Every time I move into a new place, I spend the first few months contacting the snail mail solicitors of the previous tenant. You can learn a lot from a person by the junk mail they get. For instance, I garnered from various catalogues I received that the person before me in my LA duplex was an elementary school teacher. Her boyfriend (I’m assuming he was her boyfriend because they had different last names) graduated from USC. Most of their mail had to do with school in some capacity. I imagined they were both in their late twenties, maybe early thirties, either educated and/ or educating.
Of course, my intention was to save trees and other people’s time, most likely interns or volunteers slaving away in a basement somewhere in Ohio stuffing and licking envelopes. I’m never going to be in the market for inspirational stickers geared towards second graders and I don’t imagine I will start paying a stranger’s student loan bills out of the goodness of my heart any time soon. So each time I received something not addressed to me in the mail, I would contact the sender with a “Please remove…” followed by “I am trying to save trees” so that they did not take great offense to me wanting to be removed from their mailer. I always thought if I were too rude, the sender would simply continue the onslaught of dead trees in my mailbox.
Having just moved to New York, I am doing the same thing all over again. It’s amazing to me how much junk mail people allow themselves to receive day in, day out. Salvatore Lunetto is no exception.
From the first pieces of mail I opened on behalf of Salvatore I learned a few things: one, this person must have been exceptionally old; two, he was also very charitable or was willing enough to be approached by these people incessantly.
What confuses me most about Salvatore was his religious background. I am constantly receiving mail for Salvatore the Jew and Salvatore the Gentile. One day I’ll get mail with a picture of the Virgin Mary and a shining cross, then the next I’ll get a letter from the local Jewish community center. It is possible that Salvatore was simply a religious opportunist, always keeping a variety of doors open for him during his waning years.
My favorite letter, though, was from a New York State agency apparently required to inform the new tenant (me) of the lease agreement of the previous tenant (Salvatore). It took me about ten minutes of turning the letter over and over again, back to front, reading and rereading, to begin to understand what they were trying tell me.
All I could see were two numbers: $438 and $2625. I recognized the latter because that is what my roommate and I pay per month and if I were still confused at that point, next to it was a clause that said, “Maximum rent per month.” But the former was such a foreign and strange number, that when I read, “Maximum rent per month” in front of $438, I still didn’t believe it.
It was like a Hooked on Phonics moment. I sat reading veerrrrryyy slowwwllyyyy.
“Maaxx-i-muumm ruh-ruh-eent purrr moonnn-ttthhhh.”
No matter how many times I read, I would still make something up in my head that made more sense. I thought, this must be this guy’s deposit, right?But even $438 is a paltry deposit in this city, let alone most other cosmopolitan areas.
I scoured the singular sheet for answers, coming across a date from 1971 stating that rent control for this unit expired nearly forty years ago for the tenant who entered said unit after this date. Eureka. Salvatore was really fucking old. Ancient, even. That bastard had managed to stick it out in Nolita before it was even Nolita. Salvatore Lunetto was an original gangster (possibly even a real gangster given my proximity to numerous Italian restaurants.
It became clear within moments as to why my apartment had been renovated from top to bottom. Literally, nothing had been left unremodeled. The drywall was new, the kitchen was new, the bathroom. Everything. My first few nights I felt like I was in a hotel room. Everything sparkled. Nothing smelled. There were no random hairs lying about that the cleaning crew missed like in all my other apartments. There was no mass amount of dust to clean off the shelves. My apartment was turnkey, but this is because Salvatore had been holed up here since the Summer of Sam.
I can’t help but wonder about Salvatore’s current whereabouts. My initial thought was that they must have taken him out of here in a stretcher, dead or nearly dead. That’s the only way people walk away from rent in Manhattan under $500 a month. One of my friends suggested that maybe Salvatore’s family put him in a home or something to live out his remaining days, but I knocked that idea down. If I were Salvatore’s kid, I wouldn’t let him leave out of principle. But Dad, your rent is $500 a month…there’s no way in hell you’re getting out of here alive.
So I imagine that he didn’t.
Every time I open a piece of junk mail and subsequently remove Mr. Lunetto from yet another charitable organization’s mailing list, I say a little prayer and hope that he’s enjoying heaven where he must obviously be given how many donations he has made to churches, children in Africa, and widows of police officers. Anyway, I hear rent there is pretty cheap; he must be happy enough.