Late Night Intruder (Part 2)

by Judy Berman

Life on the third floor with a ghost is unsettling.

Sightings of my neighbor, Roger, become even more scarce after the incident of the angry woman who attempts to confront him by using the fire escape that ends at my window. (read: Part 1 – A Rude Awakening. Link below story)

But trouble seems to find a way to ensnare him – and me – again.

One Saturday evening in late summer, a stranger knocks on my door. I pull back the curtain on my door’s window, and eye him warily.

No one, not even salesmen, will venture up the winding staircases, especially at night, unless they are visiting one of the tenants. The man, I’ll call him Caruso, wants to get hold of Roger. Roger’s not home, so Caruso asks to use my phone.

I grudgingly agree.

I must be certifiable.

Now, this guy is inside my tiny apartment. He tries to engage me in small talk. No dice. He tries to play with my dog, Paris. Paris, a small, gray French poodle, looks to me for guidance and then, intuitively, backs away from the man.

I tell Caruso it’s time to go, and he does without comment.

Whew! That’s the end of that, I think. But I am wrong. Caruso is back again 30 minutes later. This time I ignore his persistent rapping. Caruso begins to sing “O Sole Mio” – in the original Neapolitan language. I pull the curtain aside and tell him, again, to leave.

Calling the cops didn’t seem to be an option, given what happened with fire-escape woman who had kicked in Roger’s door just about two months ago. After all that, she is just escorted to the nearest corner and released. Besides, what am I going to tell them? Some guy is singing outside my door? Nah!

After Caruso leaves, I call another tenant, Tommy, and tell him about the nuisance visitor. Tommy says he hasn’t seen the guy in the building and invites me to join him and his friends at the Poorhouse, a bar and hangout.

I seize the opportunity to avoid Caruso and his serenades. We walk to the bar. Another snag. You have to be 21 to even enter. At the time, I am 22, but I have no I.D. Sorry.

So Tommy, ever the protective big brother, walks me back home. Then, he returns to the Poorhouse. I decide to call it a night.

About 1 a.m., another knock on the door.

“Not again,” I mutter groggily as I get up from my sofa bed.

“It’s the police,” a deep-voiced man announces. “Please open the door.”

I look out the window and, bless him; it is the police – more than one. He asks me if I’d been bothered by a man earlier that evening. I say “yes,” and the officer wants me to go downstairs with him to identify a suspect who broke into a first-floor apartment.

It turns out Caruso was going between our apartments by using a back hallway. It’s the first time I realize there is a back hallway between the second and third floors. This explains why Tommy never saw Caruso walk past his apartment that’s in the front half of the run-down house our apartments are in.

Caruso is caught after he creeps into the girls’ apartment. When one of them awakes and sees him, she screams. Her roomies tackle Caruso and hold him down until the police arrive.

We all go to the police station to file a complaint. The cops and girls laugh as I describe the “O Sole Mio” serenade – complete with the singing. But my smile quickly fades when I see Caruso leave the building with his attorney. Great! Caruso’s out on bail, and I’m still stuck at the police station filing reports.

When I return home, who’s outside our apartment building? Caruso, of course. Don’t they always return to the scene of the crime? This time, Roger’s with him.

The girls don’t want to stick around, and invite me to join them at the beach. Sure. Glad to escape this madness.

Fat chance.

At the beach, a good 30 miles from our apartment, we see Caruso’s attorney. I’d recognize that slicked-back hair a block away. He doesn’t approach us, but his presence certainly puts a damper on our outing.

I hear later that the charges against Caruso were dropped. The girls downstairs moved away. But Caruso still has another visit on his agenda – and, perhaps, a score to settle.

Maybe Caruso didn’t know a new set of tenants moved into that first-floor apartment. It’s late at night when he forces open the door to their apartment, pushing a bed and the girl in it across the room.

I’m told her screams could be heard in the next county. I was out of town and learn about the break-in when I return. I shudder. All I have for protection between me and any intruder is a flimsy door with a window in it and my faint-hearted French poodle.

Cold comfort. It’s time to move if I ever want any peace. But on a bank clerk’s salary, where?

Finally, I find a new place to live. But it has problems of its own.


COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


* man singing opera

* police – arrest – 1973 (photo not connected to arrest at my apartment)

* clock in the departure board in the main station in Hannover,Germany

* link to: A Rude Awakening (Part 1)

A Rude Awakening (Part 1)

By Judy Berman

My first apartment. I now understand why parents have sleepless nights.

It seems like an excellent choice, even though the home, which is converted into apartments, reminds me of the house on the hill behind the Bates Motel in “Psycho.” Rent is affordable. I can walk to work and save bus fare.

My third-floor walk-up, one-room apartment is quiet. That changes when a tenant moves in across the hall.

Roger is almost a myth. Let’s just say that Dracula makes more daytime appearances than he does. I rarely see Roger, and when I do, it is usually just his back as he is about to enter his apartment.

One incredibly hot June night, my apartment is like a sauna. So I leave my door open to let in what little breeze lingers in the hallway.

I am reading when I hear someone coming up the stairs. It’s Roger and a woman is with him. Roger is a quiet man who has never spoken a word to me. He’d brought a woman home with him once before. Nothing unusual, I think. Still, I close my door for privacy.

Within 15 minutes, I hear the muffled sounds of an argument across the hall. Then, there is a knock on my door.

From the window in my door, I see the woman who Roger brought home. She looks upset.

