The Vampire Upstairs



West 16th St between Sixth and Seventh Aves., 10011

Neighborhood: Chelsea

Apartment-house neighbors don’t go bad suddenly, like winter avocados. You get an alarming sense of them as soon as they appear. A week after my upstairs neighbor Thad moved in, we were already engaged in a mortal vendetta.

I’ve shared walls with annoying people, but this character was off the charts. His schedule was bizarre, and his habits were strange. After several days’ observation I determined that Thad was a vampire.

He was a member of the local vampire colony which I believe has maintained a Manhattan address in the apartment above mine since 1927, when my building went up on 16th St. just past the Sixth Avenue El. Typically, the vampire in 3N is a quiet, reserved tenant who stays only a year or two.

(Why are they here? Transylvania was especially hard hit by World War I, and droves of vamps made the sea journey to Ellis Island. Those who remained became Romanian gymnasts–they look perpetually 12 because they’re really 400 years old.)

Thad–clearly a play on his real name, Vlad–went by the pedestrian persona of a scrawny, California-bred Chinese-American FIT student: spiky purple and platinum hair, stencil-shaped facial fuzz, gravedigger boots, sandalwood oil masking his blood stench. Your typical gender-warped Gen-Y vampire.

Every few days Thad received a UPS delivery from a blood plasma supplier in Pennsylvania. He could’ve been a hemophiliac, but I think not. Apparently there’s been progress in vampire culture, and their food no longer has to be served in an artery. Maybe next they’ll do something about the sleeping-all-day business.

I’n not overly busy during the day, either. I’m a freelance writer who works mainly for the local newspapers, with some screenwriting and fashion copy mixed in. I don’t make much money and boost my earnings by playing the horses. I learned how to handicap Thoroughbreds about five years ago and discovered I had a knack for it. When the weather’s nice, I take the subway out to Aqueduct or the LIRR to Belmont. But usually I watch the races on channel 71 and call my bets in to my OTB phone account. Typically, I find myself ahead by about 50 or 75 bucks every day I play. I do my handicapping the night before the races; I pick up the Daily Racing Form and spend a couple of hours poring through several tracks’ entries to find plausible longshots.

Of course, Thad got busy at night, too. As soon as the sun set and he picked up his plasma from the lobby, he’d get busy. He’d crank up the news, a slasher video, or a frenetic CD (he was partial to Courtney Love, Marilyn Manson, Bjork, and Cher). Trying to concentrate on the Racing Form’s endless lines of microscopic numbers, I’d hear Thad jabber on the phone and pace back and forth to his closet. I’d relax when he’d go out–I figured to a trendy steakhouse, S&M club, or FIT class.

Thad had a special talent for coming home raucously–often with another bloodsucker or two–at the exact moment I was drifting to sleep. Music pumping, they’d commence a boisterous all-nighter. I found some thick orange rubber earplugs that permitted me to fall asleep, but sometimes the racket would jolt me awake at 4 or 5 A.M. I’d bang on the ceiling. They’d bang back, hooting.

Occasionally I’d hear furniture being dragged. Perhaps Thad was merely doing battle with a futon, which longtime New Yorkers will tell you explains neighbors who seem to move furniture at night. But Charlie in 2E, who is 85 and hasn’t missed a scandal in the building since 1946, swore he saw a long, narrow carton being hauled into 3N the day Thad moved in. My nocturnal neighbor clearly had some particular furniture needs, and in the throes of regular redecorating he’d drag his coffin all over his apartment.

The red tide turned on a Friday night in February, when Thad/Vlad threw a musical soiree for an endless parade of fellow vamps. From 9:00 on, I was subjected to every peasant-booted stomp, every blood-curdling squeal, every swell of Hole blasting from 3N. At 1:30, I was about to don my leopard flannel nightshirt and valiantly attempt slumber when they put on Eminem at takeoff decibels. That did it! I stormed upstairs and kicked and banged Thad/Vlad’s door to be heard above the disco din.

The pallid, shrimpy vamp finally cracked the door. “Like, what the fuck do you want?” he spat out in his peculiar surfer-fashionista whine. “Turn it down,” I demanded.

