I’ve always thought my neighborhood was relatively safe. It’s very residential. There’s a subway nearby. A police precinct is around the corner. The courtyard of my actual building is well lit and it even has a few security guards. But recently things got a little rowdy, and now that I work from home full-time, it’s occurred to me that my block might be kinda hot. And not in the Paris Hilton way either.
Let me take you back to two months ago. One of the apartments in my complex caught fire. I woke up to the sound of breaking glass. At first I thought someone was just throwing away a bunch of stuff. But the glass-breaking didn’t stop. It went on and on and on. It was a pretty Sunday morning and I was just stirring from my sleep and I kinda thought I was still dreaming. But then I smelled smoke and heard sirens.
I jumped out of bed and headed straight for my window. I could see thick, black smoke billowing out of the building across the courtyard from me. My building was unharmed; it just an apartment in that one building. And below the burning apartment, I could see a crowd of residents gathering in the courtyard. There were lots of hair rollers and houserobes.
I, of course, followed their lead: I threw a coat over my pajamas, slipped my feet into the nearest shoes, and walked outside to get a better view, all the while dialing my mom from my cell phone.*
By the time I got outside, the firemen seemed to have things under control. They were still breaking out a few windows and smoke was still pouring out, but it looked contained and I didn’t see any actual fire. A few hours later, the windows were boarded up and life in my ‘hood went on as usual.
I considered it a freak accident. Ya know, one of those once in a lifetime sort of things.
Fast forward to a month ago. It was about 11:30pm. I’d already settled in for bed. I was in the place right before sleep where you can hear stuff going on around you but you’re not really paying attention to it. That’s when I heard the boom-boom-boom sound. Now my block can get a little loud. Especially during the summer and always on the weekend during the summer. But this was a Wednesday night and it was 40 degrees outside. Still, I was too half-sleep to be bothered.
Then a moment later; three loud knocks in quick succession. Boom-boom-boom!
This wasn’t the knock of a regular visitor. This was something else.
Then I heard walkie-talkies and “Cap’n, it’s clear in here.”
Suddenly I remembered the fire from across my courtyard weeks prior and the boom-boom-booming was sounding clearer and closer and more urgent and the walkie-talkie sound was getting closer too. I jumped up to look out of my living room window. Two fire trucks were planted right in front of my building. Then the boom-boom-boom came to my door.
“Just a minute! I gotta find my robe.”
I furiously ran around my apartment looking for my robe.
“I’m coming–just a second!”
A moment later, I finally swung open the door. Standing in front of me was a big, imposing guy dressed in fire gear from head to toe with a walkie-talkie in one hand and an ax in the other.
I looked at him in horror.
“What’s going on?” I asked stupidly.
“We got a call about smoke.”
Then Mr. Fireman stepped into my apartment, took a quick look to the left and right and yelled, “Cap’n, it’s clear in here.”
He looked to me and said “Have a good evening” and ran down the stairs where he continued boom-boom-booming on all the floors below mine.
I closed my apartment door and stood in place. Then I glanced around the room like Mr. Fireman did. I knew I wouldn’t find anything, but I took a few long, hard sniffs for good measure. (Nope, I didn’t smell smoke.) I almost called my mom, but she’d of been angry about me waking her up for such a silly non-event.
But for some reason, it didn’t feel like a non-event. The moment was over. Everything was fine. No one was hurt. And yet, I couldn’t sleep. I was worried. I checked to make sure my oven was off. I checked to make sure my smoke detector was blinking like it should. And still, I couldn’t sleep.
I read for a while. And just as I was getting drowzy again (must’ve been 1:30am by then), I heard fast, loud footsteps and “No! No! No!”
I was too scared to move, but my eyes shot wide open. A woman was being chased. I could decipher that much. And I heard walkie-talkies again. After a moment I could hear security guards trying to restrain the woman as she cried that she wasn’t doing anything wrong. It sounded like a struggle at first, but she eventually calmed down and was carried away.
Two weeks after this — yes the saga continues — a bunch of men were arrested and thrown to the ground outside my window by a large group of cops. And then just last week while I was walking home from the gym, a young guy with his hands handcuffed behind him was running from two female cops about three blocks from my apartment. He ran across a huge intersection and cars had to swerve and brake to avoid hitting him. The cops radioed for help, but this dude was moving too quickly to be caught by women on foot, even with the handcuffs. Again, I did what I usually do: I stood there slack-jawed for longer than was necessary or prudent. But I just couldn’t believe this was happening so close to where I live. It was like something out of Spike Lee movie. AND, this was just a block away from the police station.
When I got home that night, I double-checked that my doors and windows were locked and tried to chalk all this up to coincidence.
In the four years that I’ve lived in my apartment, I’ve never seen anything like what I’ve seen in the past two months. I gotta say, it’s got me hyper-alert right now. And it’s not even officially summer yet.
* I can’t help it. When anything of note happens to me, my impulse usually is to call home and share the weirdness/good news/bad news.