It seemed not a single soul other than me lived in the building. I had spent a solid three weeks of my life living in the 10-story apartment complex and had yet to run into a single person. I may have assumed that maybe I was the only person living in the square brick 80-unit building on the corner had I not regularly heard the other tenants flushing toilets, watching TV, couples getting into fights, having sex. You know, all that urban apartment static which should be unnerving, but you just tune out because you assume everyone else hears you do the same.
I moved in smack dab in the middle of an awful, sticky, hot New York City summer. I was drawn in by the shabby chic charm of the 1920 construction and the fact it somehow was a small (but true) one-bedroom for less than $3,000 a month in the city.
However, I should have thought better about the lack of the air conditioning. The place was uninhabitable during the day and only a little bit better when the sun went down.
It wasn’t just the heat that was keeping me awake at night either. An alarm clock in the unit above me had been ringing out for three weeks straight. It constantly bleated out at a steady cadence around the clock until it seeped into my brain and l I think my body just catalogued it as something that belonged, like the beat of my heart.
The weather app on my phone told me the temperature was still hovering at 94 at 1 AM the night I finally had enough. I had been lying naked in my bed with a fan turned on me on full blast for hours chasing sleep to no avail with the tone driving me mad. I got up and threw on a sloppy pile of clothes – flannel pajama pants, loose tank top, no bra, and an ex-boyfriend’s Yankees hat – and headed upstairs to the tenth floor for the first time.
I was first struck by the overpowering stench which greeted me once I reached the top of the final stretch of stairs – it smelled like someone had thrown a pile of sweaty clothes into a dryer without first putting it through the washing machine. The hallway outside my door smelled like an unwashed bathroom towel, but it wasn’t as putrid this awful smell.
I couldn’t believe it took me almost a month to finally figure out what the hell was going on with the alarm clock above me, but it wasn’t entirely shocking. The modern world turned us all into passive introverts who would rather suffer for weeks instead of doing the worst thing in the world – picking up a phone and actually calling someone or knocking on a door in confrontation. Nothing ever gets fixed or confronted in a city apartment building. Everyone just sits in their apartment on their devices, hoping someone else will say or do something. That old tale of the woman who got murdered in the middle of New York City even though she screamed for help and 20 people heard her in their apartments is 100 percent true.