TEXT BY OTTESSA MOSHFEGH, PHOTO BY BEN RITTER
We moved into a house a few blocks from the Marcy projects at the end of last summer. The day we moved in, one of our neighbors asked me how much I’d paid to rent our moving van. I told her, and she said, “I’ve got to get me and my kid the fuck out of here. Welcome to the neighborhood.”
In time, it became obvious the place next door was a drug den. A constant flow of completely ravaged humans trudged up and down the steps, puking and throwing garbage out of the windows, pushing shopping carts full of drywall over the sidewalks for fun. You could hear them screeching and wailing and beating on each other through the walls. It turned out they were a group of crackheads who’d been in the building so long they had squatters’ rights and couldn’t be evicted. They’re notorious on our block, apparently, for moving en mass into houses when they’re being renovated or sold, like flocks of fucked-up geese.
Around November, I quit drinking and got insomnia. These “neighbors” played loud music at unpredictable intervals at any hour of night and it filled me with murderous rage. My doctor prescribed me Trazodone—some sort of sleeping pills—and I started using earplugs. I thought I was in the clear.
Then one Friday night I went to bed. All was quiet. The pills kicked in and I was dead asleep when at 3 AM I heard the sound of murder through the wall. “I’m going to fucking kill you,” screamed the woman, and, “You kill me and I will chase you and rape and kill you in hell, bitch,” screamed the man, stuff like that, with audible beating and kicking and slamming into walls, then scrambling up and down the stairs, and then it sounded like someone was stomping on the ceiling. I woke up. In my drug haze I got out of bed. My room is on the top floor. I opened my bedroom door and felt an icy breeze. A shaft of moonlight spilled in from above. I looked up at the ceiling, at a hole where the door to the roof should have been. I saw the clear ivory ellipse of the moon, and calmly thought, “A crackhead has broken into the house through the roof by ripping off the door and is standing behind me with a kitchen knife. He will put one hand over my mouth to muffle my screams and another hand will press the knife to my throat while he drags me back into my bedroom where he will slice my head off and rape me before going downstairs to do the same to my roommate. Then he will steal our computers and our DVD player, eat the food I left out on the stove, and leave the front door open.” I waited a minute or two to see if this was going to happen. It didn’t. I was still very messed up from the Trazodone.
I made it downstairs and knocked on my roommate’s door. “I think we should call the police. The neighbors are killing each other and I think there’s someone in the house.”
“The police are already outside,” she said.
I looked out the window and there were three or four cruisers parked out there, and a bunch of cops sitting on our stoop. Remember, I was on Trazodone for all of this.
I opened the door and said, “Hey, can you come in here? Someone stole the door to our roof.”
I should also mention that it was the middle of winter, and very cold.
It took about ten minutes to get two cops into the house, and they were the stupidest people I’ve ever met. I actually think they were mentally retarded. They were fat, and they huffed and complained as they climbed the two flights of stairs up to inspect the missing roof door.
They were like, “How do you know the roof door is missing?”
We were standing directly under the hole in the ceiling.
“How do you know it wasn’t missing when you got home?”
“Why do you think it’s missing?”
“Did you go up on the roof tonight?”
All I could get out of them was that they were responding to a domestic violence call next door.
“Can you make sure there isn’t a psychopath on the roof?”
“You want us to go up on the roof?” They acted like I was going to force them up there.
And it continued like this for 20 minutes, them grumbling and giving each other looks while I rolled my eyes and fought off the Trazodone, which was on the cusp of making me barf, and then another ten minutes while my roommate looked around our apartment for a piece of furniture they could stand on to look out on the roof. All of our furniture would have broken under the weight of half of one of them.
Then out of nowhere this Superman cop comes running up the stairs. Probably seven feet tall, gorgeous, with rippling muscles.
“What seems to be the problem? Did one of those crackheads steal the door to your roof?
And in five seconds flat he had hoisted himself up and was out on the roof with a flashlight. “Nobody up here, nothing.”
And then he was down. Gleaming, beautiful, Christ Almighty. Seriously. “Don’t worry about the crackheads. They’re all too fucked up to do anything to hurt you. They might steal a door off your roof and forget what they meant to do. You should call a carpenter tomorrow morning.”
And that was it.
A few months later the crackheads got kicked out of the house to the left of us, and they moved to the house on the right side of us and set up shop for real. The principal crackhead in charge is a serious older dude named Slim. He checks in with me from time to time and I complain about the noise. Then there’s Don Juan. He offered me some meth after I told him I’d just quit my job. For some reason I made up this excuse about being sick instead of just refusing. I said, “I have a blood disease.” He said, “Look at my hands!” He held them up, and they were like monstrously huge! Like twice as big as his head, like weights he’s carrying around with these big leechy wounds all over them and fingernails like a dragon’s. Then he said he was dying of cancer. He kept winking with every sentence as though he was secretly talking in code. He also said there was a camera set up across the street from the crackhouse, which records everything—everything in the world that ever happens. He said I should drop in sometime, that we could hang. I went over there before I started to write this and knocked and knocked, but nobody answered.