him believe surrounded them. Kate could still hear Art’s radio from her apartment when she turned off her light before going to bed, though. One day with a spring in her step noticing a hallway free of the personal, Kate knocked on Art’s now firmly closed door. He answered in a faded t-shirt and long cotton shorts that hit just above his knees. If a woman had worn them years ago they would have been called culottes. She smiled and tried take on the look of a good Samaritan. “What’s up?” he asked in his jaunty way, the radio blaring NPR behind him and through the hall and down the building’s staircase. “Sorry to bother you, but I wanted to let you know what I heard last night.” Art raised his eyebrows and rubbed his hands together alert to the excitement of new oppression. “Oh?” he said. “Well, those same guys who were installing the hidden cameras a few weeks ago were back and I overheard them talking about how the landlord (our Reynolds, of course) thought the building could be even more secure if he could monitor the sounds in the hallway,” Kate said biting her lip not to smile. “No!” Art exclaimed. “Well, yes, actually. So, I know how you always listen to NPR and how I can hear it from my apartment sometimes and I know how conservative Reynolds is—“ Art was just shaking his head and looking up and down as if to say “God have mercy on us all” to himself. “Don’t say anymore—I get it.”
Following that last episode, it became very quiet at their end of the hall, or, as Kate called it to herself and friends, “monastery chic.” It baffled Kate that some people became anxious when things got too quiet. There was nearly nothing she loved more. With Art’s radio no longer blaring into the hall and throughout the lower half of the building, she rolled around in the cleanliness of the quiet, savoring the absence of the outsider’s personal belongings and emotions. She had her own inner world now and nothing more to corrupt it like a stranger tracking sawdust through an immaculate house.
Then, one night a few months later, she heard odd tapping and scraping outside the building. She thought at first it was just kids bouncing a ball off the side of the building or someone drawing graffiti against the front door like they did from time to time. But it sounded different and as though it was coming from above. Could it be the long-promised apocalypse? Or maybe just the helicopters trailing the Occupy Wall Street protesters again. Kate decided to take a look from the roof, so she climbed the five flights of stairs up there, hearing the scraping and banging and tapping getting ever louder. When she pushed open the door, she saw all the usual things—untended to asphalt, stray cigarette butts, empty beer bottles, a few abandoned lawn chairs, all with a faint smell of pot in the air. “Glad it’s pot and not cigarette stink again,” she said to herself. “My thoughts exactly,” answered a voice from the periphery. “Hello? Is somebody there?” Kate said. Nobody answered for a few seconds and then she heard a kicking sound against the building. “Yeah, right here,” a struggling voice said. Kate then noticed a balding head rearing itself from the edge of the roof. “Art! Is that you?” she said. “What are you doing?” Art pulled himself up so his elbows were resting on the asphalt and his legs must have been resting against a gutter or the top of a window. “Can you believe it? The city won’t let me post ads for my therapy practice on lampposts any more. So, I came up with this idea—to hang some banners down along the side of the building about my practice. Plus, those cameras you were telling me about—the cameras may not be able to see me up here. I guess it’s a private and public place up here—above the cameras but with all those people right down there,” he said gleefully.”
Kate wondered how long it would take Reynolds to have the banners taken down—and whether the whole thing was worth dangling from a rooftop for. Was it that important to establish communication? “Why don’t you just advertise online someplace, like on Craig’s List?” she asked. “The ones I’m trying to reach don’t have computers,” he said irritably. “Who are you trying to reach?” Kate asked sincerely. She couldn’t figure out who he hoped would wander into his apartment or happen to see a homemade banner in crayons dangling from a roof and decide he had finally found a therapist he could trust. “People around here who need help,” he said like it was obvious. “People who need me—my services.”
The best thing to do Kate thought would be to help Art up from the roof but she wondered if it wasn’t best just to leave him there with his banner. He could be his own best advertisement. “Should I leave the door open for you?” she asked, pointing to the door that led to the rooftop. She had wandered over just far enough to the edge to catch a glimpse of him hanging there. “Nah,” he said pounding the top of his banner into the gutter. “I’ll be here for a while.”