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The Ghost in the Darkness
When I moved in to my apartment in 1987, I learned very quickly that there was no insulation in the walls. On many nights, my life was like a 1930s radio drama – or farce. You could hear people talking in my next-door neighbor's bedroom – and although most of the time it would be a low murmur of indistinct voices, like something out of The Haunting – other times, it would be quite clear.
“I don’t know if I want to do that,” said a disembodied voice from the other side one evening. As I lay there in bed, trying to sleep, my mind would race with questions. What is it that he doesn’t want to do? Will he finally give in? And what was she saying? I sometimes felt like I was in a strange hybrid mystery, blending Wait Until Dark withRear Window, with yours truly as the man who heard too much but didn’t know what it meant.
Only sometimes, however. Other times – when I heard the squeaks of bed springs, and moaning and groaning – I was suddenly transported to a different sort of movie, one which I wouldn’t want my nieces to see.
On yet another night, I was startled when the disembodied voice actually spoke to me, albeit briefly. I sneezed loudly, and to my surprise (and consternation) a male voice on the other side said, “Bless you!” How much more did they hear of my conversations? Should I care?
One night, my girlfriend woke me about a different problem. She said that there was someone in the alley outside our window.
“There are two guys on the roof of that building,” she said, indicating the small, two-story structure that abutted our six-story co-op and the building next door. “They’re doing some kind of work.”
I got out of bed, looked out the window, and saw two shadowy figures, one bending over an air duct, the other holding some kind of torch.
“Hey!” I called out to them. “What are you doing out there?”
They both looked startled, as they wheeled around and stared into space, their heads turning every which way as they attempted to locate from where my voice was coming.
“We’re working,” said one of them, with the trace of an accent.
“At 2:30 in the morning?” I yelled back at them.
“Two minutes, boss, two minutes, and we’ll be finished,” pleaded one.
I wasn’t feeling particularly merciful. If this were the TV series 24, these would be terrorists from Fox News, planning to destroy my liberal Upper West Side neighborhood while we Upper West Side progressives slept the sleep of the just. As I put on my clothes to go downstairs and investigate, I dialed 911. I was no fool. I wasn’t going to be the guy who goes to investigate a noise and becomes the why-didn’t-he-summon-backup-guy-who-disappears? “It seems fishy to me,” I said, feeling very much like 24’s take-no-prisoners hero Jack Bauer, as I went down to the lobby to meet the police,. “Who does work at 2:30 in the morning?”
It turns out some people do: the officers found a man sitting in a truck out by the street corner, who claimed he and two colleagues were doing regular duct work required by law. Who knew whether he was telling the truth? When I repeated my new found mantra to him, “You do work at 2:30 in the morning?” one of the two police officers said, “Thank you, sir, we’ll handle it from here.”
I went back to bed. Jack would have found out; he would somehow gotten the back of their van, which would take him to the terrorists' lair. There, he would have one hair-raising escape after another, as he discovered that the police were not really the police, that his girlfriend had betrayed him, and that desert that he had just had was not low-fat. Wait a minute -- "Jack didn't eat deserts, did he?" I said out loud. "That's right," said a voice on the other side of the wall.
I woke up. I looked around. Everything was quiet. Was it just a dream. I lay on the bed. "I've got to watch what I eat," I said as I drifted off to sleeps, contemplating cakes, bagels, pasta, and bulging stomachs.
"Yes you do," said a voice in the darkness, "Yes you do."
July 2, 2013