“You are fucking harassing me. Again. I’m calling the police,” Thad/Vlad flounced. “You do that,” I encouraged him, and retreated. Thad/Vlad did not turn Eminem down one notch.

Twenty minutes and several knocks on my door later, I threw a pony-print robe atop my leopard nightshirt and opened up. There were a beefy trio of New York’s finest–one blond, one black, one Latina woman. Plus the vampire, looking both petulant and petrified.

“What’s all this about?” asked the cop whose name tag read ‘Corrigan.’ “Come in and see,” I said. The whole cast trooped in. Thad/Vlad had hastily turned Eminem down a hair, but the bass was still thumping. BOOMBOOMBOOM. The cops looked at the ceiling, then at the vampire in amazement.

“Listen, kid,” Corrigan said. “This woman is not harassin’ you. She’s just tryin’ ta get some sleep. A-you gonna turn the music awf and send your friends home?”

Thad/Vlad pouted. “No,” he said. “It’s legal to throw a party.” “Like hell it is” Corrigan snapped. “It’s two in the mornin’, and you’re disturbin’ the peace. We’re gonna ask you nicely one more time, a-you gonna knock it off?” “Like, I have rights too,” Thad whinnied.

The cops exchanged glances. Corrigan spoke. “Get your I.D., kid,” he said. “We’re writin’ you a summons.” Thad/Vlad turned even whiter. The other two officers marched him up to 3N.

Corrigan smiled at me. “We’re dealin’ with a child here,” he said gently. Then his eyes alit on the Racing Form on my desk. “You play the ponies?” he asked.

“You bet I do. Let me show you something,” I said. I opened the Form to the results from Turf Paradise, the track in Phoenix, which I’d played a couple of days before. The seventh race had been won, by a horse named Jazzmobile who went off at nearly 16 to 1 and won paying $33.40 on a $2 win bet. “I had him,” I said. “How?” the cop asked. “Well, this horse was just claimed out of Aqueduct,” I explained. “He wasn’t doing much here, but I thought he could do some damage against the lesser competition in Arizona. I had ten on him to win.”

“Whoa–a hundred sixty-seven bucks,” Corrigan figured. “Got any longshots for me? If it’s sunny I may make it out to the track tomorrow.”

I’d already done some creative handicapping on Saturday’s Aqueduct card, choosing a bunch of horses I thought would be overlooked by the odds. I ran the sheet with my picks through my fax machine and gave the cop the copy.

Thad reappeared with the two officers and handed Corrigan a card. “A California learner’s permit? Expired? This ain’t no good here, kid,” he said in a sterner voice. “You’re comin’ with us.” The two cops hustled the kid out. Corrigan told me, “We’re takin’ him in for a little talkin’-to–and to call his parents. Looks like he’s only eighteen.” “I know it sounds crazy, but I think he’s a vampire,” I volunteered. “Just so you know.” The cop raised his eyebrows. “Nothing would surprise me,” he said. “He doesn’t kill people–he drinks freeze-dried blood,” I added. “It’s his staying up all night that’s criminal.”

“I don’t think he’ll be your problem after tonight,” said the cop wearily. I thanked him, and he wrote down his number. “Call me personally if you have any more neighbor trouble–or longshot hunches,” he said, taking my number as well.

True to the cop’s prediction, Thad/Vlad moved out suddenly that Sunday. Charlie said he left piles of actual soil in 3N. An accountant–silent so far–has moved in upstairs. I don’t care if he’s the vampire colony’s H&R Block as long as he stays quiet.

The Aqueduct handicapping I’d shared with Corrigan was top-notch. I had a 12-1 winner, a 9-2, a decent exacta paying $48, and a $70 trifecta with an even-money horse on top and a 15-1 on the bottom. Corrigan left me a short message of thanks; he couldn’t make it to the races but had made some winning bets at OTB. I still call him with a tip now and then and look for him at the track. It’s a good feeling–I’ll stay on top of longshots, and he’ll keep an eye out for the vampire upstairs.

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