Deal or No Deal



Neighborhood: Upper East Side

This is Part 3 of a three part story by Nina Camp. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

The locksmith was a lean, twenty-something guy. He arrived on time and stood quietly outside our apartment door after I buzzed him into the building. Soft-spoken, with kind eyes, he brought a moment of problem-solving stability into my home. Alex was out. He’d decided he didn’t care what I did with the door, as long as I paid for it. A few weeks had passed since the screening of the Somebody Feed Phil (Tel Aviv) debacle, and I’d recalibrated. I was now in, “You got this, girl” mode.

After tinkering, the locksmith showed me the problem. It was the spindle. It looks like a thick screw, but with four flat sides and no sharp tips. Ours was in bad shape.

The spindle, I learned, connects the inner and outer doorknob. It moves when you turn either knob. It runs through the latch bolt, which has that springy lipstick tip-shaped thing that sticks out of the edge of the door. The latch bolt engages the door’s frame and prevents the door from slipping open.

An elegant mechanical interplay on which so much depends.

Our spindle looked like a pencil worn down by teeth marks. I assumed that all the stop-gap tightening by Alex had incrementally made an already insecure connection worse.

“My boyfriend has been tightening these screws over and over.” I mused aloud. “Do you think that’s been making it worse?”

“I can’t really say,” the locksmith said, echoing the house painter who, a few months earlier, refused to tell me how often he encountered couples who looked like they wanted to kill each other over paint color choices.

Our chewed-up spindle was out of alignment, the locksmith explained. As a result, we’d been wearing it away every time we turned the doorknob. He replaced it with a new one, aligned and tightened it several times, and said the replacement should hold for six months or a year.

How long could Alex and I hold?

If you could fix doors, if you could depend on certain mechanical solutions, maybe you didn’t have to careen helplessly towards disaster.

I was on a roll. I went to a copy shop and made a sign for the inside of our apartment door. The sign had grainy pictures of my two cats and me and the words: We love you! You’re the best! Turn the bolt to the left!

I also made a laminated sign for the front doors. “For the safety and security of all tenants, do not leave doors propped open. Please close and lock both doors. Thank you.”

Both signs had a positive impact. But not enough. I was still frantic. My friend Lisa, who lives in Sheepshead Bay with three cats, two flying squirrels and, until recently, a ferret, helped break it down for me.

“Do the cats run to the door when people come over?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “If anything, they do the opposite. They hide in my bedroom.”

“Have you found your apartment door open since the morning of the Dunkin’ Donuts coffee run?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “The lock works now. It catches in the door jamb.”

I admitted that things, at least with the cats, were stable.

If I’d written signs to myself, what would they say? What would I warn myself against or draw my attention to? Some combination of the following: 

You are safe and don’t need to be in control all the time.

If you want love, you must learn to share your space.

If you really need to leave, then leave.

During those stressful months, Alex and I still laughed with each other. We took a few conciliatory showers together. We never lost our physical warmth, never lost the need to look in each other’s eyes, make sure the other was still there. And we were still able to settle in for our shows at night.

Along with the new streaming Star Trek shows, we also charted new territory with a few others, for instance, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Alex used to walk dogs in a park where Rachel Brosnahan had also once walked dogs. He still had her number in his phone, though they’d never hooked up. But what he really loved about the show was how peppy and indefatigable Mrs. Maisel was. While he watched, likely fantasizing about an alternate-universe, doll-eyed Nina to fulfill all his needs, I lapped up the color-saturated look of the Maisel’s amazing apartment and the comedic rhythms of Tony Shalhoub and Kevin Pollack

There was also Deal or No Deal with Howie Mandel. Alex, forever seeking psychotic levels of enthusiasm, had convinced me to watch it with him. At first, I watched ironically, but eventually started to enjoy it. Howie was kind and reasonable, the models were sweet, and the contestants were sympathetic. Plus, I had to pick my battles. If there was something Alex liked that I could bear to watch that’s what we’d watch.

