I remember reading somewhere how New York City used to allow people to live in basement apartments but that, at some point, somebody decided it was kind of cruel to let people live in New York City basement apartments so they passed a law stopping landlords from doing it. But somehow Uncle Julio convinced the super of our building to let him run his business out of one of those old apartments that was supposed to be converted for storage use only. Not only was Julio running his unlicensed business out of an illegal basement apartment, but he was living there, too–which meant he was living in an illegal apartment. This is a long way of saying that he was a guy who had to be careful who he answered his door for. I remember he told us once how he had “convinced” the super but never told us how he did it when we asked. He must have had something big on that guy.
The convenient thing about basement apartments was that lots of times they have a door to street level–sometimes also a back door to the alley behind the building. That was the case with Julio’s place. As I moved down the sidewalk, around the corner, down a gentle slope, and around the next corner again into the alley, I had a sudden memory pop into my head–there were more than a few times when Julio had gotten mad at us. The first time, of course, was when we broke into his apartment to see what all those weird people were taking in and out of his place at all hours. Our apartment overlooked that alley and so our fire escape was a perfect vantage point to see everyone who came and went.
We had gotten curious and, very late one night, we climbed down from our little sanctuary. I guess we just stayed out there after a fight between mom and dad ran so long, Mom had stormed off to bed and left dad asleep on the couch. Neither of us wanted to go back in and risk waking him. That’s when we got bored. I think Julio was way too trusting of his neighbors. Or at least us.
Once we were down to the floor of the alley, we saw the number over the double-doors to his apartment–it was B-1a. The door was about sixty feet in from the street. We had seen trucks back in and men of weird shapes and sizes cart things out of there. Jill tried the door knobs. Both were locked.
“C’mon! We’ll try through the laundry room,” Jill said, leading the way to the other double-doors on the backside of our building. I followed dutifully. She always did have something commanding buried deep in her voice.
She turned the knobs of the other double-doors and gently opened them but only far enough to allow us to get inside.
“Shouldn’t these doors be locked, too?” I asked.
“Yep,” she replied flatly.
I decided that was the only answer I would get from her and continued to follow her past a row of card-operated laundry machines, to a wall that Jill said was one of the walls of Julio’s place–though we didn’t know his name was Julio, yet.