Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Our New Neighbor

Big news on the AMAM front. Huge. Colossal. My grandmother has moved into our building. Nonnie is now our neighbor.

For forty years Nonnie’s been kicking it in Bensonhurst, buying her fruit and vegetables from Two Guys from Brooklyn, enjoying the best cannolis in the US of A, hanging out of her window and yelling in Italian to her friends, most of whom are named Maria. But when her landlord who was a good friend, and incidentally also named Maria, died, things started to change at the old homestead. Maria’s granddaughter moved in, took over and brought a certain seediness to the attached house. Where my grandmother and her friends used to sit on the porch clucking their teeth at passersby, there is now large gatherings of young people smoking and drinking and playing music loudly. Nonnie’s friend, Lucia, who was living there when Nonnie moved in, fell and broke her hip a year or two ago and went to live with her daughter in Florida. Some of the new landlord’s friends moved in, in her place, and a few months later my grandmother gets a knock on her door at 11pm and it’s the cops looking for her downstairs neighbor.

None of that would have pushed my grandmother out of the place she’s called home for so long. She’s a tough broad. But then the landlady raised her rent by 30% overnight and she doesn’t have a lease so she is what you might call up shit’s creek without a paddle. At precisely the same time, we started looking for an apartment to buy, the market being what it’s been, mortgage rates at an all-time low, prices plummeting and our family much too large for our current rental. And that’s when somebody – I don’t remember who started the ball rolling – suggested my grandmother might be better off living near us, than in her walk-up crime den.

Let me tell you who DOESN’T think my grandmother is better off. My grandmother.

“You’re living in the lap of luxury over here,” I tell her, “You have a dishwasher and an elevator.”

“It’s so small! No room for anything!” she says.

I advise her that maybe she feels cramped because she brought forty pots and pans and enough plastic Tupperware to run a Chinese restaurant for a week.

“When was the last time you used this?” I asked her yesterday, holding up a spearmint-green Jello mold that is from the 70s. Literally, I ate Jello from this thing my whole childhood.

“I’m gonna start using it again one day!” she replied defensively.

When we packed my grandmother’s apartment, we unearthed:

A hand-powered meat slicer
Six aluminum mugs from the Playboy Club circa 1973
Every single Halloween costume worn by her five granddaughters, from their birth 'til they outgrew Halloween
My baby tricycle
Two unopened DVD players
A Remington typewriter circa 1930
Enough canned food for my kids to survive on ‘til they graduate high school

I can’t even describe the extent of stuff crammed into every nook and cranny of her apartment. Her closets were like clown cars – we just kept pulling out large items that you couldn’t imagine ever fitting in there. A meat slicer, for the love of God! The kind they have at Key Food that gets your honey-roasted turkey breast sliced nice and thin! We found every single item of apparel I ever wore as an infant, which would have been useful about 4 ½ years ago when my son was born, but has been impossible to reach until we spent three days digging a tunnel through her bedroom closest. I’m surprised we didn’t find members of our family trapped in there, under all the fabric scraps and baby shoes.

But I don’t know why I’m surprised. This is a woman who has been using her dishwasher, which hasn’t worked in over twenty years, as a kitchen cabinet. So when you went over to her place and she made you dinner, she’d open the dishwasher and you’d see dozens of boxes of Ronzoni penne, crushed tomatoes and Stella D’Oro cookies.

Her new dishwasher works, which I point out to her, but she says she’d prefer to use it as storage space. She needs to find a spot for that Jello mold, after all.