Once inside, I got food and water for the dog then went to check on my next door neighbor. I could hear her talking on the phone as I rang the doorbell. She opened the door her face streaming with tears, mascara running, obviously in shock, but I didn't notice any clear, visible signs of assault to her person. I asked if she was okay and told her that if she needed anything I was right across the hall. She hurriedly thanked me and shut the door. I went back to my apartment. I saw her two days later on the street and she told me her roommate was being released that day and she was going to take out a restraining order against him. The band-aid around her toe had watermelons on it.
If you'll forgive a slight (maybe not so slight) digression, I have always disliked Chihuahuas. Too small. Too yippity-yappity for my taste. Having spent some considerable time with one recently however, I can now say without hesitation that they are awesome! Maybe this could have been any dog I decided to get down on the kitchen floor and tussle with. Maybe it was the fact that this was a creature who was oblivious to the human drama that was occurring with its owners and would give unconditional love to a total stranger that was meeting it's basic needs. Nah, this dog was special. This was Lola. "She was a show dog." Immediately, I called my friend Kristen, the wife of our artistic associate, Moritz von Stuelpnagel. Both are proud Chihuahua owners. I told her I had seen the light. I don't think I would ever own one, but they're nice to share some space with under strange circumstances. She texted me on July 11th, "Chihuahuas rock! Do you still have it?" Sadly, no. Dog gone.
This was an isolated incident. I chalked it up to the temporary insanity that can accompany extreme heat; the randomness of New York City living. If any thing, it would make a good story the next time I joined my neighbors in the building next door for an impromptu smoke. And it did.
Just another Saturday in "Zoo York." A good day. Sunday was fast approaching. The day of rest. Early Sunday Mornings in New York, especially in my neighborhood are absolutely beautiful. There's a calm to this place the likes of which I imagine, would only occur after something catastrophic. I've felt that before following the terrorist attack in 2001, but that calm was eerily devastating. This calm is more charming- like the calm that follows a zombie apocalypse.
I love living in New York. More, I love my neighborhood. Growing up a Navy brat, I moved around a lot as a kid and New York was the first place I felt I could claim as my home. It's the longest I've lived anywhere. I've lived in this neighborhood for close to a decade now. I know my neighbors. I know my mail carrier by her first name, all the guys who work the delis in a six block radius, the old Chinese woman who does tai-chi in the middle of Orchard Street between 7am and 7:30am every morning, and a whole host of dog walkers, shop owners, vendors, street cleaners, baristas, homeless people, supers, bank tellers, tailors, bartenders, musicians, real estate agents and individuals who live and work here. Maybe it's because I'm a Carolina boy, and I'll talk to anyone out of a desire to keep Southern hospitality alive, but for all it's millions of people, for all its hustle and bustle, there's something very provincial about this place. It seems to me, New York is a small town masquerading as a metropolis.
Those who know me, know I have a rather unique living situation. My roommates are from Burma. For the geographically challenged, it's a country in Southeast Asia that was under a militaristic regime until 2011 and is currently also referred to as, "Myanmar." They are some of the kindest, most generous, big hearted people I have ever met. They've lived here in this apartment for twenty years. The place is a shit hole. It's painted in the national colors of Burma, most likely hasn't been renovated since the 70's and probably reeks of curry. I have no sense of smell. I've been told it does. My cousin Jay, when he visited a few years ago said that it smelled like, "Yola's house." Yola is my Italian grandmother. I stay here because I'm an actor. It's cheap. It allows me to do what I love and live where I like. It may not last forever, but for now I have no plans to live anywhere else. My roommates' generosity brought a third roommate into our home a year ago. A man, I'll refer to as, "F" for the rest of this story.
"F" subletted my roommate's room when he traveled back to Burma for a month last Spring, and then my room when I went to act in an opera at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC. He seemed nice enough, and I was happy to have my room subletted while I was out of town. When I got back my room was a wreck. There were cocaine baggies everywhere and residue on my picture frames. Do what you want, but at least have the decency to clean up after yourself. Rude. I thought this would be the end of it. He was out, I was back, but long story short, he lived with us for a year. He lost his job (finance- or so he said), when the economy tanked in 2008 and had been in pretty bad shape since. We gave him a roof over his head. He did drugs, drank heavily, stole food, never took out the garbage and was to put it mildly a real shitty roommate. We managed to cohabitate in relative peace for a long time, but the guy was a definite negative force in the place. A human energy suck. He rarely left his room, kept to himself and didn't bother anyone. He didn't seem to do anything.
