Local construction recently caused my driveway to be inaccessible for five days. During that timespan, I battled over the limited number of parking spots in our area with my similarly-disadvantaged neighbors.
However, I was fairly sanguine about the situation. It harkened back to a period when the use of my car was predicated on the whereabouts of the tenant who lived upstairs in my building.
Prior to getting married in the fall of 1994, my fiancé and I trekked around Northern Queens looking for a suitable apartment. We found one in Bayside, a quick half-mile walk from the Long Island Rail Road station we both used to commute to and from work in Manhattan.
There was even a one-car garage, although it came with a caveat: the couple in the third-floor apartment were already renting the driveway. That didn’t seem like an insurmountable problem, even when Derek, the upstairs tenant, demurred from offering a copy of his key. As he explained, “It’s a company car, so I would have to ask them for permission.”
One of my friends promptly dismissed Derek’s excuse as “pure bullshit.” But I had several reasons to let it slide. First of all, I had just moved in by myself. My fiancé had relocated from Brooklyn to her parents’ apartment, to assist her mother after a recent surgery, and was planning to join me after the wedding (three months away). I was also fine with my car spending most of its time in the garage, as it was mainly used on weekends and sporadic weeknights. Finally, Derek was 6-foot-4 and weighed close to 250 pounds. I didn’t see any benefit in starting our relationship on a bad note.
Derek lived with his girlfriend Marisol, who practically disappeared in his shadow when they walked hand-in-hand. She spoke with a pronounced Spanish accent, and frequently scrunched up her face at the most basic questions, such as, “How was your weekend?”
Miscommunication issues were part of their relationship, as Derek did not know Spanish. Early on, sitting in my breakfast nook reading the morning paper, I would hear the low murmur of Derek asking a question. In a sing-song higher pitch, Marisol would reply. Many times, Derek‘s voice would rise an octave as he continued the conversation. With alarming frequency, I would hear a thud or the distinctive sound of a chair…