Last night, my flu and NyQuil-induced fever-dream:
I was living in the apartment I live in now, but it was somewhat more labyrinthine, with strange arrangements of rooms, all mean and dirty and run-down. You could see the layers of dust and dirt and worn-down wood, all of the original fixtures from when the building was new, back in 1850. The kitchen was bigger, though, filled with long counters and strange cupboards and intricate contraptions. I didn’t go into the kitchen much – there was something overwhelming about it, there were too many things, too much space. I felt as though if I spent time in there, too much time, I’d have to admit that the apartment was truly my home, and that this was my life and I would never do better than this, that this apartment and this life was where I would live and die. The kitchen looked out over a rooftop of tar and giant rotating air conditioners, and at the edges of the building, you could look out over all of Jersey City and right into glittering Manhattan, as if the cities were now one single living entity of brick and mortar, with the Hudson River long driven down below the streets. It was a constant, long late afternoon, with a giant golden sun casting light and shadows everywhere. I never went to work. I simply stayed in the apartment, moving back and forth between the musty living room and the ugly bedroom. I think it had been this way for centuries.
I don’t know why, but at some point in that endless afternoon and my endless routine of doing nothing, I crept into the kitchen. I think I heard something, I don’t know. I felt that something had changed. The kitchen counter ran the length of one part of the rooftop of the building, and the blinds were down, but I could see movement behind them. I noticed that in the right corner of the kitchen, just beyond the refrigerator, there was a slim door I hadn’t seen before, maybe only about eighteen inches in width. I cracked it open, and was shocked to find a pantry I didn’t know existed. All kinds of incredible foods and provisions were stacked on the shelves, from floor to ceiling, and everything as fresh as if it had been put there that day. On the other side of the tiny room, there was a slender window, maybe as large as a hardcover book. It was open. I squeezed my way into the room, and stuck my face out of the window.
Thousands of people were pouring onto the roof, coming up from the fire escape stairs, and across make-shift bridges from the other buildings next to us and across the street. They were people of all colors, all ages, all genders, wearing the most spectacular clothing I’d ever seen – every century represented, every fad and fashion, ever fantasy and whim. But they weren’t costumes – I could tell that this was their everyday, ordinary dress, as casual to them as my grey pajamas were to me. All across the roof, they were setting up tables, lighting fire pits, and laying out massive amounts of food. I heard noise behind me, from the kitchen, and I squeezed my way out of the pantry. All across the long kitchen counter, people had opened the windows and raised the blinds, and were laying out hundreds of bowls of food, chopping, slicing, mixing, reaching across the window sills to turn on the faucets and the stove burners. I thought about pushing them away, but everyone was laughing and smiling. There was music, singing, dance. I stood in the kitchen, and I watched them take over the counters and contraptions I had never used, and I felt such rage and shame and uselessness wash over me. I stepped back into the living room, grabbed my cell phone, and called my landlord.
There are people on the roof, thousands of them, I said. They’re using my kitchen, and having some kind of party. You need to get rid of them right now.
They’re supposed to be there, the landlord said. That’s where they’re supposed to be.
Great. Just fucking great. And exactly how big is this party? I asked. This is an old building, there’s too many already, and if the roof collapses —
Two hundred and fifty thousand.
Are you serious?
Yes. That’s how many people will be on your roof. That’s the size of the party. That’s how big it’s supposed to be.
Two hundred and fifty thousand?
Are you fucking insane? Do you know how old this building is? There’s not enough room, it can’t support the weight! And how am I supposed to live with all these people?!
The building will hold up, it always does. They’re there every year, you just didn’t notice them until now.
How the FUCK could I not notice them? I shouted into the phone. What am I going to do? How am I going to live? I can’t live with all of these people!
Well, can’t you just go to the other part of your apartment?
What are you talking about?
Just use the other side. You know where it is.
And he hung up.
Bright sunlight was pouring in from the kitchen windows. So many people laughing and singing and dancing, and the food – spectacular displays taking shape all across my unused counters, and all across the rooftop. And yet none of them were inside my kitchen. They leaned over the sills, grabbing whatever they needed, but I was still the only person inside my apartment. All that unused space was still mine.
I walked through the small hallway into my bedroom. A single unmade bed, crammed against an undecorated wall, piles of clothes on the chair, a window that I’d never bothered to open the curtains to, a ceiling light whose bulb had burned out years ago. But on the left side of the room, next to the bed: a door. One I’d never seen before. I walked over and opened it.
Beyond the door was a terrace, lined with terra cotta brick, and hundreds of tall palm trees and plants. The air was warm and humid, and brightly colored birds dripped from branches, darting and singing. I walked out onto the terrace, and turned around the corner to the right. The terrace extended past my kitchen windows into the wide expanse of the tar rooftop: from where I stood, I could see the hundreds of thousands of people gathered, but couldn’t hear them. From where I stood, all I could hear was bird song, the trickling of water, the rustle of leaves. Someone in the party looked up at me, smiled, and then walked away. I turned around, away from the party, and walked past the wall of plants into a secret palazzo. In its center was a small square of a pool, aqua waters rippling from the to-and-fro passage of koi, surrounded by a walkway embedded with intricate murals of serpents, griffins, and other ancient creatures. At the back of the palazzo, sliding glass doors revealed a study: one massive wooden table piled with writing tablets and pens, and two sumptuous leather chairs. The three walls of the study were covered in shelves, all crammed tight with the most beautiful and rare books I’d ever seen or desired. Small glass globes of light hovered just above the ceiling, filled with soft yellow lightning. I turned back to the pool. Beyond the edges of the palazzo, Manhattan spread out under the infinite afternoon sun, a lush and wild and abandoned Manhattan, filled with gigantic trees and smoking volcanoes, and the lush, peaceful sound of wind and bamboo chimes and empty spaces. I stood there, with the secret study behind me, a secret Manhattan before me, my lifeless apartment to my right, and the glint and glimmer of two hundred and fifty thousand new roommates dancing and feasting just beyond its quiet edges. I dialed my landlord.
What is this place?
It’s your apartment.
I don’t understand. This is mine?
Yes. You’ve been paying rent on it for six years. It’s in your contract, it’s always been yours.
But — I don’t understand how I could live here for so long without knowing it was here?
Like I said: you just didn’t notice until now.
I began to cry.
I wasted so much time, I said. I was so miserable here, and I could have been happy. All these years, I could have had everything I wanted. Why didn’t I notice before?
That’s not important anymore, he said. The important thing is, now you know.