Maybe because it was to me a new city, and to everyone a compact, tight city where energies seemed to stretch and coalesce between people through small, restricted spaces stacked one on top of another, but in my first apartment in New York City I had strange dreams. As I fell asleep on the third story, I would fantasize about the space below, going down ten feet at a time through other apartments to the ground floor and then through the floor into the underbelly of massive infrastructure within the bedrock of Manhattan Island. I dreamt of taking off from the fire escape outside my window and, after navigating the tight courtyard behind my building, flying through the canyons between the buildings and seeing all the people and cars and streets making up this massive amoebic collective.
Often I would think of the people who lay in this old tenement before me, wondering about their lives going back a hundred years or more. I pictured families packed tightly into the Lower East Side and tried to imagine all the moments of happiness that certainly occurred in the space of my apartment and on the land of my building, but also I wondered about the moments of inevitable crisis and struggle and catastrophe.
In these tight tenements, these overcrowded studios that I couldn’t imagine holding more than one person, I guessed that fire would be the ultimate disaster, and I dreamt of a ghost. Or maybe spirit is a more accurate term, because this was an altruistic entity: a fireman who had given his life for my building, for the people inside it, and was part of the rich history I imagined. Only I didn’t technically imagine this fireman; when my alarm clock went off one morning, and the music of it entered my dreams, something came to me and told me it was my turn in a long line of residents to “take care of” this apparition, this electric resonance of energy upon energy, of history upon history, and that this man, this fireman, liked to hear music because it brought him out of the slumber of an empty apartment to meet me, his newest roommate.
Chris Black lives with his wife in Los Angeles. He is a former associate editor at Black Clock and wrote feature articles on rubber duck races, birds of prey, and other mountain topics for The Vail Trail weekly.