Twenty-something years ago, I was single again and looking for an apartment near where I worked. Although I worked from home, and had a contract with the company, I deemed it advantageous to be near their headquarters at 287 Park Avenue South, between 27th and 28th Street. I registered with a real estate agency and was soon told of an affordable apartment on 28th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues in the heart of New York City’s Flower District.
My previous abode had been pretty quiet, being on the top floor of a loft building on Prince Street. It was peaceful except for about twenty seconds each night when an employee of a bar on the corner of my block would pull down the metal gates covering the store windows around 2:15 a.m., six nights a week. Whoever it was must have been very strong, because you could tell by the sound, that a tremendous downward force had been applied to the handle of the gate, which in turn made a sudden, loud, rushing/rumbling noise, which was quickly followed by a loud SLAM as the gate bottomed out with plenty of leftover force against the steel frame.
Although I was usually still up and working at that hour, that noise never failed to startle me. In time, I took it as a “reverse alarm clock”, my signal to stop working for the day. My father once told me that no one should ever have to work more than 12 hours a day to make a living. Most days, I averaged about 12 hours with plenty of breaks in between.
I confess, I have never liked noise, especially loud noise, as I associate it with danger– and also because it distracts me from my thoughts, and puts me right back in the moment, the here and now, that uncomfortable and unfamiliar place from which I find myself always trying to escape.
When I first went away to college, two friends and I rented a small house adjacent to a fast food restaurant. My room had a window that looked out onto a chain link fence into which someone had woven metal strips so as to make whatever was enclosed by that fence invisible to passersby. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, what was behind that fence a mere ten feet from my bedroom window, was a large steel dumpster into which the restaurant threw all of that day’s garbage.
My very first night there, as I lay sleeping, I had a strange dream. I dreamed I was awakened from a deep sleep in the middle of the night only to find myself in a strange and unfamiliar room. I felt as if I was a guest in someone’s house, but I wasn’t sure whose. In my dream, I was sitting up in my bed and looking out the window. There was a bright light. It appeared to be getting brighter– and in the glow of the light, I thought I could make out the parallel lines of a railroad track leading directly to my window. In addition to the light, there was also the sound of a powerful engine, a wild mechanical tearing and straining which grew louder and louder and threatened to cause the train, or whatever it was which was heading toward me to self-destruct.
I tried to move, to get up out of my bed and run away, before the huge locomotive plowed into my room and smashed me and the entire building into little pieces. But I was frozen in place. It was if my feet and legs weighed a thousand pound each. I couldn’t move. It was a horrible feeling.
Just before the train hit me, I woke up to find myself sitting bolt-upright in bed.
I think it must have been around two-thirty in the morning. There was a terribly loud noise outside my window. It sounded like the throttle on the motor on a runaway truck was stuck wide open and the vehicle would explode at any minute. I got up and looked outside. The two white headlights on the truck seemed to shine right into my face. Two giant steel arms from the front of the truck reached out menacingly. The truck moved in for the kill. It stuck its robotic arms into two slots on the steel dumpster and lifted it straight overhead like it was a child’s toy and then shook it several times rocking it to empty it. Each time it shook the container, the metal door of the dumpster slammed against itself like the crash of the symbols in some demented orchestral overture.
Then it set the dumpster back down, withdrew its giant metal arms and slowly backed away. The grinding, straining sounds of the truck faded back into the darkness and I went back to bed.
The same thing happened night after night, but after about a week it never bothered me again.
It was with an ear of caution that I approached any new living situation. This new apartment I was interested in, was near where I worked– and affordable– and the subway was only a few blocks away. The building looked beautiful in the brochure. Most people would have just taken it.
I remembered once, a friend in New York had told me, “Before you rent an apartment, go over to the neighborhood in the middle of the afternoon and see what life is like on the street. That way you can avoid any unpleasant surprises.”
For once in my life, I actually took someone’s advice.
I took the 7th Avenue subway to the corner of 28th Street and Seventh Avenue and walked about a hundred yards down the block and stood across the street from my future home. I looked up at a beautiful six- story Beaux-Arts building. There were plant stores up and down the block and plants up and down the sidewalk and once or twice someone passed me with a cart with some ferns on it. A lady in a blue dress exited one of the flower shops and said excuse me. She was carrying a potted plant.
“How much noise can flowers make?”, I asked myself. Satisfied that noise would not be a problem I handed over a deposit on the apartment, a real estate fee, a month’s rent in advance and one month’s rent to be held in escrow.
I moved in that very night.
(to be continued)