The Indian food was 39 minutes late and our guests were hungry. My wife called the restaurant and after a lengthy interrogation determined that the food was actually in the process of being delivered to an apartment in our bulding, on our floor. The only problem was, it wasn’t our apartment. We were apartment E, and somehow, at that very moment, someone in apartment F was signing my credit card bill for it.
I hustled down the hall to F and rang the buzzer. An elderly woman in a white turban opened the door (I think her name was Millie) and I was faced with the site of her underwear-clad husband poking through our food while an anguished delivery guy in a gold lame vest was sopping up phosphorescent curry from their hideous tablecloth and matching purple shag carpeting.
“Hi, uh, I’m uh, your neighbor, you know, from down the hall in E and…”
“Oh, yes, yes, come in,” the old woman said. I noticed that in addition to her turban, she was wearing a white smock and white rubber gloves.
“I think you have our order,” I said.
“Oh, yes, what a mistake. But we love this place, we order from them all the time.”
OK, I thought, is she trying to convince me that this is really her order? That somehow she was doing me a favor by signing for, opening, sniffing, and possibly eating my dinner? At least her husband’s underwear was clean – spotless.
“Don’t worry,” Millie said, “Joey here, he added three dollars tip on your card.” In twelve years I’d never as much as borrowed a cup of sugar from these people. Now I was hanging out with them in their underwear, watching them eat my dinner, and now, repack it so I could serve it.
The delivery man finished mopping up. He repacked the plastic containers into the brown bags and we headed back into the hallway toward my apartment. “I am so sorry Sir,” the delivery guy said, “it must be the new man at our place, excuse me, but he is an idiot, he said clearly apartment F.”
Before we entered my apartment I stopped and asked the delivery guy, “did they start eating any of it? Any at all?”
“Oh, no, no Sir.”
We entered and I started unpacking the food, I figured the less my guests knew about Millie and Joey and the exploding korma, the better. But then my sister, who was visiting us for dinner, pulled a garlic naan with a huge bite out of it from a grease-stained sack.
“Uh, I’m not that hungry,” she said. “Me neither, me neither, me neither,” a chorus of other guests echoed around our dining room.
I wondered, should I call the police? Is there a statute against absconding with thy neighbor’s chutney? Or, is there a special unwritten law of apartment living that applies – whosoever gets delivered the takeout food owns it, like when someone gives you back too much change or maybe when you’re undercharged for a pair of shoes. (As if.)
I looked over at my wife – she was pouring out bowls of peanut butter Cap’n Crunch – and all of a sudden, I felt guilty for taking that meal from Millie and Joey, they looked so excited.
That was seven months ago. I haven’t been able to look either of them in the eye since then – but I’m not sure if I’m ashamed of them, or of myself.