The Astoria Notes
[Update: Be sure to read the surreal follow-up in which a high-school class in Florida gets involved.]
My first year in New York, I lived on the top floor of an old building in Astoria, Queens, with rotted wood floors that creaked every time I took a step. I didn’t mind so much, because my schedule was so hectic I was rarely home. I got up early every day to get to my job by 9:00 a.m. I was happy to work in a photo studio, but it didn’t pay enough to survive in this town. So at 5:30 p.m. each day I left the studio and went to a bookstore across town, where I worked until 12:15 a.m. in order to make ends meet (and another 8 hours on Sundays). By the time I got back to Queens every night, hopefully before 1:30 a.m., I was beat. I’d take an hour to wind down before finally going to bed, getting a few hours sleep, and starting over.
One night, I came home to find the first in a series of notes slipped under my door. Small writing filled both sides of a sheet of loose leaf paper. I didn’t know what to make of it. The note began, “Dear Neighbor. When you arrive late every night, you are probably concentrating on your chores and don’t realize that this building, this street, the traffic, the people are all very still, very quiet.” The care and craftsmanship that went into writing this note was beyond anything I’d ever heard of from an angry neighbor. I continued reading.
Click the images below to see them larger for easier reading:
Wow. I had no idea I was keeping them up. But what could I do? I had to come home at that hour, and it wasn’t my fault the floor was squeaky. More importantly, who bothers to write such a long and detailed letter just to say “Keep it down up there?” It seemed like every word was carefully chosen, written, re-read, and reconsidered. I tested the floor in different areas, trying to find the creakiest spots so I could avoid them when I walk, and made an effort to be quieter when I came home from work.
Months passed. Then one night, I found a greeting card slipped under my door. A greeting card. They took the time to shop for the appropriate card to say exactly what they wanted to say.
I opened it. Inside it read:
Wow, that’s touching. They picked out the card, and even went through the trouble of using White Out to make it more relevant to the situation. Who does that? Who were these people? How did they know my name? After all this time, I’d still neither met them nor seen them. Well, I was sorry to hear that I was still keeping them awake, but I was honestly doing everything I could possibly do within reason to minimize my noise.
Several more months passed with no notes about the noise. I guess all my extra efforts to be quiet were paying off. Then this arrived, slipped under my door:
A leak? That’s much more serious than just some noise. I called the number on the note and left a message, explaining that I’d been having no plumbing problems, and no water was pooling in my bathroom or kitchen, so the water must be coming from somewhere else. I don’t recall exactly what I said, but I must have put forth some specific theory about water condensation and the shower, because later this note was slipped under my door:
Woah. Not only was I still too noisy for them, but they were taking advantage of my noise to entice an unwanted guest to leave. And that was so sweet of them to comment on my health. I guess they could hear that I was hacking up a lung when I had that cold. Well, at least the leaks had stopped. Or so I thought. A few weeks later, there was another note:
A waterfall? Coming from my apartment? Please! I’d had enough of this. No more notes. No more phone calls. It was time to march downstairs, knock on Apartment 5, and have a real conversation with these people face to face. I went downstairs and knocked. The door opened about 2 inches, and an eyeball stared at me. We had a brief conversation that way, through the crack in the door. I confess that I couldn’t pay attention to the conversation very much because I suddenly found myself wondering what it was that this woman didn’t want me to see. I remember she said something about her privacy and her beliefs being nobody’s business, and she didn’t want me to see what her apartment looked like. Okay. I told her I had no idea what the cause of these leaks were, and suggested she bring it up with the building manager to see if they can figure it out. I went back upstairs to my apartment.
It wasn’t long before I received another note:
That was the last note I ever received from Apartment 5. A few weeks later, I moved.
Update: This story now has a very interesting and surreal follow-up, which you can read here.