I was 13 years old when the movie Center Stage came out. It focused on several fictional characters attending the American Ballet Academy here in New York City. While the movie showed the trials and tribulations of what it took for these characters to succeed at their craft (in reality the lead actress did go on to dance with the San Francisco Ballet), it offered a highly stylized and unrealistic view of the life of a conservatory student in Manhattan. While I always dreamed of someday making it to the big city, I certainly didn’t dream of living in Washington Heights above loud neighbors who constantly vibrate my apartment with their new subwoofer, or trying to identify a potential intruder for the NYPD.
About a month ago, I was on the phone with my old friend Danielle Garcia from New Mexico. I had gone to high school with Danielle in Belen and hadn’t spoken to her in about nine months when I decided it was time to catch up. When Danielle asked about my neighborhood, I explained that while I didn’t live in what would be considered a necessarily posh area of the city, it was relatively safe. Why wouldn’t it be? The area is heavily populated with students looking for a cheaper residential situation. Most of my friends from school who live off-campus also live in the heights due to the catastrophically high cost of living in Manhattan. A studio on the Upper West Side can cost anywhere from $1,200 to $2,300 a month, and if you’re attending school on loans or government aid in NYC… you can forget about living alone. I had also joked about my roommate Lindsey being slightly paranoid concerning the safety of our neighborhood when I heard a knock on my door.
“Jacob!” shouted Lindsey “I think there is someone at my window!”
“Oh my…did you hear that?” I asked Danielle.
“Yeah, what’s going on?” inquired my concerned friend from home when I answered my door to a startled Lindsey.
“I was on Skype, and I swear there was someone looking at me in my window!”
Being that we live on the fifth floor of our building, it would have taken a pretty skilled person to sneak on our rusty fire escape from the ground level; so naturally, I didn’t initially believe what seemed to be an overzealous reaction to what might be a neighbor’s kitten.
“Just a second Danielle, I’m going to check…” I was in the middle of my sentence and barely stepping out of my own bedroom door when I clearly saw a man peeking into our living room window. Startled, Lindsey and I ran in the opposite direction from the living room. I bolted out the front door screaming like a little girl while Lindsey ran into our absent roommate’s bedroom.
“Get out of the apartment” I yelled at Lindsey.
“My key is in my room! what if we get locked out!?”
“Umm… better out here in the hall than inside with a LUNATIC!” I replied.
“Okay- call 911 NOW!” said Lindsey shutting the door behind her.
I called 911 and gave the operator our address and a description of our emergency. Within 5 minutes, there were two police officers at our front door. The officers quickly asked us to describe the man at the fire escape.
Both Lindsey and I described the man’s hairline when the cop interrupted us.
“Yeah, well a lot of guys up here get a shape up” said the cop. A shape up is what you call a buzz cut around the forehead, thus, shaping up the forehead and sideburns.
Thinking the officers were getting short with us and our obvious ignorance we just nodded.
“Well is this him?” asked a female officer pulling a short Hispanic man out of the elevator.
“Umm… Uhh….” Lindsey and I simultaneously mumbled. We were both shocked that not only did the police have someone in their possession, but here he was, at our front door which was clearly marked with our apartment number.
“I can’t be sure” said Lindsey.
“Mam, this is a pretty big deal hear, you have to be positive” said a male officer walking us back into our apartment.
As Lindsey and I both described the events to the cop, the suspect stayed closely watched in our hall audibly mumbling the words “I can’t believe this is happening to me.”
“Well, we’re going to have to take him in” explained the cops as they gave us contact information for their precent. “You can call this number anytime to check the status of the investigation.” With that, the officers left us alone in our now very quiet apartment.
When she first spotted the man in her window, Lindsey had been on Skype video chat with a friend from overseas. We both went back to her room to explain just what had happened to a now very startled opera singer from London. Her friend had been incredibly concerned and utterly on edge for the 45 minutes or so that our ordeal had lasted.
Luckily, we haven’t had a repeat of our unfortunate incident, and now that Lindsey has thicker curtains, we’ve all been sleeping a little better.