He couldn't pay July rent. He had always been late. But this Summer he seemed particularly desperate. I have no money, but "F" had NO money. It most likely went up his nose. Around the 1st he disappeared. By July 8th, the day after the "domestic disturbance" with the neighbors across the hall, my roommate decided to open his door. The place was a a wreck. My room is small, but comfortable and I keep it clean. This room is even smaller, and it looked like someone developing pack-rat tendencies (or an advanced drug addict), was living in it. We thought maybe he had gone out of town for the 4th, and would wait until Monday or Tuesday to get concerned. I went into my room to check my email for a few moments when I heard my roommate call out, "Hey Gregg, come look at this." She showed me a notebook, dated 7/2/2012 and on the cover he had written, "For my sister and mother." Under that was an international phone number. "F" is from Spanish/Mexican descent. The notebook contained a three page letter written in Spanish. My grasp of Spanish is muy malo, but I can read it better than I can speak it. After perusing it, I was pretty sure I was looking at a suicide note. My roommates and I stood around our kitchen debating what action to take. I ran across the street to my gym where my friend Pedro was working. I explained the situation to him and asked for his assistance. He read and then translated to me, what turned out to be a sad, bitter rant about how his ("F's"), mother hadn't supported him during his recent tough times, how he had continually asked for help but to no avail. It had gotten to the point where she wouldn't take his calls. Towards the end of the third page as Pedro mumbled the text, he exclaimed, "Oh, fuck!" He read the line again and then told me that it was unclear; idiomatic. While there was no definitive, "good-bye cruel world" statement, he said that it was possible this was what I thought it was. I thanked him profusely and told him I would keep him posted.
Back across the street, I called 911 and reported "F" as a missing person. Two more officers came to our apartment. We explained the situation to officers Wu and Rodriguez, showed them the letter and even tried to call the number written on the front. The call went straight to voicemail. Officer Wu and Rodriguez (Wu referred to her as, "Ed Rock"), didn't think this was a missing person case. For missing persons they call out the dogs, the helicopters and the search party. We didn't need that. Their professional opinion was that he couldn't pay his rent, skipped out and most likely would find his way back home to Spain or wherever. I guess that's pretty common in these situations. We may have wasted an hour of these officers' time, but they assured us we did the right thing. If we heard anything or if he showed up, they said we should call them. There was a record of our report at this address and Dispatch could reference it if need be. We all felt a little better and eventually went to bed. We would change the locks ASAP.
Over the next few days, we were keenly aware anytime someone exited their room, when we heard footsteps on the stairs outside in the hallway, or when a key slipped into the tumblers of the doorknob and threw the lock to the front door. We slowly began cleaning out "F's" room to return to some sense of normalcy.
Yesterday I was at work, temping for an NGO across the street from the United Nations, and decided to stay an extra hour to get ahead on some of the mind-numbing static data entry I've been tasked with. I left at 7pm. On the express bus rolling down Second Avenue, I got a text from my roommate, "Gregg, "F" here!! Come home!!" My heart leapt into my chest. My roommate, a woman, was home alone with a potentially unstable individual. I was at 14th street. By the time I got off the bus she had texted me to tell me that Peter, her boyfriend, my other roommate had just arrived. I opened the door to find them all in the kitchen.
"F" was sitting at the kitchen table and Peter and Mimi standing by the sink. "F" had been in the hospital. On the 3rd of July, while home alone, he had passed out and put himself in a cab to Beth Israel. He stayed there for eight days due to hypertension/high blood pressure. He may have a history of this, but I know prolonged cocaine use can lead to these issues. He left no note. He had no phone, not because he didn't bring it with him, but because he couldn't pay his phone bills and service had been disconnected. We thought he was gone. Or worse. Now here he was, hospital wrist band laying on the table, release form in hand telling us a little to loudly and dramatically the events of the last week. When my roommate offered to allow him to stay the night in his room, I immediately protested. I no longer felt safe with him there. I know my roommates did not. They were just trying to be nice, and to keep a potentially volatile situation under control. All well and good, but if he stayed we would just be postponing the inevitable and it would become increasingly difficult to get him out. I told him I wanted him gone and my roommates immediately voiced their consent.
