When Johann arrived in New York late last month, the city was its usual charming self – which is to say that he and several thousand other international tourits spent more than two hours making their way through the immigration hall only to be ushered directly out the terminal door, coatless and delirious, by a woman who was blowing a referee’s whistle directly into their faces. The next day was better, in that a squirrel pooped on his head in Central Park and I got lost in a parking garage.
Not to be outdone, Philadelphia produced a woman who used a large designer handbag to knock a glass of water into Johann’s lap at an upscale Italian restaurant, as well as a sales clerk who, when asked if she accepted debit cards, haughtily responded, “I don’t know what that crap is.”
In between those two events, we traveled to Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, where Johann contracted a mild case of food poisoning from one of the nicest places in town, that being a Thai restaurant next to a bus terminal.
So that was the first week.
Nevertheless, we persisted. And, believe it or not, it was Washington DC that presented the most memorable moment – this in the form of a college-aged tourist who fell into the semi-frozen reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Adding to the experience was his friend, who narrated the entire event like some demented NFL sportscaster: “You’re going to fall in. You’re falling in. You’re in! You’re really IN! BRAD! YOU’RE IN!”
When I posted an abbreviated version of that anecdote on Instagram the day it happened, some people thought that it was Johann who had fallen into the water – which isn’t a totally ridiculous thing to assume. I mean, I don’t call him Ice Bath for nothing. Still, I’m almost certain that Johann would never walk across a national monument. And even if he was looking for a place to go swimming, I’d like to think he would at least have tried to pay first.
Johann and I arrived back in New York City just in time for a blizzard. The storm brought out the worst in everyone, including a woman (me) who screamed “HOW DO YOU NOT KNOW YOUR OWN ZIP CODE?” when Johann held up the line at the Metrocard machine for a full twenty seconds.
The following day, Johann experienced the full glory of New York City living when we learned that our radiator had leaked into the vestibule of the building and frozen the hinges of our front door shut. Try as we may, we couldn’t get outside.
Ordinarily, I’d take that as a sign to say indoors, but I had important things to do, such as buy snow boots and yell at strangers in a crosswalk. So instead we just chipped away at the ice with a portion of cinderblock that I found down the hallway. It was only after we had successfully broken out of our own apartment that Johann thought to ask, “Why are there broken cinderblocks lying around?”
I said, “First rule of New York: Don’t go asking questions unless you want to know the answers.”
I’d love to tell you that the ice block was the worst thing about the apartment, but I can’t because there was at least one rat living under the sink behind the garbage can. I warned Johann about that on the very first day, when I pulled out the pail and saw roughly a million rat droppings forming a perfect outline of the can.
If we actually lived in this place, I’d have called an exterminator immediately. But it was an Airbnb so I really couldn’t be bothered to do anything more than empty the garbage, leave the cabinet door closed and hope for the best.
“Don’t open that door anymore,” I told Johann. He, of course, took this to mean that he should wait until I was asleep to open the door and then wake me up to talk about it.
“Why would you do that?” I asked.
“Well I heard something moving around,” he said.
“And???” I asked. To me, suspicious noise is exactly the reason why you shouldn’t open a door.
He sighed. “Well I thought the rat might have gotten stuck in the trashcan now that it’s empty,” he said. “That’s how we caught the water rat when I was in the army,” he added.
It’s offhand comments like that – about how he once served a weatherman in the Finnish military – that that make me realize just how little I know about Johann’s past. Be that as it may, at least I know him well enough in the present to anticipate the future, which is to say that I was absolutely certain that he had no plan whatsoever for how he was going to transport a trapped rat through our loft, down three flights of steps, past two metal gates, one electronic door lock and a possibly frozen front door.
“Well you better turn the can over,” I said. “Because I’m not dealing with it if you catch it.”
“I’ll get rid of it,” he sighed.
“NOT ON THE BALCONY!” I added, again anticipating his next move. “I don’t want you letting a rat out there.”
“I’m not going to let the rat out on the balcony,” he said, rolling his eyes. “I’ll throw him down into the inner yard.”
I sat up in bed and stared at him. “You can’t do that,” I said.
“Why not?” he asked.
“What do you mean, why not?!” I repeated. “Because you might hit someone with it, for starters!”
He considered the point.
“Look,” I continued. “Just because New York is a dump and our front door is frozen shut and animals are pooping all over your head and our kitchen and who knows what else doesn’t mean you can just go around throwing rats off the balcony.”
“OK…” he agreed hastily. “You’re probably right.”
For the record, I am definitely right – though I could understand how he got confused. In Helsinki, sales clerks know what a debit card is and an Asian restaurant never tried to kill him with an undercooked potato. I’m almost certain that if he mentioned the squirrel to a fellow Finn, they would just shut up and listen, unlike most New Yorkers who would just raise the stakes with a story involving a flock of pigeons or a python or Penn Station. New York is a slope so slippery that even after just a few days an otherwise perfectly stable person would think, “Why can’t I toss a live animal off a terrace? Who’s going to stop me?”
In my decade of experience I can tell you: The person with the cinderblocks.