Archive for December, 2009

The business of a city (5): Neighbors

December 31, 2009

In Apartment 12K, the man yells. He always screams out “fuck.” It is not rehearsal for an acting class, as I’d first hoped, or for a court appearance (I’ve concluded that he’s a lawyer), or because life is difficult or unfair. He is the essence and force of abuse—the abuse of power, of sex, of space. Sometimes he’s yelling on the phone. Sometimes he’s yelling at his partner, who answers submissively, plaintively. He always wears black; because of him, she too wears only black. He is large like a bear; I picture him pawing at the air when he yells, and try not to picture him pawing at his partner in bed. He walks ahead of her, and she follows with her head down and her stringy hair covering her face, her feet shuffling in a resigned gait. This is Apartment 12K. The name on the door is “Hedegus”—his, I’m sure. I misread “Hideous.”


Across the courtyard sits a new apartment building overlooking Madison Square Park. When construction first began at the start of the year, its forty-plus floors looked oppressive, too glassed in, an arrogant nose or a dick rising from the middle of the scarred, cleaned body that is Twenty-third Street. A concierge now sits in the gray lobby, and some tenants have been allowed to move in. The kitchens all have a granite backsplash lit up by six accent lights. Tonight on the twelfth floor, a disco ball sparkles up the curtains, and shadows (a DJ, perhaps, and a host or an early guest) roam before the windows. On the thirteenth floor—fourteenth, that is—a man and a woman are inspecting the kitchen; the tops of their heads reach the base of the cabinets. In daylight, the dark windows reveal nothing but the reflection of the street; at night, as tonight, are preparations for the year to come.


In César Aira’s Ghosts, the construction of an apartment building halts for a New Year’s Eve celebration—festive for the family living at the top floor of the unfinished building, for the guests both young and old, and, of course, for the inscrutable and quite naked ghosts playing a curious game of tag from one floor to the next. The living and the dead have tolerated each other so far, but tonight something is afoot. Space is territory; the pleasure of exploring a space is the pleasure of fulfilling ownership. In this story, the idea of the dead is inconsequential; it’s the space of infinity—its purpose—that attracts the narrator’s attention. In a mere 139 pages, the novel projects horror, vertigo, the yins and yangs involved in constructing and living in a coveted space, and the responsibility of neighbors, of entire villages, who know when to mind their own damn business.