Hi, I’m Keisha and apparently I get into fights with old ladies. Let’s take a look, shall we?
When I first moved into my apartment building I met the girlfriend of one of my neighbors. Her boyfriend had lived in the building for two years.
“How do you like it here? How are the people in the
“Oh, I like it. People are pretty quiet and nice, but…” she lowered her voice and moved closer to me, “Have you met the old lady that lives down the hall?”
“Oh, Gertie? Yeah, she seems nice, I saw her vacuuming the entryway. It’s sweet that she does that.”
She made a face as though she was less than impressed.
“Yeah…she’s just…kinda weird,” her voice trailed off and then as though she were re-energized, “Well, I hope you love it here! Good luck unpacking!”
This is how scary movies start. Everyone knows the black people always die first. Dammit!
I had indeed met Ms. Gertie. I know little about her. I try to engage her in conversation when I see her, but she doesn’t much seem interested. I
noticed once an accent fading in and out, so I asked her about it.
“Oh yes, I am from Ireland.”
“Oh, longer than you’ve probably been alive, dear.” She has the voice of a fairy-tale grandmother. Or the Wicked Witch: “I’ll get you my pretty (and your little cats tooooo.).”
In the 18 months or so that I’ve lived in the building, I’ve learned the following about the life of Gertie:
1. She lives alone and spent this past Christmas with her niece that lives an hour north in Wine Country.
2. I can’t say with certainty how old she is, but I’m a good guesstimator of age (ask my friends) and I think she’s probably between 72-77.
3. She likes to vacuum. I don’t mean vacuum her place. I mean, the whole building. Often at 9:30pm on a weeknight. I don’t know what the hell she’s vacuuming or why; we have a cleaning service that comes weekly to tidy up. In any case, our building is extra clean. Maybe she’s bored and needs something to do. If she has a job, it doesn’t seem to be one that requires her to leave her place.
4. I had a drink with our former building manager once (a random occurrence, he’s nearly 60 and married; it was nothing scandalous) and when I asked for his take on our building and its residents, about Gertie he shared “Ohhh, Gertie. She’s a tough one.”
He winced. I chuckled. “Does she complain a lot?”
“You could say that. She just makes my job extra hard. She calls about every little thing that goes wrong.”
5. Every Christmas she decorates the indoor entryway to our building with a Christmas tree, lights, tinsel, garland and a 2-ft tall Santa Claus doll with a pale, waxy face that my sister N deemed “creepy as hell!” It’s festive and I appreciate someone making the effort, especially since I’m not putting up a Christmas tree for me and the cats.
6. She is fond of leaving passive aggressive notes with lots!of!exclamation! around the building:
“The LIGHT! in the laundry room! is BROKEN as of 1/5/14 @ 2pm! Please FIX it IMMEDIATELY! Someone could break! their NECK!”
7. My younger sister N was here last summer and stayed with me some nights. Gertie asked me: “Is that your daughter that stays with you sometimes?”
My sister and I are six years apart in age and black don’t crack so usually people ask us who is older. No way in hell does she look like my daughter! Is my black cracking?! Do I suddenly look old? My sister’s reaction when I shared this with her reassured me, “The fuck? Your daughter?! Why does she think that? Is this some racial thing? Like you’re a ‘young single black mother’? What the hell? Your daughter? Let me say something to her.” No need. I let it go.
8. I ran into Gertie when I was on my way out to dinner once, wearing a cute new dress and showing a perfectly respectable amount of skin. And even if I wasn’t, I am a grown ass woman and I buy what I want to wear, so I can wear what I want. The look she gave me. Like I was some loose harlot! When did I sign up for a den mom? This wasn’t the first time she side-eyed me when I was either coming from fun or going to fun. Of course I ran into her on way home from the Pride festival with stickers on my face wearing a rainbow feathered boa. I think she either hates fun or is jealous of fun. Either way, not my problem.
I couldn’t find my keys when I left for work this morning. I dug up half my apartment looking for them. I even missed my bus trying to find them. I have a
spare key to my apartment, but not to the building’s front door. It’s one of those keys that you can’t get copied at your local Home Depot. We used to have the access code, but when our building management changed, they
decided to change the access code too and not tell anybody. Hey guys,
maybe you should notify your tenants. Anyway. I figured I could either call a neighbor when I got home or call a friend to call my cell so I could buzz myself in.
