Neighborhood Narrative: an Unforgettable Experience and a Parable of Life

Oct 22, 2015
by: Roan522

Why is it that smells seem to stick with you the best? Grandma’s cookies, a freshly mowed lawn, your own personal favorite delicacy, all of them trigger memories. And accompanied by vivid, clear pictures, almost as if you were watching a movie, is a smell so clear your mouth begins to water and your stomach begins to growl.
Or it might begin to turn.
Focus on this sensation: imagine decaying trash, sitting on a curb in the middle of a boiling, dense New York summer. Imagine some poor dead creature, your choice which, slowly decomposing on top of that. Now leave it all in an enclosed airspace and smell it every day for almost a month before someone calls the fire department. It was hell without the brimstone.
Pause for a moment. Don’t worry, I’ll get back to the story, but it’s better if you find out how it got to this first.
See, I spent the first ten years living in New York City, and believe me, it’s not a place where you talk to your neighbors; or not much anyway.
I can only remember one conversation that was multisyllabic, as a neighbor was moving out of the larger, downstairs apartment, he said “You should move into this apartment, it’s much bigger and it’s really nice,” or something like that.
It’s not even like I grew up in an unsafe part of town but thinking back on it, I’m fairly glad my parents avoided some of our neighbors like the plague. I would delve into some of my illustrious crazies but we don’t have the time and I think that to get an A I need to keep it PG, so I’m just going to focus on one of them, who we always referred to as “The Shut-In,” which is an informal term for his condition.
See, he must have suffered from very severe agoraphobia, which is a disorder where the patient may experience panic attacks in all locations except for his or her “safe space.” He also was extremely asocial and a hoarder, and I never came across him, despite the fact this “safe space” happened to be the tiny studio apartment right across the hall.
I remember, once, when I was very young, that when I walked near his door, I heard him humming a mournful tune in a deep, rich bass voice.
And then, sometime in the summer of 2007, that smell started.
Our superintendent, a small italian man who would fix things, would poison mice that infested in our walls, where they would, naturally, die as well, so the population of that brownstone on the Upper West Side, on the street where John Lennon was shot and between Central Park and a chic avenue, being good New Yorkers, happily ignored the smell of rot and consumption and went about our normal lives.
But stench of rotting flesh didn’t go away like we expected it to…
It remained for an entire month.
Finally, someone called the fire department.
My mother was the first to arrive at the scene, I was at aftercare or a camp or something, and the chaos that greeted her must have been absurd. She, on her feet as always, didn’t let me into the building but I remember swarms of police officers.
I must have asked her something along the lines of “Mommy, why are there so many police officers?”, and I remember very clearly what her response was; “The shut-in is dead… I saw his foot.”
Words cannot express how thankful I am that she didn’t let me in.


Wonderfully Written

Submitted by Katie J. on Thu, 2015-10-22 11:47.

This piece of writing is very intriguing. of course, the story you told is quite unusual and really draws the reader in.


Submitted by Roan522 on Thu, 2015-10-22 11:50.

Thank you so much! This really means a lot to me...