Ghost monkeys… it’s Chinatown

Chinatown. Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.

I always took that line to mean there will always be things below the surface you can’t even begin to comprehend.

Of course none of that movie takes place in Chinatown, but I don’t live in Chinatown either. I live in a sort of cross-town annex of Chinatown. Actually if you turn right out of my front door, it is a Chinese neighborhood. If you turn left it is Russian. Basically I live in a spot where the old communist world powers rub elbows and stare with distrust at one another while doing brunch. It is interesting. And really easy to get dim sum.

Mostly it doesn’t affect me very much. I pretty much stay indoors, and since the herbalist moved out of the shop on the ground floor, the building doesn’t even smell like ginseng anymore. But there is Helen.

According to my nicest-landlord-in-the-world landlord, when his parents bought this building Helen came with it. I suspect that Helen was actually here before the building, similar to when you build on an old Indian burial ground. Like a cypress rooted into solid rock, Helen is small but immovable. One suspects that dislodging her would destroy the bedrock.

Helen is small, about four feet tall with wispy white hair, and her face is lined with a look of continual shock, fear and distrust. Given that most 80 year old Chinese women look about 55, and extrapolating from Helen’s apparent age of about 95 I am guessing that she is somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 years old. Give or take. She speaks broken English with a heavy accent, which is not at all surprising given her age, but communicating with her is further hindered by the fact that she is deaf as a post. And crazy.

I can only assume some form of senile dementia, and it would be shocking that anyone would reach approximately 300 without a little slippage of one’s mental faculties. Honestly, I am a little in awe of Helen. She manages to shuffle slowly out every morning and make her way around the neighborhood. She takes care of business. She lives with a mentally disabled middle-aged man who is either her son or grandson (no one is actually sure which), and the two of them DO manage to get by. It is just that over this past year or so things have been going progressively more off the rails.

One evening her son (or grandson) managed to get himself locked out of the apartment and was pounding on the door and screaming for a really long time. I was honestly afraid she was dead, and the police I called to help weren’t very much. In the end after nearly two hours of various parties knocking and yelling at doors and windows and fire escapes, she woke up and let him in.

Another time she lost her keys and called the police to tell them that she was SURE that our landlord had been sneaking into her apartment at night and stealing them. I got roped into that one because even though she had called the police, she wouldn’t let them in when they came, so they ended up ringing my bell. The policewoman and I both tried to explain that it was unlikely that anyone had stolen the keys, and that she could use the set her son had until another could be made. Still the next day she knocked on my door begging me to help her call a locksmith to get the front door of the building re-keyed because she was now certain that bad teenagers had stolen the keys. I tried to explain that locksmiths won’t change locks for you if you don’t own the building, but I’m not sure she understood. She has this way of grabbing on to your shoulder to pull you down close to her face. She is really frightened, but I can’t understand 9/10 of what she says. And I’m guessing she understands me even less.

A couple of months ago Mark answered the door and went on an odyssey to try to help her. The story was unclear. But it seemed to involve the new downstairs neighbor teaching our hispanic UPSTAIRS neighbors to do Chinese chants and rituals to make ghost monkeys come out of her walls. She showed Mark the walls in question, and when he stubbornly failed to see the ghost monkeys he ended up taking her around to various people to try to get someone to help her. The Chinese herbalist who used to be downstairs is now next door, so he tried there in hopes of getting help with the language barrier, but I don’t think anything helped.

For the past several days she has taken to standing in the hallway and yelling at someone in Chinese for hours on end. We let Anthony (upstairs hispanic ghost monkey summoner) try to help her this time, because it is his turn, but I don’t think it went so well because she was out again today. When I went out to go to the store she cornered me and told me that “The man had come into all our apartments” and that our landlord’s father had died and the memorial service was on Sunday. I said I was very sorry to hear it and went to buy milk. Later I texted our landlord and expressed condolences if, in fact, his father had passed away. His father is thankfully fine, but apparently Helen was out on the fire escape yelling until a passerby called the fire department. It seems her keys had gone astray again, although her son still had his.

I probably sound callous, and I’d honestly like to help. I’ve spoken to the landlord many times. He is afraid to call social services because he doesn’t want to give the appearance of trying to get rid of her. So I called social services, but I don’t think it accomplished anything. I try to be friendly with her when I see her, but she always looks afraid, and I’m not sure she remembers who I am from one day to the next. I don’t want to scare her any more than she already is, and there just doesn’t seem to be any real avenue of communication.

So it is all just ghost monkeys. It’s Chinatown.

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