My super died this weekend, alone, I assume, in his apartment. His name was Billy. I don't know his last name. According to some tenants who have lived in my building longer than I have, he was born and grew up in our building. His mother used to be the super. These few blocks, which I saw him walk so many times, always as vacant as a zombie, had been his entire life.
By all accounts, Billy looked like a homeless man. A castaway. Worn, wizened, abraded by what could only have been a lifetime of drink and wretched loneliness. In winter, he wore a giant North Face jacket that looked like a gift--the only newish, contemporary thing about him, the only recognizable thing about him that seemed to connect him to a larger, functioning society. It overwhelmed his scrawny body. He shuffled in and out of the building wearing it. Every morning he greeted me without looking at me directly. "Hey," he'd say, coarse and gruff, as he always was. I didn't know where he was going, from where he was coming, what he did with his entire day.
No one could understand how our landlord--a lovely man who lives in Long Island--could entrust Billy with the tasks of fixing our radiators, separating our trash, collecting our rent. He looked like he could barely feed himself.
Once M was parked outside my building, waiting for me to come downstairs, and he saw Billy standing in his front window, just staring out. At him? At nothing? With his windows wide open, we could see that there was almost nothing in his apartment, just the barest of furnishings.
The last time I talked to Billy was last week, as I was trying to park M's car a safe distance from the hydrant in front of our building. He walked past and reassured me, "You're good."
Now there is a police sticker placed over his door that prohibits anyone from entering. It looks more like a quarantine than a death notice.
As I began to write this, I realized that Billy reminded me, in many respects, even physically in his hunched posture and lack of chin, of Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan--the poor, suffering anti-superhero who lives alone in his austere one-bedroom apartment. What a cruel twist of irony that Billy's job was to be our super.
You're good, Billy. Rest in peace.