"F" tensed, began yelling about how he had just been in the hospital, accused us of racism and then lunged at me. Peter stepped in between us, and "F's" fist connected with my upper lip. It was time to call the cops. Again. As Peter guided "F" to the front door, he occasionally tried to break past Peter to get to me. We got his keys. Peter gave him $100 and walked him out the door. From my landing I could hear Peter and "F" talking. I went down to make sure Peter got him out of the building. Upon seeing me, "F" lunged at me again. My body is wired for defense as a result of the neurological effects of my C.P. My balance isn't so hot on the best of days, so as he came flying at me, instinctually I lowered my center of gravity and braced for the impact of his kick, wrapping my arms around his midsection as we tumbled to the ground. His foot got me in the left ribs. He's got a good 4 inches and 30lbs. on me, but he's a powder-puff. Peter pulled him off me and threw him out the door.
The bouncer from the Bulgarian bar next door, whom I've chatted with on several occasions and with whom I exchange friendly "hellos" on a daily basis, heard the commotion and was waiting outside the door. Peter and "F" sat on a fire hydrant while I stood against the wall with the bouncer. "F" pointed to his arm and said, "look what you did to me." I replied, "You punched me in the face and I'm a cripple, so you're fucked." This made the bouncer smile. We shared a smoke. "F" stood up and and began to move towards me which brought over another bouncer from Loz Feliz, the taqueleria two doors down. This guy was even bigger than the bouncer from the Bulgarian bar. He looks like a cross between Michael Chiklis and Mr. Clean. We had just been talking together last week about how much we loved SIX FLAGS amusement parks. We both have season passes, and I told him we should go sometime because I get front of the line privledges. He was down.
When the cops showed up, because I had no visible wounds, they had no grounds to arrest him. Also, since he has been living under our roof for at least thirty days (even though he's not on any lease and there's no record that he pays rent), by NYC housing law, he has residency and could potentially sue us for a wrongful eviction. A friend of mine familiar with NYC housing law said we only have to let him back in if he sues us and wins. We'll cross that bridge if and when we come to it.
A few hours after the police left I went downstairs with my next door neighbor for a smoke. My neighbor wanted to know where "F" was so he could go after him, and assured me that he had my back. Both bouncers came up to me, asked me if I was okay and said "F" had been standing in front of our apartment door for an hour and a half peering in to see if one of us was coming outside. Mr. Clean from Loz Feliz said he went over to him and said, if he made any move on me or anyone who lived in the building he would put his head through a wall. I think "F" got the message. The bouncer also told me that he was friends with the sergeant at the 7th preceinct (my preceinct), and if he needed anything he could make a call for me. I told him I had become very familiar with the cops of the 7th precienct. This guy actually hangs out with officer Wu. "Wu. I know Wu. Whitest Asian guy you'll ever meet."
So what the hell does this have to do with theatre? I am in the process of building a company. Buidling a community for myself and those around me. I strive for this in my personal life and in my work. This company is not all about me. I am just one small piece of it. The events of the last week have shown me that despite the "otherness" that my disability sometimes makes me feel, I am a human being part of something larger; a family, a neighborhood, a city, a country, a world. A nod to "Our Town" seems appropritate here- "...the earth, the solar system, the universe the mind of god..."
As I look out the window across the street, I realize I am sitting in the shadow of an organization (regardless of what you think of their politics), in part dedicated to "reaffirming faith in fundamental human rights, in the diginity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small..." The Apothetae is not the U.N. but I do believe in its mission. I think it is singular and vital. It is a unifying body in a sense; it is my attempt to bring disparate communities in my life together. I see our organization akin to a studio, an establishment where an art is taught or studied. The studio is a refuge, a laboratory of discovery and experimentation where the forging of an idea happens. We are in the business of teling stories. We will strive to treat each other with respect and ask the same of them. Thank you for lettimg me share my story with you.
It doesn't cost anyhtig to be nice. Simple acts of kindness and generosity can go a long way. Take care of yourself. Strive to be kind to everyone you meet. Just like you, they are in the struggle for their life.
Have a good weekend.