Sean Carney: Super Man

Last month I almost choked to death on a peanut butter cracker alone in my apartment.

And that will really make you stop and think about things.

One of which is maybe it’s time for me to stop living alone, if only so that someone will scream when they discover my corpse. And that’s all anybody can hope for, isn’t it?

While I’ve never heard wedding vows mention corpse discovery as a motivating factor behind their betrothal, I have to think that it’s one of the unspoken perks of marriage – like split utilities or the option of throwing your spouse in front of a burglar.

Here’s my dilemma — I don’t want to die alone, but I also don’t want to live with anyone else, which I’m told, is part of marriage.

For a while I actually thought about subscribing to Life Alert. They’ve changed their slogan from, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” to “Thanks to Life Alert, now you can live alone without ever really being alone.”

“You didn’t call them, did you?”

“Sure did, Mom!”

I got drunk one night and ordered a pamphlet. Now the Life Alert sales department calls me every 10 minutes, which kind of negates the need for the actual device.

It’s ironic — the main reason I don’t want to live with someone else is because I’m afraid they’ll see what I do when I’m alone. For example, I walked into my apartment the other day and the blinds were open in my living room, even though I distinctly remember closing them before I left for work — which in my mind could only mean that somebody had been coming into my apartment and enjoying natural light.

And rather than call the police, now I actually find myself tidying up before I leave in the morning — concerned that the intruder would be offended by dirty dishes and improperly quaffed throw pillows.

And what’s worse, he hasn’t even stolen anything yet. I checked. Now I walk around my apartment picking things up and thinking,

Do I need better stuff? This is nice. Why wouldn’t he take this?

So I wrote him a note.

Are you in my apartment right now? Check ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’

P.S. — Sorry for the clutter.

The reason I constantly think about someone entering into my apartment uninvited is because it constantly happened in my first apartment in New York.

I was 23 and living in some shithole apartment on the Upper East Side with 4 roommates and 700 square feet. Coffins had more headroom.

The first time the intruder struck, everyone else was out and it was during a thunderstorm. I heard the back window open on the fire escape and footsteps come down the hall. I was still awake and since my bedroom didn’t have a lock, I simply leaned into the door. The footsteps paused outside and I could sense that someone was standing there.

I didn’t know what to do, so I whispered,

“Please go away… I’m pregnant.”

And he did. He walked down the hall and closed (what I thought was) the front door. I ran out and locked it, but before I could call the police my bathroom door opened and out walked an older man, wire thin with white hair and a pockmarked face.

After I was done urinating in my pants, I realized who he was.

My super.

He looked at me, squinting as he used my bath towel on his head.

“It started raining outside, what the hell else was I supposed to do? And you don’t look pregnant.”

The super didn’t let out all of his crazy until we gave notice that we were leaving. In that building, they needed six week’s notice, and we gave them seven months. The problem was that he took this as a sign of surrender…and as an approval that he could show the place whenever he wanted, with no warning.

One morning, as I stepped out of the shower, I heard some noises coming from outside the bathroom door. When I opened it there were four Asian girls standing there giggling. The super was beside them.

“Put some fucking clothes on,” he yelled at me.

Then he made a dramatic wave of his arm.

“Here’s the rest of the place, we’ll see the bathroom once that pervert gets dressed.”

It continued like that for weeks.

Almost every night we’d come home to find different people in our apartment, looking through our rooms, using the toilet. We lived in constant anxiety, not knowing who would be guest starring in our apartment sitcom each evening.

Oh, and locking yourself in the bedroom didn’t work either. The rudeness of this act would enrage our super so much that he would bang on the door until it almost came off its hinges. I’d then open it sheepishly, and apologize for the delay in the tour.

“Hello,” I’d say to the Eastern European man and his girlfriend. “This is my room, sorry it’s so messy.”

And flashbulbs would go off.

A few days before I left I found a Post-It note in my mailbox. We actually didn’t have mailboxes and instead there were just nails in the wall with baskets hung on them, our apartment number scribbled on an index card above. We all knew that the super read our mail. Other residents would find utility bills opened, or letters missing. I heard of other Post-It Notes showing up that read: “Pay your bills asshole” and, “You read this crap?”

I eventually moved out, and a few years later I was able to afford my own place. It was around that time that I got an email from a guy I stayed friendly with in the building, who informed me that the super had passed away. It turns out that he’d lived alone in the basement. He didn’t answer his phone that often and it was a few days before they found him.

There was going to be a memorial for the super in front of the building and my friend asked if I wanted to go. I said, “Of course I would.”

A lot of us went.

You see, we’d all gotten the harsh Post-It Notes in our mail baskets, but we all remembered that when the Recession started, the notes changed. They started saying things like, “Hang in there,” “It’ll get better,” “Don’t give up.”

My Post-It? All it said was, “Good luck.”

I still have it.

The building manager had his own basket at the memorial, calling out names of different residents. They had found a pile of mail inside the super’s room in the basement.

It turns out he had actually lived in the building with his wife for 30 years, and when she died he couldn’t bring himself to leave her, to leave their home. So he took a job as a super, and he took an apartment in the basement.

They found the pile next to a chair in the corner, opened. I guess he just got lonely.

Whenever I think of my dilemma, I think of him: someone who lived alone, but who every so often, whether invited or not, would delve into the lives of others — living alone without ever really being alone.

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