The business of a city: The fifth floor

January 1, 2010

[This had been started on January 1, 2010.]

I’d visited three apartments in Paris, all located on the fifth floor.

*

1.

In the bathroom were Vogue covers from the past twenty years. In the dining room, a poster of Pierrot le Fou. In the living room, a poster of a Woody Allen film that I didn’t study too closely.

On my second afternoon in Paris, I was low. I’d thought the depression would remain tucked in its pocket in New York, but it had traveled with me. Around five p.m., before it got dark, I left the apartment for a walk. A button on every floor lit up the stairwell.

*

2.

Inside two hundred square feet of space lived a kindred spirit.

*

3.

Here, one evening only—one evening too many. A grand piano, books, a blue kitchen. But the odors, the disrepair.

A building with a stairwell yet no elevator—no security.

In the morning, before it grew light, an escape. Searching for the button in the wall to light the stairwell—What if that’s a doorbell? Gently I pressed; light, lit. Down the five flights with all my luggage, as noiselessly as possible. Then a locked door in the lobby. Pulling and twisting; panic, silent. Finally, an old man to the rescue: he pressed a button in the wall, the front door opened, and the still-dark morning street beckoned.

“Merci, merci, monsieur!”

“De rien.”

He wore a cap and had a newspaper tucked in his armpit. Three or four others in the street, no more: another older man also wearing a cap and carrying a newspaper, a young student with a schoolbag, a store merchant hosing down the sidewalk. I stepped onto this hosed-down sidewalk toward home.

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