Most evenings, Bins and I go for a walk. It lasts about half an hour. Today, when we return, there’s a tall, bony woman with untidy grey hair sitting on the front steps of the small grey building I call home. As soon as she sees us, she jumps to her feet, looking flustered. “Hi! How are ya?” she says.
The door to the miniature entrance-lobby is open. The inner door that gives access to the stairwell and all six units of the building is also open. The front door has no lock on it. Instead it’s got a spring-loaded door-closer that normally keeps it shut. Last month however, the upstairs tenant — the one who resembles a land-locked elephant seal — took the front door off its hinges. We weren’t in the US when he performed this stunt so I don’t know who helped him do it. The result is that the closer mechanism was ruined.
The whole door will have to be replaced but, in the meantime, there’s a big bold sign on it, to remind all of us to keep it closed. Why? Because when cool air rushes in, the building’s thermostat registers plunging temperatures. The furnace in the basement roars on. It’s quite warm these days, so we all open our windows to avoid simmering to our deaths like the famous Boiled Frog. But opening the windows wastes the heat. Which threatens the planet. Which causes polar bears to starve. And civilisations to collapse.
So! My immediate response is to say to the tall, bony stranger, “Oh! Hi … please could you keep this door shut?” Then I sail indoors. Even before I cross the threshold into my apartment, however, Bins is frothing. “How could you DO that?” I ask him what he’s talking about. “That poor homeless lady!” he says. “Already she is so flustered — she’s just resting on the doorstep — and you scream at her about the stupid DOOR!”
“I didn’t scream!” I protest, but Bins is on full Social Crusader mode. “You were only thinking of your needs. Homeless people are always being kicked about and pushed away. Like stray dogs. She is the friend of the next-door guy, Charlie. He’s not home, she’s waiting by the front door and you tell her to shut it! While keeping herself outside!” “All right, all right,” I say. “I agree I wasn’t entirely polite. But if the landlord finds out that Charlie has a permanent guest, it’ll go badly for him.” He’s the building’s newest tenant. His lease is single-occupancy. Plus he’s always late with his rent so the landlord doesn’t like him.
“Why are you doing the landlord’s work for him?” Bins wants to know. By now I’m feeling awful. “You should just say hello! Or else, invite her in, give her some tea, ask if she needs the bathroom…” I look away. He knows I won’t do any of that. “A polar bear, maybe,” I say, continuing to feel awful. “Human beings are too dangerous.”
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