When I moved to New York at the age of 18, the city was the second home I had ever known …
I was instantly in love with the way I could get lost in a crowd, the paradox of always and never feeling alone. Every walk promised the discovery of a new secret, even if I had taken the same route as the day before. After all, this has been the setting for countless books, films and essays, a place where every moment felt full of possibilities and where I could feel like the hero of the story of my life even while running errands.
It’s safe to say that this kind of romance kept me here. Because it sure wasn’t the property.
My apartments – there were many of them – had quirks upon quirks. For years I lived in a building where a neighbor seemed to spend all his waking hours cooking bacon, the smell constantly permeating the hall. Then came the apartment with the photogenic farmer’s sink from which only hot water sprayed. Thick rubber gloves were a necessity for washing dishes, and hand washing was not for the faint of heart.
There was the bedroom in Brooklyn with the radiators that hissed and moaned like a wicked witch from a fairy tale. For weeks I woke up in the middle of the night thinking someone was going to break in. Eventually I got so used to it that it was barely noticeable.
Then, late at night, I heard a new, more disturbing sound. Scraaaaaatch. It echoed off the wall, like something straight out of an Edgar Allan Poe story. Scratch-scratch-scratch. A friend came to my apartment to confirm and the sound subsided. As soon as I was alone – and it was easier to scare myself out of my mind – the scratching stopped. Finally, when it looked like the creature could jump through the drywall, someone came over to take a look. It was a whole family of raccoons.
In a Manhattan apartment, my upstairs neighbor worked as a bartender and shuffled up the stairs at 4 a.m., where his presence was immediately known. He made dinner – or was it breakfast? – and watched TV, the sound faded as I got up to work. If what’s coming around is going around, it wasn’t for me as my next seat came with a downstairs neighbor who complained about any sound that wasn’t part of my breathing. If only he could live under the bartender, I would think.
And that’s just my experience. Friends who live in different places have stories of their own quirks – the deer and rabbits that eat their gardens, creepy noises in the attic, neighborly brawls over landscaping, or the color of Christmas lights. When Dorothy said, “There is no place like home,” that is probably not what she was up to. But such quirks are in some cases what makes a home a home.
While I don’t miss the boiling water sink, a lot of these quirks have only added to my life experiences. In the years that I lived alone, the hum of a neighbor’s television helped me feel less. I felt more secure knowing that someone was witnessing my life, just as I was witnessing the sound of their footsteps.
Over the past year in particular, I’ve found that being close to other people feels soothing, even when it comes through windows and walls. In a broader sense, we are all neighbors. And whether we know it or not, we’re all a little quirky. So what more can we expect?
Where do you live and what are the quirks of your house? Do you have any stories to share?
PS On the way home and Stella’s 175 square meter apartment.
(Photo of Caroline’s apartment via Instagram.)