A Rent-Stabilized Tenant Ponders Her Demise

Catherine Wald

In memoriam, R... of Apartment 1F. Died May; discovered June; apartment sealed by police through November; furniture (bureaus, end tables, three-foot tall plaster panther) discarded December; removal of fixtures and interior demolition January; closet construction, taping, plastering and painting February.

After my lifeless body is evicted from the erstwhile parlor of this 1892 row house, a fresh cadre of bulky smokestacking laborers will chuck my kitchen-table-cum-desk, framed posters of operas and medieval botanicals, brocade tag-sale cushions, realistic fake flowers, miniature pine tree, and faux-vintage lamps onto the sidewalk. They’ll remove the ancient sink, where ne’er the twain between hot and cold water did meet; rip up the classic green and black bathroom tiles and toss them in dumpsters. Next to go will be the warped but lovingly hand-painted doors, degraded floor planks and obsolete wiring, along with great chunks of cement, paneling and plumbing. Dust will haunt the vestibule.

Upon my vacation, the LL will celebrate with sledgehammers, sheetrock and sanders the return of my apartment to market value. The building’s water and heat will be interrupted, most likely in winter. Layers of encrusted soot and grime will be blasted from my casements. My clunky radiator will be replaced and graced with an actual cover. Functional electrical outlets and updated fixtures will be installed, along with the gleaming toilet, sinks and kitchen cabinets I was never granted during my tenancy here on earth.

Some scientists believe sound vibrations are stored in walls for perpetuity, much like emails in the Cloud. Whose imprints will overlay my Aria Code podcasts, BBC Radio Three concert transmissions, tracks from Lucinda Williams and Celia Cruz CDs; animated phone calls to daughter and girlfriends, terse exchanges with ex-husband, occasional crying jags?


After me, who will stack boxes crammed with never-to-be-read books, decades of old journals and unnecessary accessories along the claustrophobic entrance hall and trudge them up the tricky, tacky staircase? Will that person, like me, recline on a convertible couch and savor West End Avenue’s symphony of rocking low-slung vehicles, ambulance imperatives, canine commands, truck brake exhalations, cab-hailing whistles, alarming buzzer blasts by UPS deliverers in search of other tenants? Who will in- hale the smoke of cigarettes, JUULs and joints from the street and visualize euphoria?

Which he, she or they will take up my perch at the capacious fenestration, where  swaths of sky and sunsets can be glimpsed from a certain angle, and bless their good fortune? Who will pursue the occasional hapless waterbug with magazines, curses and toxic fumes? Who will crack the windows in extreme temperatures, only to close and reopen them repeatedly during long winter nights?

If transmigration of tenants can be achieved, sign me up. I’d like new residents to observe strange flutterings of curtains and blinds in early morning hours; shudder to echoes of my laughter, sighs and vocalizations; tremble with pangs of longing for just one more night at the opera as I look down from my perch in heaven -- which, if I’m lucky, will have a floor plan identical to that of my beloved studio.

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