Some days it seems like your world all comes crushing down on you.
(From events that occurred April 15, 2010 – Names have been changed to protect my ex-neighbor).
Grabbing a breakfast granola bar, on the way out the front door, I hear the faintest of voices. Was that the words “Help! Help!”, or did our hinges need oiling? I think I hear it squeak again.
“HELP! I’m dying!”
It sounds like a mouse who’s learned to talk. Or could that be a man beckoning from fifty yards away?
“Jackson, is that you? Are you alright?”
“I’m stuck!” The tiny voice groans back.
Had the swastika scrawling psychopath from downstairs returned and twisted Jackson’s front locks? The one who’d threatened to kill him so many times. For whom Jackson had installed a closed-circuit security camera above the door, and one pointing out the rear window on the fire escape?
“I’M DYING! I’M FUCKING DYING!”
Far from a positive development.
“Call the fire department!!”
OK tiny little voice. You’re the boss. I dial 911… and tell them my neighbor is stuck inside his apartment… Dying? It sounds nonsensical. But there it is. The little voice said it was so.
Back at the door, I try to reason with the angry mouse man, “Can they get in through the fire escape?”
“NO! You can’t get in that way! I CAN’T BREATHE!”
Neither can I, pal.
“Calm down, Jackson. Just try to relax. They’re going to be here any minute now. Just try to slow down your breathing.”
Did I just say that? I’m telling a guy who’s dying to slow down his fucking breath? What next? Encourage him to walk towards the light?
“They’re on their way.”
The words don’t sit quite right. Nearly ten minutes already. I tell the little voice I’m gonna run downstairs. Aimee is out of the bath by now, and saying she’ll keep him company.
I bolt six flights. They say you can never find a cop when you need one. But not in the Lower East Side. You can’t J walk without nearly getting creamed by a cruiser. This morning’s no different. A black sedan with two plain clothes, an open laptop between them flies by, followed by a patrol car. My arm is barely ninety degrees before they’re popping up onto the curb.
“He’s upstairs. Apartment 20. Says he’s dying. Wants the door frame taken off. You guys got tools?”
No, but six flights up, they sure seem like they know how to kick a door in. And yet the front door doesn’t budge. Between the interference of their radio’s static, the little mouse is sounding further by the minute.
“We need the rabbit,” one of the cops surmises. For what? To eat the mouse?
Nine uniforms and a couple paramedics in our hallway later, I’m still just standing there beseeching Jackson to be calm. But his tiny screams are fewer and farther.
Finally two burly emergency service bros huff their way to the top floor. They’re hands full of equipment, their eleven counterparts look relieved.
They’ve got THE RABBIT.
“I told you so, whispers the officer standing in our kitchen.”
They quickly go to work jamming the rabbit into the door frame and pumping it full of pressure, its jaws of life expanding, the walls shaking. Aimee’s nettie pot falls from the shelf above the sink. But Jackson’s door barely moves as the locks pop.
“Jesus H. Christ! Three locks? What you need three locks for?” asks an ESU cop.
But there’s no answer from the tiny voice.
More pumping. More popping. Suddenly it becomes painfully clear. The door is being held in place by eight feet of rubble. Some discussion about abandoning plan A. Cutting the door in half. Could that work? Maybe breaching the concrete wall?
“You sure that fucking fire escape window isn’t better?”
But the rabbit just keeps pumping the door, inching in different directions, and the crow bars and hammers keep slamming at the frame. Until finally the massive metal rectangle flies through our door clear into our kitchen, as an avalanche of newspapers, porno mags, VHS tapes, ball point pens, duct tape, umbrellas, and scientific monthlies comes crumbling into our apartment.
And a little pasty hand is visible poking out from underneath it all.
“You know what this is?” The paramedic yells as he half-heartedly touches the hand. “Karma!”
And with that, the fellas begin to laugh as they rip away Jackson’s lifelong collections from his tiny crushed frame.
A little trouble wiggling his toes, but the tiny mouse is a man again.
As they carry him out down the stairs, I ask him if there’s anything he needs, anyone I can contact on his behalf and send to the hospital. He whispers to me through his matted beard, his face covered with sweat:
“Make sure they lock it back up. I don’t want anyone stealing my stuff.”
Also published on Medium.