In June 1980, the summer after I graduated from college, I moved to NYC with my boyfriend, Joe. We had a one-bedroom sublet on 85th St. between 1st and 2nd, a fifth-floor walkup—no problem; we were young (and it was only for the summer). The bed was up on a loft with some storage below, and the living room came equipped with dozens of old books in a board-and-brick bookcase. Nothing fancy, but it was perfect for us. It was convenient to my internship at the Met and to Joe’s job in midtown, and mere steps away from an array of German bakeries on 2nd Ave. When my parents helped me move in, we celebrated with sachertorte.
On our first weekend there, Joe and I walked over to Carl Schurz Park. Lots of people were picnicking, and the “bag ladies” (as they were known then) inhabited the benches. We headed for the rail along the river: What a view! But what were those two small boats doing? What was everyone looking at? What was in the water? Well, that was the first dead body I’d ever seen, a man’s bloated form, floating in the East River. A guy on one of the boats was trying to haul it aboard with a boathook. We never learned anything about it. This was 1980. The cops had plenty of other things to do.
Back in the apartment, we never got to know the neighbors, but we did hear a lot of nocturnal clanking of chains coming from the mild-looking guy next door. Mostly, we were just happy to be in the city and happy to be together. We had friends over for the inevitable stir-fry dinners, relying on beer and lemonade and ice cream to cool off and on fans to stir the hot, heavy air.
We went away one weekend, and…
I don’t remember where we went—probably to a friend’s “country” house, which turns out to be only a few miles from where we live now in Westchester. But I do remember we left the windows open so our apartment wouldn’t be too stifling when we got back.
And I’ll never forget the sight we saw when we returned on Sunday night. Someone had climbed into the apartment from the adjacent roof—it had never even occurred to us that this would be possible—and gone through the whole place. By greasing the windows he was able to open them wide, which meant we found oily black smudges all over—on the books strewn on the floor, on the closet handles, on the kitchen cabinets, even on the bed sheets.
We called the cops, who eventually showed up but made it clear they were never going to do anything about it. “We don’t even solve murders,” one of them said. “You have a problem with that? Talk to your mayor.”
The only thing we had of any value was my silver flute, and it was gone forever. Otherwise, we were fine, just shaken and a bit embarrassed. That fall, we moved into a slightly bigger place on 91st Street where there were bars on the windows. (And a nocturnal meth lab down the street, but that’s another story.)
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