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26 September 2002

Attention, readers in flyover country: If you've always wanted to trade your dusty, sepia-tinted environs for the Gershwin-scored bustle of America's Most Exciting Metropolis, and you're independently wealthy, now is the perfect time for relocating to NYC! There are no jobs to be had, but the sluggish economy means that you can get some great deals on real estate. Yes, gone are the days of the dot-com gold rush when you had to pay a month-and-a-half rent to a broker just to find a decent apartment, and on top of that the first month's rent and security deposit to the company that actually manages the building.

If you end up looking for a place in one of New York's charming brownstone neighborhoods, though, make a point of finding a building in which the ground-floor apartments are occupied by old ladies of extremely advanced years -- it's so worth the trouble.

To be sure, there are disadvantages to having elderly neighbors downstairs:

* Their apartments exude a disagreeable cabbage-sock-Lysol odor if they have their doors open when you go by.
* They don't really like one another as friends, even though they're forced to keep together for company, so they'll get all cranky behind each other's backs: ''Watch out for her, young man -- she's a crazy old bitch, that one is.''
* And once in a while they'll beckon you into their fetid, newspaper-strewn quarters to change a lightbulb in the ceiling fixture, and you can see the accumulated decades of grime on the worn, burnt-orange and avocado linoleum. Not linoleum from the '70s, mind, when flooring was made in those colors and actually marketed under the names ''burnt orange'' and ''avocado'' -- these tiles predate WWII and were once several shades brighter.

But old ladies are almost always there to receive UPS packages, since the chalky crumbliness of their hipbones makes it impossible for them to leave the premises without first going through an extraordinary checklist of logistical arrangements, such as securing the assistance of a younger neighbor in hoisting an aluminum walker down the sheer clifflike face of the front stoop to the sidewalk below. They're there, too, with the key to the basement utility area when you've blown a fuse and the super is... possibly he's off touring the Galápagos, observing speciation in finches as Darwin did, for all I know, because he's certainly never home. And the best part about having old-lady neighbors is that they sometimes dispense free cash!

Take my downstairs neighbor Maude, for instance. In her girlhood, she was an artist's model for the Willendorf Venus, and has lived in her current apartment since the Spanish-American War. She also talks in this grating Brooklyn quack like an enraged mallard trying to shoo rival males away from his chosen consort. But she's always very kind to my dog Poochy, is never without ribbon candy for my adopted child Throbert Jr. (or Throbertina Jr.), and like I said, she sometimes throws money at me as I pass her door on my way from the stairwell to the building's foyer:

MAUDE: Lissin, you goin' out? Wouldja take deeze lettahs an' mail 'em fwarmmy? Quack! I fuhgott to do it when da Seen-yah Ambulette soy-viss took me to da park dis smawning so I cud spuh-lash aroun' in da reeds by da lake.

ME: Suuuuure, I'd be more than happy. Naaaah, it's no trouble -- I was on my way to the drugstore anyway to get some fresh batteries for my Johnson & Johnson Baby Taser, and the mailbox is right there at the entrance...

MAUDE: How is the liddle one, anyway? I seen ya wi' fim oilier! Sutcha liddle rascal, you should be so prowda him. Wait, heeyuhz two dollahs fwarya, all shiny from tha earl glands dat I use to preen my glossy wing feathahs with. Quack!

ME: Aw, I can't take this, really...

MAUDE: Go 'head, take it! Quack! I ain't got time ter awg-yah witcha, quack!. I gotta go root around in some mud wit' my broad, sensitive bill, to scoop up a cuppla duh-lish-us insect larvae fuh dinnah!

ME: Really, Maude, dear heart, you don't have to pay me. No, keep it -- I'm always going for strolls around the block anyway, to get some fresh air and exercise my legs... See?

MAUDE: Here, take the two dollahs fwahya trouble, stoopit! Yer doin' me a fay-vuh, quack! I can't get downta da may-yuhl box like I yoosta, what with da arthur-right-us indies flat, webbed feet. Just take the damn money! And get my gahbidge and recyclin' to da coib, too. Quack!

...and so on, until I take the two dollars and mail her letters. I always feel bad about accepting it, though I know that with rent control she probably pays something like 67 cents a month on her lease. Oh, well, two bucks buys a 40 of Olde English malt liquor at the corner bodega.

posted by Throbert | 9/26/2002 02:59:00 PM |
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