Please Don’t You Be My Neighbor

Colorful buildings near Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan, New York City USA (Getty Images)

More from Jeremiah Moss! We’re proud to have published the first chapter of his book, Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost its Soul. Read “Mourning the Low-Rent, Weirdo-Filled East Village of Old.”

As his neighbors pass from health problems and old age, relinquishing formerly rent-controlled apartments to monied young people, writer Jeremiah Moss remembers and mourns the simple intimacies that passed among the colorful tenants of his East Village apartment building. In this stunningly beautiful essay at n + 1, Moss recounts how the new tenants, eyes glued to phones, have mastered marginalizing their neighbors simply by ignoring them — refusing even the small kindness of eye contact, refusing their very existence.

The East Village was full of people who were bruised like I was bruised, people who weren’t quite pulled together but were trying to make something interesting with their lives. I belonged here. In this neighborhood. In this crumbling tenement.

As a psychoanalyst, I help people to think, and I am hyperattuned to variations in the psychic field, but anyone paying attention can feel a person’s psyche in close proximity. You can feel if it runs sluggish or quick, shallow or deep, elegant or jumbled. On the sidewalks and subways, you know which people to avoid simply from their fizz in the air. What I feel from many of the new people, the ones working so hard to be normal, is the absence of mind. When I picture it, I see a tightly compressed knot, a forced blank, surrounded by a buzzy cloud of agitation and distraction. This is, of course, highly subjective and impossible to measure, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say: They aren’t really here. And that absence, that rapidly replicating zombie effect, makes the city a lonelier place than it used to be.

So why would I leave this place? I am good at sitting still and waiting. I will outwait the new people. Surely, I tell myself, the bubble will burst, the tide will shift, and they will move on, the way they always do, after they’ve suctioned up all of what they came to eat. But I know they won’t leave. They are forever replenishing themselves, like the teeth in a shark’s mouth; one vacates and another steps forward to take its place. If I survive the hunt, I will be a leftover in the glittering ruins of that future world, the old neighbor whistling on the stairs, taking his time, a ghost stuttering under the electronic eyes, barely seen, but still here. Holding the memory for as long as I can. We are, after all, the things we have lost.

Read the essay