My Neighbor Eugenia
by John Hoppin
When it gets cold, you can put more clothes on. When it gets hot you
can keep taking clothes off until you don't have anything on and it will
still be hot.
I went into the hallway, my neighbor had her door open. It was 113 on the heat index. It was hot in the hallway. My AC was set to 78 degrees, it had blown the electricity and I needed keys to the basement. She had a grimy plastic fan. 90 years old, she lay on the couch in a transparent night gown with la enfirmera sitting next to her. Hace calor. Si, hace calor. It's hot. Yes, it's hot.
Last year she laid on the couch so long that they said it had bedbugs and carried it out one Sunday. In the middle of the family party when the men were there. They dumped it in front of the empty lot next door. Somebody took it, or threw it away or the kids broke it to bits. For a few weeks, she sat on a wooden chair in the middle of the room watching TV. Hardly anything in the old apartment, everything there was cracked and broken. The same fridge for 25 years with each landlord telling her she'll get a new one. The exterminator came to spray for bedbugs but it didn't do anything. I ordered diatomaceous earth from the internet and sprinkled it into every crack I could. The bugs didn't come, I don't think she had them in the first place. I think most of that stuff is to sell papers.
She moved to New York City from Puerto Rico in 1960. She has keys to all the buildings on the block because she had been the super back then. Patty was drunk on the stoop and remembered when Eugenia was mayor of the block. The keys hang on a ring inside the door kind of hidden. I have to borrow them whenever I blow the fuse with my AC and I need to unlock the basement and flip the breaker. Right when we got the AC it used to blow whenever you made espresso or when you ironed. It's avoidable if you are mindful of it. Eugenia has only been in our apartment once in five years and she said it was beautiful. I wanted to show her pictures but I couldn't find them.
I formed a relationship with my wife which eventually put my house in order. We put up ceiling fans, we had a friend make us a dining table, we went to the furniture store in Maspeth, and many other things combined to make the house comfortable. Our neighborhood can be very unpleasant because there is a waste transfer station a block away and garbage trucks up and down the streets at all hours. When I moved here I liked it because it was lonely, but people have started to come here despite the smell and the loud noises. Parking has become more difficult in the past couple of years. There is a hair salon across from the transfer station. They sold our building and maybe the new landlords will buy me out.
She told me I could make my own copy of the keys, that I could make a copy tomorrow, but I couldn't understand any more because I didn't speak enough Spanish and it was frustrating to talk about complicated things that I didn't understand.
Last year, we ordered two house fans on Amazon. They were stronger than her old white one so we gave her one of them. We had the AC now and we only really used one of them. She was happy. I didn't make a copy of the keys. I found out the other day that she thought I was from Colombia. For five years I have been telling her I am from California. My accent must be very poor.