Well, hold on there girl! There are other plans in store for you!
When I got home, I was happy to see Gertie sitting inside at the bottom of the stairs. I wouldn’t have to use any of my door plans! I tried again to see if I could find my keys, just in case, but came up with nothing. All the while, Gertie didn’t move. I fished around in my purse some more and finally mouthed to Gertie, “Can you let me in, please?”
She walked slowly over, met my eyes and growled, “NO. Call the [offsite] manager. You should have your key!”
R e a l l y?
I rolled my eyes and turned away. I wasn’t going to beg her to get into my own damn place of residence. A shoebox that I pay stacks to live in. Fuck her. I was mad I ever thought to send her mean ass a Christmas card.
For whatever reason, calling myself didn’t work – I was probably too agitated to focus. I looked through the directory and dialed my neighbors who live across the hall from me. They are a polite young couple who mostly keep to themselves and their two pugs. I also knew they’d be home because they’re pretty predictable and I know their schedule.
“Hi, this is Keisha, I live in #_ and I can’t find my key…”
“Oh, I’ll let you in!”
I could see Gertie stewing in the entryway. Her plan to teach
this wayward youngin’ a lesson foiled by cleverity (no, it’s not a word). Had I been less stew-y I would have booyah’d! all up in her face. Instead, I stormed in, I hope looking flawless, huffing, as she started in on me with, “You should have your
“DO NOT TALK TO ME GERTIE! I don’t want to hear ANYTHING you have to say. This is the WORST neighborly treatment I have ever received.” Neighborly treatment? Is that really the best I could come up with?
I almost never yell. I’m quite anti yelling in anger. But this crazy old goat got me yelling. Yes. Crazy. Old. Goat. I love old people. I love goats. I even love some crazy people. But I don’t love crazy old goat people. I hope I never become a crazy old goat so set in proving I’m right that I act like I’m constantly trying to headbutt people with my assholery, goaty beard strands swinging in the wind.
“I MISPLACED IT!”
I was yelling.
“How come none of you have your keys?! You all lose your keys? Sure! You think I”m crazy?”
Actually, yes, you crazy old goat. I don’t know who or what the fuck she was talking about and I don’t care. I am not “you guys,” I am the person who was standing outside with grocery bags trying to find my keys, getting super angry, as she banged on the window like a banshee, lecturing me and telling me to call the manager. I’ve never even misplaced my keys before!
“Gertie. I have a JOB. I have a lot of responsibilities. I am busy. SOMETIMES I MISPLACE THINGS. I have lived here for OVER A YEAR. YOU KNOW WHO I AM.” God, I really pulled the “I have a job” card. Who am I? Vicki Gunvalson?
“You should have YOUR KEY!”
“You KNOW I LIVE HERE! Do not EVER ask me for ANYTHING. EVER.”
Do not come to my house looking for an egg, sugar, an earthquake kit, or a rag to chew on as goats are wont to do…go ask somebody else, crazy old goat. All I got for you in this apartment are dead stares and no fucks. Look me in my face, I ain’t got no worries FOR YOU.
I opened my door, walked in and slammed it with the force of Veruca Salt’s anger.
I cannot believe she let me stand outside the build, like a damn fool, just watching me and not helping. WHO DOES THAT?! I felt humiliated. Crazy old goat.
She continued muttering and bitching out in the hall, periodically moving closer to my door so I could get a good whiff of the shit she was spewing. I heard her
complain to a neighbor who must have passed by, “Keys..door..manager…I…crazy…”
Sometimes people misplace things. It happens with age. She should know.
She walked nearer to my door and complained into the air, “It’s like an insane asylum in here!”
This old bitch.
My keys were on the key rack under a sweater. In my attempts to straighten up, I hid my own damn keys.
I get a few days off from work next week and away from my apartment. I need it.
It occurs to me that she was just sitting at the bottom of the staircase when I got home. She didn’t appear to be doing anything. Was that crazy old goat just waiting to bleat at people about their keys? I’m now wondering if the Christmas decorations she puts up in the lobby every year are riddled nanny cams so she can spy on people coming in and out of the building, daring to have fun or forget their keys.
Damn crazy old goats.