The Neighbors Stole Our Jagermeister (A Cautionary Tale)
We had a hell of a rainstorm three years back. It was called Hurricane Sandy, and it caused a lot of people a lot of genuine heartache. Despite our being in the safest part of Manhattan, where the lights didn’t even flicker, we lost something profound that night. Not our home, but something once lost, can never be replaced: our youth.
It was a few nights before Halloween, and my family, consisting of my bespectacled horror movie screenwriter husband, my Gerber baby who could pull off a bonnet like nobody’s business, and me, a very charming chatty type whom everyone loves and wants to be best friends with, were dutifully locked indoors per the advice of the mayor.
As the trees lashed against the window and the gusts of speeding wind carried leaves down the block in milliseconds, we tried to keep a baby — a baby who had just learned to crawl — calm in a 600 square foot space. Upon hour twelve, I was pretty sure I saw her crawl backward up the bedroom doorway. Every roll of Saran Wrap and Aluminum foil had been tugged out for miles, with our blessing. By the time the baby had fashioned a hat out of my nursing bra and was banging on our front door with a macaroni-encrusted wooden spoon, I knew we needed a magic portal out of this place.
Then I heard the lobby door slam shut against a gust of wind. Boots stomped and trudging commenced. I swept up the kid and opened our front door to see a woman in fishnet stockings and grunge leather knee-high boots making her way up the stairs.
I blocked her path with my speed demon baby and my immeasurable charm. I kind of wished I were wearing jeans, but I knew that my fast talk and dry wit would make fast friends of grunge-boot girl and me. I wanted to know where she was headed. Whose apartment? Why was she risking life and limb to visit anyone in our building? Did she want our baby? Maybe just for a few hours? If not, did she want to come to our apartment instead? We could offer her endless entertainment in the form of fort-building with Carters swaddling blankets.
She caved to my warm interrogatory style — who wouldn’t? — and I got some information. She was visiting Mary and Tom upstairs. They were going to hunker down with pizza and wine and watch CNN and light candles if we lost electricity. A party in the building!
Mary had told me I was welcome any time to venture into the R line of apartments to see how the layout differed from ours. (This is a time-honored Manhattan tradition. You don’t have to be friends with people to ask to see their apartment, ask their square footage and the amount they pay in rent.)
Well, any time was clearly now! What could be more perfect? We were all in this mess together, this bloody rainstorm that had caused hordes of panicked city dwellers to raid the shelves of Zabar’s, so that not a lick of whitefish salad or a morsel of challah remained on its steel shelves by the time the first drop of rain had plopped from the sky. (This is another Manhattan tradition: we buy food stuffs whenever anything is going to happen. President Obama is coming to town and the transverse will be closed? I don’t have to go to the East Side for any reason, but I had still better grab every can of canned salmon and bottle of Oregano I can get my hands on in case the traffic is really bad!)
Mary and Tom were perfect for us. She had shiny hair and he did some Brooklyn-non-profit type work and collected vinyl records. I saw the brown paper packages delivered to our lobby every week and because it’s obvious from my quick wit and dangling earrings that I love Charlie Parker and wore red lipstick while I delivered my baby that my husband and I were basically Mary and Tom in five years, Tom was eager to tell me about what lay in his brown paper packages. We were definitely showing them how to raise a baby without giving up your style, your deadpan morbid humor, your effortless New York warmth sprinkled with cynicism.
I just needed a little something to launch this rocket. I mean, technically, we weren’t invited to the party. But it was a hurricane, and all of New York was in this together!
I knew what Mary’s and Tom’s apartment would look like. It would be decorated with lush photos of safaris in Africa and honeymoon strolls by the Seine. A guitar and possibly a yukele hung from the exposed brick wall. (A Facebook profile photo — even if it’s just of a face — can tell you a lot about a person’s apartment.)(If you’re under-slept from round-the-clock nursing and therefore prone to flights of fancy.)
Fishnet stocking girl was slipping past and I had to act fast.
“Our television isn’t hooked up yet — wish we could see the damage in real time too!” I exclaimed.
Lie. We’d hooked up our cable before we’d even moved in. Possibly before we’d signed the lease.
“Oh, well, why don’t you guys drop by, I’m sure that’d be fine.”
We were in!
I couldn’t wait to show Mary and Tom just how little changes after you have a baby. We could make the best Wolf Blitzer jokes, my husband murdered people in his screenplays, and I used to be on some TV shows — if anything, they might envy how effortlessly we had slipped into parenthood with nary a sign of bedragglement. We would serve as inspiration, even if jealousy was a necessary byproduct. I mean, how many people get a baby as cute as ours? The odds aren’t good.
I went back to our apartment, dragging the baby from her Sisyphean quest up the carpeted staircase.
