All apartment buildings smell. I think that federal law mandates it. I’ve never been in someone’s house where it smelled like an apartment hallway, so how they manage to all get that way baffles me. It’s like rubber frying in rancid bacon grease and onions. It gets worse in a senior’s residence with poor ventilation. My wife and I were helping her family clean out Auntie Phyl’s apartment, and I was reintroduced to joys of the hallway vapours, this time compounded with the scent of unplanned bodily functions.
As we worked through the dressers full of old clothes and photographs, the Germans invaded.
I looked up from a stack of Christmas cards from the fifties to see a crazy-eyed old woman wandering into the apartment.
“Vat is happening here? Has zer been a death?”
I don’t know why I expected that people might knock on the way in. No one knocked on Poland’s door in 1939.
My mother-in-law patiently explained that, yes, Phyllis had died a few weeks ago.
“Zat is so strange,” the old woman said, looking around the room hungrily. “I asked ze super if zis apartment vas available und he told me zat no vun had died.”
My mother-in-law nodded, but reassured her that Phyllis was – in fact – dead.
“Vell he said ze apartment vas not available. My apartment is down ze hall, but its gets no light during ze day.” She shakily raised a clenched fist. “Just for vun hour each day is zer sunlight. Vun measly hour. You don’t mind if take a look around, do you?”
While my mother-in-law was quite accommodating to the invading force, I was thinking something very different.
“Of course!” I wanted to say. “Come on in! Nothing will make the depressing and emotional process of sorting through a beloved family member’s personal effects more enjoyable than a complete stranger wandering through it, figuring out where her floral-print Lay-Z-Boy will fit and talking about the southern exposure of the patio.”
“You know,” the old lady said as she went through the kitchen cabinets, “zis is a lovely building for living. People don’t just show up at your door. You have your own space and some privacy.”
I wish I were making that statement up.
The woman stayed in the apartment for some twenty minutes longer, voicing her concerns that the super was conspiring against her to give the apartment to the Czech lady two doors down, until my mother-in-law kindly ushered her out the door.
My wife was feeling pretty tired, so she decided to catch a quick nap on the couch while the rest of us ran a load of furniture down to the truck. There were three dressers in the 400 square foot apartment, and they were about to join the seven other dressers in my in-laws’ garage. It made me wonder why dressers always seem to accumulate over and above all other types of furniture. We have four in a house of two people. And that’s after turning away offers from sixteen other family members. Kitchen tables never build up this way.
Little did I know, as I balanced my load of drawers on a wheelchair we were using as a furniture dolly, that the apartment was about to be invaded again.
Erin woke up from her nap to find another old lady poking at the kitchen cabinets.
“I like this,” she said, apparently oblivious to the fact that she had unlawfully entered another person’s apartment and woken someone up. “You gonna be using this thing?”
When I got back upstairs, you can imagine my reaction to that.
“They’re kitchen cabinets!” I yelled. “How the hell can someone ask for the $%^&ing cabinets? Bloody crazy old people!”
My father in law explained that these were, in fact, custom and removable. He also assured me that we could easily move them out the 14-inch-wide doorway and into the apartment across the hall.
“Fine, whatever,” I grumbled, helping him to hoist up the cabinet assembly. After half an hour of denting walls and scraping knuckles, we managed to get it out of Auntie Phyl’s place, but getting it into the next one required several exercises in null space and the sixth dimension.
When it was in the second old lady’s kitchen, she seemed less than pleased.
“Is it supposed to go that way?” she asked. “I want the doors on the other side.”
I explained to her that the door weren’t on the other side, and that it would have to be rebuilt from scratch for that to happen.
“Are you sure?”
I may have told her that the doors were about end up through her balcony window, followed closely by her cat, but my father-in-law wisely removed from the room before I could follow through on my assurance.