Together, we would observe the spectacle, as the models, with their numbered cases, stepped gracefully into place on the risers at the beginning of each episode. Each case concealed a dollar amount, from one penny to one million dollars. The contestant needed to select a series of cases, in the hopes of eliminating as many low numbers as possible before hopefully ending up with big-ticket number, $200,000, $500,000 or the jackpot of one million.

Along the way, the “banker,” a silhouette of an elegant woman in a suit, would offer a deal, and the contestant could accept it, ending the game, but potentially forfeiting a greater amount. That was the big choice each contestant had to make:

Do you take the gift being offered, or hold out for more and risk losing everything?

Occasionally, Alex and I would fall in love with a contestant. One contestant’s teenage son inspired an audience chant when he counseled his father to reject a $125,000 offer from the banker. “Risk it for the biscuit,” he advised, with a shy confidence.

“Deal?” Howie said. “Or no deal?”

The audience chimed in with a “Risk it for the biscuit” chant till the father yelled, “No Deal!” and slammed the lid down over the red “deal” button. The audience went crazy with cheers, riding waves hope.

Sometimes there was too much hope — or greed — and insane behavior. In one episode, the banker offered a gentleman named Luis a jaw-dropping $333,000. Luis hesitated. Howie warned him not to turn it down.

“I hope that you’re not getting caught up in whatever television is,” Howie said, “as opposed to real life.

Luis turned down the $333,000. The final banner, as the episode ended and the theme song blared was

“Luis is going home with $5.”

Oh, how Alex and I laughed at that banner. 

And what about that Greek family? The contestant, a beefy guy with thick dark hair, explained that he and his wife planned to use the money to help start their own family. They wanted seven children.

“They want seven children?” I said. “Ha! They want chaos and distraction!”

So, what did Alex and I want? Would we ever get the biscuit? What was the biscuit, anyway? After eons of single life, I’d assumed that this – living together — was the biscuit.

But the dreadful fights kept coming, like the one about taking out the garbage. One night, weeks after the screening of Phil, the garbage pail was beyond overflowing, and neither of us wanted to take the bag down the elevator to the basement. I’d gotten stuck in the elevator for a half hour two days earlier. Alex couldn’t carry the bag down the stairs. His back was messed up from walking too many dogs at one time for too many years in a row. 

I said I’d carry it down the stairs, outside, and back in through the basement door, but I needed him to help with the lockbox that had the key to that door. We went down together, but the argument had already exploded into other areas, specifically, my unwillingness to behave like a person in a relationship.

If Alex had been the type to put signs up, to instruct me, condescendingly, he could have plastered the walls with signs like… 

Loving Couples Love Unconditionally

Whoever Needs Help in a Couple Receives that Help from their Partner

A Girlfriend Who Loves Her Boyfriend Does Not Judge Him. She Lifts Him Up.

With our garbage under a heavy lid in a bin in the basement, and both of us too fried to continue arguing, I sat with him on the sofa.

“My neck is in spasm now,” I said. “I need you to rub my neck.” 

The shape of my life had changed. I had someone now who exacerbated my neck tension but who was also able to relieve it quickly. 

We put on Deal or No Deal and he rubbed my neck. There was an actual cheerleader as a contestant. She turned down $109,000 from the banker, even though she had only one big number left on the board. She went home with $500. A new contestant arrived. We were used to spending a whole hour with one contestant, but the cheerleader had messed up so badly, she was escorted off the stage, leaving twenty minutes left in the show. “It’s like the cheerleader was ejected into space,” I said. 

The next contestant appeared, and I rested my head in Alex’s lap, and fell asleep as he stroked my hair. 
At least I still wanted repose with him. Maybe there was a cat or two in the room. Maybe you could see in Alex’s face as he watched me sleep his love and devotion. Whatever our reasons — fear, love, fatigue — neither of us would let go yet.

The cats were safe. I slept. The show went on.


Nina Camp‘s humor and personal essays have been featured at HuffPost, GoodhousekeepingCosmo, Introvert, Dear, and Mogul. She’s currently putting the finishing touches on a novel with the working title, How to Break a Romantic Curse in Seventeen Years or Less.

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