She asks if she can use my phone to call the cops because Roger kicked her out and won’t let her get all her belongings.

Her cool demeanor changes after she makes the call. The woman races across the landing and kicks a crack in Roger’s door.

I just stand there in shock, clutching my poodle. Paris is no guard dog. He’s quaking almost as much as I am.

While I’m still trying to regain my composure, my downstairs neighbor steps out into the hallway. Eva heard the commotion, and wondered what’s going on.

Minutes later, a heavy-set cop comes up our stairwell two steps at a time. After talking to the woman, he gives me a fleeting, reassuring smile. Then, he strolls over and pounds on Roger’s door.

“You’re puffing up my ulcer, Roger,” the officer bellows.

That’s all the convincing Roger needs. As he cautiously opens his door, I join Eva downstairs in her apartment. A grandmotherly type, in her late-50s or early-60s, she makes tea to calm our nerves.

“I swear I’ve never seen anything like that,” Eva says, “and I’ve lived here for five years.”

As we try to draw comfort from one another, we see someone climbing the fire escape next to Eva’s window. This is particularly unsettling because the fire escape ends outside my apartment.

Short hair. Masculine jowl.

“Hey, fella,” I yell. “Where do you think you’re going?”

The intruder ignores me and continues to climb the fire escape. The second time I yell, the “fella” turns, snarls and informs me in extremely profane language that she is a lady and not a fella.

I’d disagree on the “lady” part, but I’m not about to argue.

When I look closer, I realize it was the woman who’d been in Roger’s apartment. Apparently. when the cop took her away to end the squabble, he just dropped her off at the corner. She returns. looking to get a piece of Roger, but thinks better of it when she realizes she’s been spotted. The woman scurries back down the fire escape and runs off.

I’m hot. I race downstairs. I’m not even sure why. If I ran into the “fella,” well, I’m not sure I would be here to tell this story.

Roger is outside. sitting on the bottom step. He sits there, dejectedly, holding his head in his hands.

“You ought to be more selective about the type of person you bring home,” I say indignantly.

Poor, bleary-eyed Roger looks at me, as if through a haze, and watches as I storm off.

Two months later, Roger is linked to still another police visit. But. this time, Roger might be forgiven. He isn’t even home when it begins.

That’s all the wake-up call I need to find somewhere else to live. The rent may be affordable, but my peace of mind is worth a lot more.


COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Photo: Queen Anne-style home seen in the movie “Psycho” and the video clip “Thriller” – author: Laëtitia Zysberg. Date April 22, 2012

Photo: This is a photo of Ray Simpson of the Village People (not of the officer who responded to the incident at my first apartment). Taken at Asbury Park, N.J., on June 3, 2006, by Jackie of Monmouth County ,N.J.

Photo: This photo, taken January 2008, is of a Delran, N.J., police car – not the one that responded to the incident at my first apartment.

“Downtown” and December

by Judy Berman  

There’s a jukebox in my head. When a certain tune plays on that virtual soundtrack, it takes me back.

Some songs are like worm-holes. They take you to a time and place you don’t want to return to. I won’t mention them for fear that they will be like an endless tape-loop in your brain. Oh, what the heck. “It’s a Small World After All.” I’ve seen grown-ups run from the room screaming in anguish, knowing that they will be mindlessly humming that tune all day because it’s now imbedded in their head.

Others may stir up memories that deposit you gently in a nostalgic setting and lift you out of a bluesy-funk. For me, December and Petula Clark’s “Downtown” will be forever intertwined. Both link to my first apartment when I moved away from home. The tune was upbeat. It made me feel less lonely and very hopeful about my new digs.

Envision this: I moved from the country into an apartment in Syracuse, N.Y. At night the old, run-down house looked like the one behind the Bates Motel in the movie “Psycho.”  Uninviting, foreboding. I would have to share the bathroom with some stranger – some unknown tenant who would live across the hall from my third-floor, walk-up apartment.

Why was it, again, that I was making this move? That question, among others, raced through my mind that December evening as I trudged up the stairs carrying my belongings.

At a small table, in my sparsely decorated one-room apartment, I watched sadly as my Dad backed up his Volkswagen. Snowflakes fell more furiously as he drove off. It was about two weeks before Christmas, and my parents would be moving to another state in less than two months.

A tiny snow globe on the table was my only holiday decoration.

I was 21 and eager to be on my own. But I was torn between celebrating my newfound independence and leaving the security of my parents’ home. It’s the flight that most of us feel we have to take to really be considered grown up.

The thought of partying the nights away sounded exciting. But I also was savvy enough to know I’d pay for that as I sleep-walked, bleary-eyed around the office the following day.

Yeah, that sure would get old real fast.

As I sat there, considering the abrupt change in my life, a song on the radio intruded into my thoughts.

“Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city, linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty,” Petula Clark sang.

“Downtown, where all the lights are bright. Downtown, waiting for you tonight. Downtown, you’re gonna be all right now.”

I dismissed the nagging thought that I might be spending Christmas alone and began to sing along. Downtown was less than a mile from my apartment. Time to view the brightly decorated Christmas trees.  I cheered up as I began to weigh the endless possibilities and adventures that lay in wait.

Now, when I hear that tune, a wave of nostalgia floods over me. While it dredges up some sad times, it also reminds me that opportunity beckons. All I need to do is open the door, remember the wonder of discovering something new and embrace the change.

What song sparks a special time of year for you?

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

(Click the link below to hear Petula Clark’s “Downtown”)