Rescue Work

Many of you who know me know that I have an irrational reaction to our tenant who lives upstairs. It’s more than irrational, it’s actually an over-the-top hissy fit kind of reaction, the sort of thing that sent me to a therapist who, while normally opposed to medication, suggested that a little happy pill might make my life a little smoother.

I can give you the rundown on it, but it’s tough because it goes right to the root of some of my worst feelings about EVERYTHING. Let me just do a quick break-down. The guy is a chainsmoking drunk who considers himself a musician, despite the fact that he practices twice a month, at an intolerable level, and plays two gigs a year. He’s about 45 and divorced with a ten year old daughter and a wife who doesn’t like him very much.

Just look at the description, and you can tell why this guy is pretty much the Ghost of Christmas Future. How do I know that when I’m 45, I won’t be divorced, living in a one bedroom apartment above some real musician, drunk off my ass and wondering where my life went? I was *this close* to being this guy. Jesus, I had to quit telling people that I was an actor because the fact that I wasn’t getting paid to do the shows was humiliating.

So, he comes home every night, stumbling, crashing and watches TV for an hour, from 3 to 4, before passing out. Then he’ll get up, start playing Billy Joel and Bob Seger songs on his electric and amplified piano while singing into a microphone. I can’t even hear the TV in the *basement* when he does this.

Pretty quickly, I set some ground rules for him. After midnight, he needs to play piano or watch TV with headphones. So, then he came crashing home and just spun around in his living room for two hours dropping change and shoes and hammers and cutlery… And his living room is right above our bedroom, stretched over us like the skin on a drum.

This is getting long, so let me jump forward.

Two months ago, I told him my wife was pregnant and that he needed to move out. My mom was gonna move in up there, and we need her here to help with the baby. My mom’s not very organized, and she can’t do dishes worth a damn (I remember bitching to her about dishes in high school, showing her that there was still food on the plates when she’s done washing, and she said “the person *drying* is supposed to get off whatever I leave on there!” I said, “But mom, there’s still FOOD on here!” and she said, “What are you bitching about? I just washed it, it’s *clean* food!”) but she is amazing with babies, so calm, so put together, and she has boundless love for the grandkids she’s already got.

Now, I felt a little kharmic bump when I did this, like I was driving this guy to have to go find another apartment just because I’m a neurotic asshole. I had thought to myself, countless times during the year and a half that he lived upstairs, “this guy is going *nowhere*. If I asked him to leave, it would at least shake him into doing *something* with his life”. But that thought existed only in moments of longer harangues in my head about how much he was making me crazy.

About nine months ago, he told me he had given up drinking. Which I responded to with my usual spoken “that is really great, I mean it, that’s just such a smart move” and my usual internal, “man, when people *tell you* they’re about to change, then the telling is the important thing, and this will never take.” But, as the months stretched on, I didn’t smell anything on him, I didn’t notice him coming home and passing out with a giant thud. He still staggered once in a great while, but he’s basically given up drinking.

About four months ago, he told me he had quit smoking. Again, “Great” (“riiiiight”). But then I heard him. He *had quit* already. Two months. He’d been smoking for some 35 years, since he was 11 or 12, and he hadn’t had a cigarette in two months. This was really exciting to me, mostly because I own his apartment, but partly because it seemed he had actually changed something destructive about his life in his *late 40s*.

He came and rang my doorbell an hour ago because he saw a friend of mine letting himself in, and the light was on and the mail was all spread out. He was worried about us, about Jordana, and my friend came and got me. I had been hoping he would be out by the first of November so I could renovate his apartment before my mom and the baby come, and I was hoping he would be telling me about that.

“Listen, man,” he said. “I’m definitely gonna be out by the first. I’m moving a lot of my stuff into storage bit by bit, but I’ll be out by the first.”

“That’s perfect, I really appreciate that. It’s tough to move when you’ve got a lot of stuff, a storage place is a good idea.”

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s a smaller place, so all the music stuff is going into storage until I need it.

“Did you find a place here in Astoria?”

“I’m actually moving back in with my wife,” he said.

I was stunned. “That is… Oh my god, that is really great!”

“Yeah,” he smiled to himself. Like, not a smile of *joy* or anything, but more like relief. Like a guy might smile when he’s lying on the beach and the battle is over and he looks over and notices that neither he nor his good friend are dead.

“I gotta tell you,” I said, “my parents split up when I was in junior high, and if suddenly, out of nowhere, somehow they coulda worked it out… I mean, it’s crazy, but if suddenly, my dad had moved back home, it would have just… it would have been the *world* to me and my little sister.”

“Yeah, our girl is really happy, and I’m just…” he looked at me kinda hard. “Look, the baby? It’s gonna make your hair go gray and it’s gonna make you sleep like shit and it’s gonna make you wish you were a better guy every single day, but it is totally worth it. There’s nothing like it. I get to see her every day now, and it’s the best thing that’s every happened to me.”

“And your wife is cool?”

“She’s great,” he said, not totally believing it. “The space is small, and it’s hard for her to let me back in, but this last year I think… I think she’s *careful*, but still, she’s great. It’s so great for our daughter that I think… That just really helps.”


I think the good news is that people can change their fortunes, even when they’re in their late 40s. I’ve begun to worry that the ruts I’ve been riding in are gonna define me forever, but this guy turned his *LIFE* around. I know that I kicked him out because I didn’t want to have to listen to him having a life that I barely missed having, but the fact is, I bet he’s got a story to tell now. A broken bone will set stronger at the break than the rest of the bone, and it could be that his life has made him stronger than a careful, well planned life would have.

I guess I just feel a little less guilty, but mostly, I’m just so thrilled for him.