After formalizing our education through nifty diplomas, Wife-in-a-rowboat and I decided to move back to the great Northeast. We enjoyed a lovely year in New Jersey before the cost of living and skyrocketing housing prices forced us to reconsider. It didn’t take long to rule out a long distance move to the West Coast, or a tropical shift back to equally high priced Miami. Instead, we chose Buffalo.
You’ve heard me say it before, but here it goes again. I love Buffalo. Growing up there strongly impacted my belief in hard work and sticking up for the little guy. It’s sometimes a hard luck town but never short on character. Plus, the wife and I both have family in the area. We packed the rental truck and hit the road.
Our apartment was a newly renovated flat on the top floor of a former tenement. The building started out as three luxury apartments, each occupying its own floor. At some point it was carved into smaller units and severely neglected until a couple guys financed a gut renovation.
We lived on lower Mariner St in Allentown, an artsy neighborhood just north of downtown. As you may have guessed, “artsy” means several things. University professors living in stunning turn of the century homes. Homeless people pushing shopping carts along the sidewalk, searching for recyclables. Drunk people hitting the greek restaurant and cheesesteak place at all hours. Quirky neighborhood cafes. It was honestly a little bit of everything.
Our street had a distinct city feel. Walking down the sidewalk always meant an encounter with someone, especially in decent weather. In our building there were two young couples who we’d often see on the front stoop. Both couples had a habit of fighting loudly. Often. Directly below us was a single woman who frequently entertained gentleman callers. And by “entertained”, I mean “had vigorously loud sex with”. We decided she was a lady of the night, though we had no proof other than the bumps, bangs, moans and screams.
Two doors down the street was the Dealership. An unkempt brick house with a simple wooden porch, the Dealership played host to a frequent stream of visitors. They had extremely high-end electronics, tons of videogames, and a continually glazed look in their eyes. For protection there was a very large rottweiler who wasn’t so friendly. I once asked the dog’s name and the guy replied, “Cerberus.” “Really? Like the hound from Hell?” “Yep.” “Cute.” I wouldn’t have been surprised if they installed a cash register at the front door. They did a brisk business.
The scariest neighbor, scarier than Cerberus, was Old Lady McAlarney. She chain smoked while keeping a constant hairy eyeball on the neighborhood from her porch. I believe she was one of two things: a crabby old woman with nothing better to do OR the head of the Irish mob of the West Side. There were always young Irish ruffians, hooligans, nogoodniks, and plain old thugs coming by her house. In my crafty little mind, she was giving orders from her lawn chair, running the West Side with an iron fist.
My favorite characters, however, were Beatrice and Lord Pottington. These names are obviously a complete guess. Beatrice and Lord Pottington walked the neighborhood two times each day, shuffling along the sidewalk with a sense of purpose. Probably in her 70’s, Beatrice dressed like a character from an O. Henry story where the eccentric old woman still thinks she’s going to a gala ball each day. Very formal, very put together, but clearly a person of modest means. I admired her sense of grandeur and formality. Lord Pottington was a barrel chested beagle who always walked like he was leading a parade. Head high, chest out – he was a grand old dog who marched along with a palpable sense of duty.
The most hair raising night in the apartment happened in the early summer. I was watching a movie late at night with the lights off. The wife was was asleep, somewhat across my lap. As the movie progressed (it was Weather Man, with Nic Cage), I kept seeing a fluttering of light in front of my eyes. I assumed that I was really tired and foolish for turning the lights out. And then the fluttering came back. I rubbed my eyes. More fluttering…closer to my face this time.
I woke up the wife with a very gentle “Honey, I think there may be a bat in the apartment.” She snapped to attention, stricken with the fear one is likely to feel when woken from a sound slumber by the threat of rabies. I crept over to the light switch and flicked them on. A small bat came careening through the kitchen and blew past my face.
“There is definitely a bat in the house,” I yelled. She quickly grabbed the cats and sprinted into the building’s hallway. I turned on as many lights as I could before following suit. We spent at least two hours on the landing outside our door, debating the merits of going to a hotel or trying to capture the beast ourselves. Armed with a tennis racquet and cardboard box, I crept through the apartment waiting for Batley to show himself. I looked in closets, under furniture, on top of cabinets. After two hours of searching…I couldn’t find him. I hope he left through the way he got in…because I never found him. And no, we did not sleep well that night.