Nice Kids Like You
After having lived in our Brooklyn apartment for a while, the subject of rent came up. Our neighbor Ruby, asked us what we were paying. When she found out it was $400 more than it was supposed to be, she gasped. I can't believe those "sons-of- b1tc&e$", came the response (Ruby was a religious person, but she knew how to string'em together at the appropriate moments). In New York certain apartments are regulated, based on the number of units in the building. Ours was one of them. The form that came from the Housing Board, asked how we found out about the illegal rent increase. We stupidly wrote in the name of our neighbor Ruby, having no idea that the Board would forward the complaint directly to the landlords.
Let the Terror Begin
The landlords were three different guys. Two were middle-aged Jewish guys and the third was, I believe a little older and Italian; he and his wife Margret, lived in our building. Once this letter hit their mailbox, the terrorizing began. They started off by threatening Ruby. Lightly at first, crazy glue in her lock, so that she couldn't get into her apartment, that sort of thing. Then it got more intense. That summer some unusual things had been occurring on our block, one of them was a fire and then a death of an older lady across the street; preceding both of these two occurrences, Ruby received a call that said, "You're next b!+c#"! They began phoning her many times a day, sometimes saying something and often keeping quiet. This predates caller id, but we knew who it was.
I should add that Ruby had a chronic heart condition and had a few heart surgeries. This behavior could never be alright, but it was even more serious, since it was making her so nervous. The stress was not good for her. I contacted the police, to see what we could do about the threats. She would call us or appear at our door, visibly shaking after each time they would call her. The police said that they would not actually tap the phone, but after persisting, they offered another option. First we had to say on the line for three calls, "This is the call that we want tapped". I think the only purpose there was to warn them. They did not stop and so the next step was to write down the day and time of each occurrence. Each call during the day, Ruby, would knock on our door shaking and would let us know they had called her again. I would write it down. Some amount of calls later, the police let her know they had enough information to prosecute them. They had been calling from their office phone. She didn't want any trouble and the police suggested they keep the complaint on filed, which would allow her to decide if she ever wanted to charge them.
Nice Kids Like You
During this same time, they began threatening me as well, it was mostly the eldest brother. The conversation with my boyfriend went something like, "I would hate to see something happen to nice kids like you. Let's say one day your little wife here...like one day she may be walking down the street with her little dog and a car might hit them both." What? What kind of movie had I entered into?
Got it on tape
My ex was a gadget freak and fancied himself a shoe-in for a spy, CIA...commando sort of thing. We invited the oldest of the brother's up to talk about the rent issue. We wanted to make him feel a little uncomfortable, so we closed the windows (Brooklyn in the summer, no A/C), turned on the one pendulum light we had that was centered over the entirely too long table. It was dimly lit and uncomfortable hot. This table had self-constructed legs that were entirely little too long; coupled with a very low bottom chair we had pulled up and the effect was humorous to say the least. Of course we used the chairs that where quite high, a little too high to fit one's legs under the table, but the contrasting sight was comical. I mentioned my ex was a gadget freak, well earlier that afternoon, he rushed in from Manhattan with a special watch he picked up at The Spy Store; it could tape conversations. He sat for the better part of an hour before our meeting and practiced using it. My husband dressed back into his suit, just before the meeting.
Part of a Bigger Operation
Knock, Knock...time was up; he was at the door. Honestly I wasn't even certain it was a good idea, to have him in the apartment. My husband opened the door and we invited him in to the table. We graciously offered him the nicest looking chair; it was the low-bottomed one, at the head of the strangely long table. He was positioned so that his back was to the curtain drawn windows. He was already tugging at his collar from the heat. We then moved to the taller ones. As he sat and realized how low the chair was or how abnormally high the table legs were, it took everything in me, to not bust into a giggle. We explained to him that we felt like they were making fools of us, because we were kids and not from the area. We didn't want to force them to accept the legal rent, but we did want to split the difference.
This pissed him off and he repeated his threats with fervor, as my ex awkwardly outstretched his arm with the watch on it, across the table in his direction. He apologized, "I can't do anything about it, you see, I'm a front man for a bigger operation...I'm part of a bigger operation you get me and I have zero control over what happens.", he explained. So great what had we stumbled upon...
He Owes me Dinner
My husband had been working with a woman in town, who seemed to know everyone. He mentioned it to her and even played the tape for her. She told him that she may be able to help. She was actually friends with the son of the head of the "neighborhood protection", in our town and he owed her dinner. A few days later she told him to bring the tape into the office. When he arrived at work, she asked him to come to the back room. There in the back room was a smooth-looking, middle-aged man, with a dark suit on and slicked back hair. They were headed out to dinner and she mentioned the story. He was surprised and had my husband sit down to play the tape. He chuckled. "Those guys?!"...he shook his head and smiled. "They're not part of us. I been knowing them since we was kids. They grew up in the neighborhood, but they ain't part of us!", he explained. "We don't get involved with small time stuff like this. We don't harass kids." Then he got into the details, "So what are you asking for?" My husband told him. He ran his fingers through his hair and agreed, "What you are asking for seems fair..." He sat in thought for a moment and then said, "You know what? Tell them, if they have a problem with you come talk with us". That was that! We relayed the message and our slumlords backtracked quickly and said it had all gone too far. "Whoa...whoa...this has gone too far!" Following that day we enjoyed a reasonable rent and Ruby didn't have to worry about being harassed.