My husband was thrilled at my victory. Although usually anti-social to the point of avoiding grocery shopping lest someone ask him if he knows where the lactose-free milk is, twelve hours of trying to keep a speed-demon baby locked in barely 600 square feet had made him willing to host a cocktail party if we hadn’t just been (pretty much) invited to one.
We brainstormed. You can’t show up empty-handed to a Hurricane party. You also can’t bring the three jars of Oregano and a tin of artichoke paste that you squirreled into your Zabar’s cart in the midst of pre-storm shelf-looting.
“We have Halloween candy,” I said.
“That’s pretty good,” he said.
“Maybe I should bring some alcohol.” I said. “It goes with pizza. And if we bring candy, they’ll think we’re senior citizens who have baskets of it lined up for the youngsters a week before Halloween.”
”All we have is half a bottle of Jagermeister in the freezer.”
“OK,” I said. “Let’s go.”
“You go,” he said. “Do reconnaissance. I’ll join if I get a text from you.”
So he intended to lurk in the shadows, letting me do the neighbor-trapped-in-the-storm dance, and once I had achieved success — admission to some strangers’ apartment and new things for our baby to crawl on/chew on/gurgle at, he would coast in on my hard work. I sighed. Contracts arise in every marriage.
He handed me the Jagermeister and wished me good luck. His tone was urgent. Please succeed at this. I have to get out of this apartment. Other people have to talk to the baby — and soon. Or you’ll have to cart me off to the loony bin the moment we are allowed to leave the building.
If he’d been watching me take off in the space shuttle, he could not have been more nervous about the outcome of my expedition.
With a baby on my hip and a freezing bottle of Jagermeister in my hand, I mounted the stairs. I rang the bell.
Mary and her shiny tresses opened the door. Down the long exposed-brick-hallway, I could hear the party in full swing. I smelled pizza. I heard Wolf Blitzer.
“You had mentioned we should stop by some time so we could see the layout of the other line of apartments? And the baby is stir-crazy and we brought some Jagermeister… Your friend mentioned you were all gathering around the storm reports, so…uh, here you are!” I thrust the bottle into her hand.
“Wow,” Mary said. “That’s so nice! Thank you.”
She called out to Tom and he came to the door to thank me too. My daughter jumped out of my arms and scurried down their (exposed brick!) hallway. I followed her. Soon I would be texting my husband! It was falling into place! We had a night out — in! — out!
We exchanged fabulous New York City apartment neighbor first-date talk. I knew Mary would be suggesting that they babysit for us. They needed practice after all; they were next, having been just married, right? She’d say something like that in a minute. I was always telling my husband, this is all it takes! A little effort, a little extroversion, and New York can be a village!
“Thank you so much for stopping by! And thanks for the Jagermeister!” Tom, non-profit, working-in-Brooklyn, record-collecting boot-legged jean husband put in. Someone was putting pizza on paper plates behind him and someone else was pouring wine.
I got dizzy.
I wrenched the baby off a potted plant and waved goodbye.
My husband’s face was puppy-dog expectant upon my return.
“They liked the Jagermeister.”
”Great, let’s head up!”
“I don’t think we’re invited.”
”What do you mean, they took the Jagermeister, of course we’re invited!”
”But we’re not.”
“What did you say? Here’s some Jagermeister, have a party?”
”No. I was clear that I was bringing a beverage to a party we were invited to.”
“Nobody takes a bottle of Jagermeister. It isn’t done.”
“But it was.”
“You must have said something that implied it was a gift.”
”Why would I bring a gift in the middle of a hurricane to people we barely know?”
”You must have said something that led them to believe we didn’t want it anymore.”
My husband got very quiet. He is always quiet. This was very quiet.
“They stole our Jagermeister.”
“If you think you could have done it better, then you should have brought the Jagermeister.”
”You must have implied –“
We went around like that for a while, as the baby dumped laundry on her head.
Mary and Tom don’t live here anymore. Their sublease ran out. They wanted to move anyway. Family planning, they needed more space, yada yada.
I think we are still friends on Facebook, but I haven’t checked in a while.
Maybe I should stalk their page and try to spot our bottle of Jagermeister in the background of one of their parties, all of which are no doubt documented in selfie glory.
I haven’t the heart. That bottle, like my illusions, might as well be smashed into a thousand shards. I don’t wear red lipstick anymore and screenwriter or not, my husband spends more time these days washing pee pee stained sheets than revising drafts. To people who visit tapas bars every weekend and wear high heels, we are peripheral figures, shadows, ghosts, non-union extras! — a couple with a baby.
We may have had electricity but we had no alcohol with which to ride out that long, wet night. Worse than that, our youth had swirled out the window and scurried up the street, along with the brittle October leaves.