Happenings down below
If you're a serial killer looking for the perfect spot to first torture, then maim and slaughter your next victim, perhaps you'll consider the basement of my last apartment building. Built circa 1910 and changed very little since, the bowels of the edifice easily surpass the expectations of any set hunter, outdoing even the creative minds behind the creepiest of contemporary gore flicks.
Trips to the basement I limited to daylight hours and avoided as long as possible. To prevent my own apartment from adopting a similar stench, I was forced to go about once a week, because that's where the garbage is disposed.
I'd often wondered what might happen if I were to round the final corner of the serpentine concrete hallway – past the filthy basin with corroded, dripping faucets, and through the heavy meat locker-esque steel door – and encountered a stranger. There are only two things a person could want to do in that dimly lit bunker, I reasoned, and they both involve disposal (trash or bodies).
When it finally did happen, I screamed. Loud.
Bags in hand, I made the final turn and there stood – with hair greasy and matted, teeth sparse and yellowed, clothing torn and ill-fitted – the hunched, twisted form of...the janitor.
When I stopped screaming, I realized he'd been screaming, too. I want to claim my reaction was only so violent because he looks like a crazed maniac, but I also scared the shit out of him, and I'd like to think that had nothing to do with my own appearance. He mumbled an apology in a nervous mixture of French, English and Spanish, and I stammered mine.
The events that followed, I could never have predicted.
The bunker fell silent. I launched my trash into the bin and, seizing the opportunity, he thrust a small tube into my now empty hands. Then, he turned away, mumbled something incoherent and lifted his shirt. I looked to my hands for clues as to why the elderly janitor was undressing for me in the basement, and in them was the tube of arthritis-relief cream. Perhaps he'd felt we'd bonded, what with screaming together that day, but I still felt that expecting a massage was a bit of a stretch.
Is this a creepy, or oddly sweet request? I asked myself, and hesitated briefly, but the long, ancient scar on his back where he wanted the cream, trumped that thought. As I rubbed in the offensively strong, sinus-clearing menthol-scented cream, I realized just how old he must be. His skin was devoid of elasticity, his spine was twisted bent, and he struggled to steady himself under the gentle pressure of my hand on his back. Still, I had my suspicions.
"Do you need cream anywhere else?" I asked, testing his intent.
"No, murr-see, tank yoh, gracias," he answered, covering himself. He turned to face me and his expression was soft and appreciative.
Awwww, he really did just need help, I was thinking, when he interrupted to say, through a mischievous and mostly toothless grin, "Dat wuz dee firz time a wooh-man touch me in twenny yeerz."
"Creepy" and "oddly sweet" aren't, apparently, mutually exclusive.