Article 25

Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

The People on the Second Floor

In Uncategorized on 05/23/2012 at 2:22 pm


Nothing to move, nothing to give

By Larry Gross


I met Carol and Victor one evening in late January. I was aware that new tenants were moving into my building in Covington, Ky., but I didn’t know when. It turns out their move-in date was a Saturday night. We met in the entryway.

Carol is a short, thin, white, middle-aged woman with graying black hair. She walks with a cane. Victor is a tall, thin, black, middle-aged man. He doesn’t like to make eye contact. Carol is fairly friendly. Victor isn’t.

I was going out, they were coming in. Both were carrying full plastic garbage bags. I asked them if they wanted me to prop the door open for them to move their furniture in. Carol said they had no furniture. Those bags – I’m guessing filled with clothes – were their only possessions.

For the first several days I didn’t see much of Victor, but every so often Carol would knock on my door. Once she wanted to know if I had a baking pan. Another time she wanted to borrow my mixer. I had neither.

In February, the weather warmed and I saw a thin young man with blonde hair walking a small dog in front of my building. He is one of those young people who can’t seem to pull up their pants. Turns out he is Carol’s son and was now also living in the apartment. His name is Ralph. Even when the weather was colder he spent most of his time outside sitting on the steps that lead up to the building. He smoked a lot of cigarettes and drank a lot of Coke. He left his Coke cans on the sidewalk for others to pick up.

We had very warm weather in early March. One Sunday morning I was standing outside the apartment building drinking a cup of coffee and enjoying the warm temperatures. The door opened to the apartment building, and out stepped a younger woman with brown hair. She had a nice smile and introduced herself. Her name is Melissa, Carol’s daughter. She also now was living on the second floor.

I offered her a cup of coffee and went inside my apartment to get it for her. We drank coffee outside. I found out – or she rather directly told me – she was a prostitute.

Melissa made no big deal of this. She said she had been making money doing it since the late ’80s. I asked if I could interview her about her line of work. She said yes – maybe sometime during the week.

During those warm days in March, Carol, Victor, Ralph and Melissa would spend most evenings outside, either in front of the apartment building or around the steps leading up to it. They were fairly quiet but sometimes friends would pass by that weren’t so quiet. Sometimes those friends would go up to their apartment for hours at a time. I know this because of all the noise they were making. More than once it occurred to me to knock on their door to tell them to keep it down, that I was trying to sleep. I never did, but on those loud nights, I didn’t consider them very good neighbors. I wished they would move.

Carol continued to sometimes knock on my door. Once she wanted to borrow my Kroger Plus card. I lied and said I didn’t have one. She also wanted to know if I owned a car, that she needed a ride. This time, I didn’t have to lie: I don’t own a vehicle.

Ralph was now shirtless while walking the dog. His pants were still pulled down low and he was still drinking Coke and throwing the empty cans anywhere he wanted. I noticed that Victor was outside now and drinking, too – from a brown paper bag. Once I got close enough to see a Colt 45 bottle inside it.

In late March I saw Melissa sitting on a bus bench outside the Walgreens on Madison Avenue. I sat with her and talked for a while. I asked about doing the interview and almost as soon as I did, a car slowed down in front of the bus bench. The guy inside waved at Melissa and she got in the car. I’m guessing it was one of her regular customers.

In early April I heard through the apartment building grapevine that the people on the second floor were being evicted. According to the grapevine, they hadn’t paid a dime in rent since moving in. Not putting much stock in rumors, I saw the landlord one day and asked him. He said they had to be out by Thursday.

On that Thursday I kept listening for noises on the second floor. I heard none, but that evening before the sun went down I could hear footsteps coming down the stairs. The windows in my apartment face the sidewalk, and I saw Carol and Victor.

They were by themselves. Ralph and his dog were nowhere in sight. Neither was Melissa. It was just Carol and Victor walking down the sidewalk carrying those same plastic garbage bags they moved in with. I thought to myself: They arrived with nothing and were leaving the same way.

I was talking to a friend about this shortly after they moved out, not understanding why they would move into a building knowing they couldn’t afford it, knowing they would sooner or later be kicked out. My friend suggested they moved in to simply get out of the winter cold. With the warmer weather now here, they basically got what they wanted. It was now time to move on. I’m thinking my friend is probably right.

Sometimes when I walk up to Walgreens I still see Melissa sitting on a bus bench. She acts like she doesn’t know me now. Maybe she’s afraid I’ll ask her questions about her moving rather than questions about being a prostitute. Maybe she’s more ashamed of this than what she does for a living.

I can’t do anything to help any of them. They need to help themselves, but I feel bad for them – especially Carol. Whenever she knocked on my door, I never had anything to offer, nothing to give. I wish I could go back and change that.