L arrived home late from work, around 9. I had put the baby down and had ordered a pizza for us. L had just walked in and was standing in the doorway of the apartment, talking to a woman in the hallway. The woman was wearing baggy gray longjohns, clutching a cordless phone and her eyeglasses and a pen. Apparently her boyfriend, who lives with her, was drunk and raging. He had smashed his hand through some glass case in their apartment and was bleeding. He had locked her out.
L invited her inside to have a place to think for a few minutes. The woman said she just wanted him out of her apartment, but she didn't want the police involved. She came in and stood in our doorway for a few minutes, then returned to the hallway. We offered to call the police but she declined. The woman suggested that maybe we could ask him to come into our apartment for a few moments, and then she could return to her apartment and lock him out. We said no.
The man opened the door to his apartment and started yelling at her again. He moved into the hallway, bleary-eyed. L, the sentinel, held our door open in case the woman needed it. The man was blathering on and on. He started referring to us and pointing to us. "Now my neighbor won't even talk to me!" He started comparing himself to Libya, saying it would take more than one policeman to take him down. He talked about the Irish. Staring at L's face to not look at the man's, I kept asking her: should we call the police now? Are we justified now? Finally, feeling vaguely threatened as he shuffled into the middle of the hallway, closer to the woman and our door, I called 911. Not the first time I've done it, here in this city of shit and blood. I put on a fleece and some flip flops to get ready.
A few minutes later I heard distant sirens, then three cruisers pulled up in front of our building. A group of policemen swarmed inside. Someone from dispatch called me to tell me to buzz them up. When they poured out of the elevator I gestured to the poor woman who was standing forlornly by the stair railing, and they directed their procedures and protocols at her. One officer, calm and low-voiced, hung back to talk to me about the call.
A little while later I got another call from dispatch, telling me to buzz up the ambulance crew. I also thought, where is our pizza? It's been thirty minutes. Maybe the law enforcement can let our pizza guy in. The ambulance crew had arrived because the man was apparently bleeding from the broken glass he had smashed. A little while later we heard yelling from outside -- it was the man, now on the sidewalk, surrounded by cops trying to secure him onto a gurney to go into the ambulance. He was hollering, howling at them. Craning out of our window we could see him thrashing on the ground, the lumpy mounds of the officers' backs surrounding him. Someone was pinning him to the ground with a knee. Suddenly I saw our pizza delivery guy, toodling along on his bike up the block, past the spectacle of double-parked law enforcement vehicles with their lights ablaze. "Well, at least the pizza's here."
A few minutes later the man was secured in the ambulance and the cars dispersed. His antics made me feel more justified in calling 911 in the first place. The cars and ambulance revved up their lights and sirens to facilitate illegal U-turns on our block, and then they were screaming up Broadway, away from our home.
The pizza was lukewarm and doughy when we finally ate it. We wondered what it would be like when the man inevitably returned to his apartment, to the woman in longjohns. The city is a forceful, unrelenting place on nights like this. Discretion, or the opportunity to ignore your neighbor, is a luxury. What were we supposed to do? Wait for the woman to get hit? Wait for the drunken man to sober up, stop bleeding, stop pounding on the walls?
What if we had just closed our door?