When I was a kid, the big unspoken secret in my building was that you and a neighbor could talk to each other on the building’s intercom, thus saving the trouble (and expense) of actually using the telephone. Every now and then, I would simply press the “Listen” button on the intercom in our apartment and more often than not would catch a conversation between two of my neighbors already in progress. You’d think that this would be exciting for someone like me, who thrilled at any type of eavesdropping, but of course it was always the most mundane type of conversation that two old ladies might have on a building’s intercom system.
There was a couple in the building, friends with my mother and stepfather, who had no children (this was always remarked upon by my mother), but had a pet rabbit named “Blondie” who roamed their apartment like a cat, but was, as rabbits are, skittish and unfriendly. The man was a sometime musician and apparently had played with the band The Left Banke whose one hit was “Walk Away Renee” in 1966. My mother had a habit of befriending minor musicians.
When I was in eighth grade, we moved to a building that was much smaller, and I got to know our neighbors pretty well. There is so much to say about our next door neighbor “Lacy” (name changed for no good reason) that I’m afraid I will never do her justice. First off, rumor had it that her family was connected to the mob in some way, which is the vague way everyone refers to this kind of thing. Second of all, she had a sometime job as the receptionist at an auto body shop, but for the most part her job was dating numerous men, some married, some not, who made sure she lived a fairly nice life. She was a little bit older than my mother and her daughter was a little bit older than me. Somehow we all became friends.
When Lacy was getting ready to go out, and her own daughter was not home, she would call me on the phone to help her zip her jeans. And I’d step out of our apartment and go next door to hers, where the door would be left open for me. She would be lying on her back in her bed (which was actually a fold-out couch in the living room) with her jeans on but unzipped. It always looked like an impossible job. There was her slightly round belly and the open zipper of her jeans that somehow had to get closed. She would have a pair of pliers nearby and it was my job to use the pliers to zip her jeans up while she sucked in her belly as much as she could. Somehow it always worked. There were times when I would stay and watch her put on her makeup, which she did at her dining room table, and took at least an hour. You knew she was finally done when she would paint on the tiny black beauty mark on her cheek. If her hands were completely occupied, she’d ask me to light a cigarette for her. I was twelve years old.
I used to spend hours and hours at Lacy’s apartment even though I found her daughter totally boring. She wasn’t the brightest of kids and she didn’t have much of an understanding of what was going on in her mother’s life. Most of the time Lacy spent lying in bed, smoking and talking on the phone, surrounded by her three adoring cats. She would usually be wearing some sort of negligee, no matter what time of day it was. At some point, she had her apartment completely redone and many of the walls had been turned into floor-to-ceiling mirrors. She would talk to you while watching herself in the mirror.
I don’t remember the last time I saw Lacy, but I think it was when I was in college. Apparently one final gesture of her richest and oldest boyfriend was to buy her a condo in Florida and off she went. It is so easy to picture her now, sitting on a lounge chair at some pool, talking on the phone and smoking, her overly tan skin nearly matching the orangey foundation she used copiously on her face. I totally admired Lacy when I was younger. I hope she still paints on that beauty mark.