By Robert Kroll
Like the Connecticut Yank in King Arthur’s Court, it was not obvious whether I had wandered into a local asylum or into a circus. If it were the former, clearly the inmates were in charge. If the latter, it was either the clowns or the lion tamers who ran things. The five-floor, nine-unit brownstone battleground was in a perpetual tizzy. The first thought that goes through the mind of the co-oper: “I can lick you” and they might as not go at it on the spot. I did not see that coming.
Here is but a slim sample of the stories that have arisen in just the first two years of my servitude as the “Super”:
“The Case of the Homicidal Steam Boiler Tamperers.”
Then, there was the “Matter of the Fraudulently Hidden Financial Records;”
And then the “Case of the Phantom Third Floor Mold”
Never forgotten was “The Matter of the Dead of Night Clothes Washer Hookup Installers,” These stealthy and possibly nocturnal instigators were discovered by the sound of a sledge against the sheet rock.
And most often referenced was “The Insidious Case of the Falsely Accused Pyromaniacal Drag Queen Fancier” who, it was thought, was the culprit who nearly snuffed out two rug rats sleeping on the fifth floor. The effort to clear his name is ongoing…
All these tales of woe-is-me have erupted on the watch of the mild-mannered Left Coaster who, in early 2019, was put in charge of this mad house. It was like inheriting an unheated, leaking, smoky, moldy, antebellum haunted house. [It should be mentioned, in fairness, that this characterization is hyperbole and the listed faults are mainly in the eyes, ears, and noses of the inhabitants]
To be grossly generous, the New Yorker views his tenement as his castle. Castles are known for their crude and uncomfortable fixtures, or lack of same. What could go wrong with that notion? Well, the occupant’s purpose in life is to point fingers at either his or her fellow lodgers or their Super. Finger pointing is an exercise; a habit; a hobby; a devious art form and the duty of each red-blooded co-op inmate. And better the index finger than the middle one however tempting it may be to raise the latter.
“Who tampered with the steam boiler heat setting?” “My money’s on Albert!”
“Who set their fireplace ablaze and left it to smoke up the babies’ room?” “It’s clear it was Alice. I saw a fire log in the hall near her door.” “Well, I saw smoke seeping up under Calhoun’s door*” (Names were changed to protect the author from libel suits).
In Connecticut Yankee…, Mark Twain’s narrator, a 19th Century character in 6th Century Camelot, described the members of the royal household thusly:
“There did not seem to be brains enough in the entire nursery, so to speak, to bait a fishhook with; but you didn’t seem to mind that, after a little, because you soon saw that brains were not needed in a society like that, and indeed would have marred it, hindered it, spoiled its symmetry—perhaps rendered its existence impossible. “
A crisper description of my co-op I cannot conceive.
I had wandered not only into a strange new land, but into an imbecile’s time warp in which none of the niceties of civil society were applied, at least not within the confines of the Proprietary lease, the House Rules and The Golden Rule.
I falsely presumed I had been hired to repair and maintain. I found that I was held to be more of a combination vice detective, snitch, whip cracker and carnival wrestling referee whose role was less to fix and more to thrash.
Within my first year of my vaunted post, my position was already on the chopping block. Rumors of my getting the axe were rampant. I felt like Special Counsel Robert Mueller on his darkest day. But, somehow, like Mueller, I survived and persevered with only minimal damage to my rep. But, also like Mueller, not much to show for my efforts.
Dear Reader, bold West Village denizen of the tenement world, please stand by and stand back…as the interior world of my asylum is revealed in as many installments as you can tolerate in the months to come.