Must-have book on health and aging

Public Lives, Private Property

Crabby Old Lady lives on the first floor of a Greenwich Village townhouse. Her bedroom is in front, on the street, and through a quirk of acoustics, any conversation taking place on the stoop of the house, even in a normal tone of voice, can be heard in the bedroom as clearly as if the speakers were sitting on the end of Crabby’s bed.

The stoop is the tallest on the block – about eight or nine steps – and over the 21 years Crabby has lived in this house, hundreds of strangers have made that stoop their own. Some treat it as a bench in a public park, leisurely eating their lunch or dinner while watching the people and dogs stroll by leaving behind, when they are done, paper bags, unfinished meals in open plastic boxes, dirty napkins, soda or beer cans.

Others use the stoop as their office or den, conducting cell phone conversations while taking notes, making appointments, sending email with their Blackberries and scattering a briefcase, notebooks, reports, sundry business papers and cigarette butts around them on the stoop.

Crabby Old Lady encountered a woman surrounded by just such debris one day when she returned from neighborhood shopping errands weighed down with too many bags. As she lumbered up the stairs fishing for her keys, the woman paused long enough from her phone conversation to warn Crabby not to step on her papers.

But the aforementioned acoustic intrusions into Crabby’s slumber are most commonly caused by the late-night lovers and party animals. Several times a week during the warm months, when she is dead out asleep, Crabby is suddenly wakened. Sometimes it is by loud, drunken or stoned laughter. Other times, by utterings more intimate than she cares to hear from anyone not speaking the words to Crabby herself: “Oh, baby, baby, don’t stop. It feels so good.”

By way of explanation, it has been pointed out to Crabby that the back seats of cars of her youth are unavailable to urban youngsters, hence the need for her stoop in service to teenage sexual exploration. Having once been young herself, Crabby sympathizes with the urgency of overactive hormones. However, call her old fashioned if you will, Crabby also believes that even in this most vulgar of ages in which we live, public sex is always inappropriate. Always. And that is most particularly true when it interrupts Crabby's sleep.

Whatever the nature of the audial intrusion – sex or general merry-making at 2AM - the result is the same for Crabby. To have any hope of a full night’s sleep, she is obliged to go to the door in her wild, witch-like, bed-hair and flannel nightie to chase the revelers off the stairs. Most move on without much fuss and there is even the occasional apology. Interestingly, the romantic teenagers are more polite about her request than the adult lunch crowd who have been known to ask who the hell Crabby thinks she is as she stands there, keys in hand, unable to find a path up the stairs.

Stoop-sitting is a venerable, New York City custom going back at least a hundred years, but it always involves conviviality with friends and neighbors on one’s own or neighbor’s stoop. Crabby is left to wonder when it became acceptable for private lives to be conducted on strangers’ doorsteps.

Crabby was wakened again last night and is in a bad mood this morning.


In the city, people crowd each other, and I agree, it's not as civilized as it used to be. When K and I lived in Miami Beach we had a killer sunset view over the Biscayne Bay. Beyond that, there were a lot of downsides. Our condo felt a lot like the third world. The place directly over us housed a series of families. The students who lived there liked to smoke on their porch and empty their ashtrays over the rail onto our flowerbeds below. The weightlifter who had a habit of dropping his weights to his floor/our ceiling. The Brazilian couple wore heavy boots indoors so that we could hear every step. I could go on. One day, a neighbor dug up some of our yard plants for his own personal use. I was fed up long before that, but that did it for K. Leaving Miami Beach to live in a real town with a real community was one of the best moves we ever made.

You don't mean to tell me you are meant to be her? I was interested in the picture of your house. Soon, I'll get round to posting mine - it is way in the country.

Thank you, dear Ronni, for a delightful romp through another of the scillions of New York moments that delighted and pleased me mightily on the other side of the world.

Very interesting, and I dare say humorous, though I do sympathize! I do enjoy the privacy of my home, and detest unwarranted intrusions. What I would give for just three, six, nine months in the Big City. Would fuel my poetry and art. But then what doesn't?

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