Aside from the loud potheads below me whom I pass occasionally in the stairwell, I haven’t meet nor even seen anyone who lives in my rickety building in Downtown Brooklyn. After a certain point I was ready to believe that the loud potheads, my roommates, and I were the only people that lived in the building, despite the stairwell breaking off at one point on the third floor and continuing off into another mysterious hallway I’ve never been through. Naturally, I figured every fresh hell occurred down that mysterious hallway—killers and crackheads, rabid hounds, giant insects, ghosts with knives—and thus never got around to be adventurous.
Surprisingly, I was wrong about that hallway. People actually live in apartments further down the corridor. One night last week, after arriving home from a late shift at work, I entered the building at the same time with a man and his dog. We struck up a brief conversation while walking up the stairwell, and he asked me what I do in New York. I told him I was a writer and he said, ‘My wife and I have two boxes of books that we’re going to get rid of. You’re welcome to root through them for something you like.’ I was tired and hungry, but the combination of free books and getting to root around a stranger’s private belongings was too good an offer to pass up. Plus, the dog smiled at me and very eagerly wanted me to play.
So I followed him through the mysterious hallway, barely containing my excitement. ‘You know, I’ve never been in this part of the building,’ I said, to which the man responded with silence, most likely because he’s lived there for twenty years (and it was the type of comment you can’t really add much to, anyway).
I followed him into his apartment, endured a rather awkward introduction with his wife (‘Honey, there’s a guy here who’s a writer and wants to take some of our books’), and did what I came there to do, root around their old books while petting their friendly white dog, Scout. And I came away with some finds, too. An old library copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, complete with a clear, plastic book cover. The Salterton Trilogy by Robertson Davies. West with the Night by Beryl Markham.
After my very skillful perusal (I can scan book titles faster than the average person) I stood up and thanked him. He said it was no problem, and it really wasn’t. He really actually was just trying to get rid of some books. So there you have it. Sometimes it’s not that difficult to be a nice person. Sometimes it rarely involves any effort at all.