I moved into the first floor of a 97-year-old man’s house in September, and we’ve become friends. Actually, friends isn’t really the correct word, because we know next to nothing about each other’s pasts and ultimately Ernie is my boss. The boss of my house, to whom I pay just over one-third of my income every month — so maybe I’m his boss? I don’t know. I’m a benevolent dictator in that way, I guess.
Ernie and I spend a lot of time together. Sometimes he has me hold his iPhone flashlight in small DIY projects. Once, while fixing my doorbell around Halloween, I called us “the gruesome twosome” and he laughed, which felt like a win. Yesterday when he was applying WD-40 to my busted door lock, he recited a stanza of a poem about how “life is real, life is earnest.” I nodded like I understood what he meant and asked what that was. He said, “You’re a writer. Just Google Longfellow.” I told him I’d have it memorized the next time he saw me and he laughed like, sure. I never want to disappoint him. His last tenant lived in this apartment for 20 years and never left a nick on the wall, and I want to be better than she was.
I am usually disappointing him in some way, though. The week after I moved in, I had to go to a wedding in Michigan. Such a gross number of packages were sent to the apartment in my absence that he left this note on the door for me:
Week after week, I still fuck up his recycling system, I leave the hall light on when I’m sleeping, and sometimes when I order food, the delivery person rings his doorbell instead of mine (the one we worked on together). Once, my refrigerator broke and he had to see the tawdry insides of my freezer while attempting to repair it. Earlier this week, I chipped some of the molding off the front door. I thought he would never forgive me. He did, almost immediately. I’ve never lived with a 97-year-old before, and I’m sure he’s seen enough to forgive and forget some broken wood. I mean, being born in America in the wake of the Teapot Dome Scandal, to say nothing of coming of age during World War II, likely ensures a guy won’t sweat the small stuff. And still, I want to protect him from my misdeeds.
The house has a shared backyard right off my bedroom, but he doesn’t go down there all that much. It’s here that I’ll get to the point of this essay: I’ve become a late-in-life w**d smoker, 420 baby, but only ever in or around my own home (except for this one time a month ago when I attended a social function with my coworkers and a handful of friends and acquaintances high off my rocker because I had to get a full-body wax immediately beforehand for an impending bachelorette party and I thought it would mitigate the pain. It didn’t, and now I know to not leave the house anymore).
But I don’t want Ernie to know this about me. I don’t think he’d care, but the specter of the model tenant who came before me haunts this apartment. I’m the one who breaks things and has no real deference for 19th-century lyrical American mythos or the recycling-collection schedule. I’m not even that good at getting high, but I find myself going to great lengths in the backyard to conceal what I’m doing.
Here are things I’ve done to conceal weed from Ernie: I’ve cooked a steak. Burned popcorn. I’ve turned on the broiler and put a piece of bread in there for 20 minutes. Have I exhaled into an unused dog poop bag? Yes, that’s a classic. I’ve exhaled directly into the air purifier I bought last year that currently has a pending class-action lawsuit against it. I’ve sealed up the bathroom, filled the tub with fabric softener, and smoked directly out the window. I’m exaggerating here of course, riffing a bit, but also, I’m serious.
Maybe I’m going about this all wrong. Ernie has never given me any indication that our moral codes don’t align, and I’m sure he thinks about me less than I do about him. I could ask him to hit the vape with me and we could tackle some DIYs, exploit this unlikely contracting duo on a dedicated novelty TikTok account, and talk about the Brooklyn of yore from two weeks ago, before the subway shooter. Because I don’t want Ernie to be disappointed in me. 420 is all about fellowship, and I want him to be my friend.