by Christopher Bacas
We never saw Billy again. There was a new management company. They moved in their super, a tiny Mexican guy. He was always cheerful and had a female companion; daughter, sister or wife, who looked seventeen. He understood few English words and phrases. When possible, the young lady translated. If she wasn't around (school?), I'd grab a dual-language dictionary for my requests. He always called me "Meester" and grinned sweetly at my poorly constructed and pronounced Spanish. Tenants' collective languages: Krayol, English, Jamaican Patois, meant little real information passed to the super.
The Pre-War building crumbled around us. The steps to the 5th floor roof held small monuments: a bottle of cheap liquor, stubbed-out blunt, sometimes a slimy condom. On cold days, running the steps for exercise, dog in tow, I dodged the messes. The dog charged right through them, scattering nastiness. Sometimes, high school canoodlers, truants who left the ashen relics, blocked our path completely. Carrying my trash through the back door, I once encountered a teen couple, partially disrobed, going at it under the stairs. Another kid, holding his belt, stood nearby. As I exited with a heavy trash bag, he nodded rhythmically at me. When I returned, no one had moved. The kid in the on-deck-circle didn't even look around.
During the coldest nights, our radiators hissed for a few minutes, then went silent for icy hours. We boiled water for nighttime baths. Small ceramic heaters crackled and hummed in the dark, blistering our throats and noses. The super looked on when we wildly pantomimed the conditions in our apartment. I'll never know if his expression meant worry about our comfort or just our sanity.
We began regular calls to the city and our property manager, and stopped paying rent.