The Case of the Missing Coat Hangers

Illustration: Andy Orin from a Le Samourai screenshot.

Getting packages reliably in New York City depends entirely on where you live. Not your neighborhood, but your building. Some have lobbies, some have stoops, some have nothing but a door that opens directly to the sidewalk. Some have doormen if you can believe it.

I reside in the Belvedere, a large, squat, six story building that dates to 1924. Not that anyone calls it the Belvedere, but that’s what it they wrote on the front in cement when they put it up around a hundred years ago. It has a big empty lobby where there probably used to be a kid in a bellhop outfit and about 70 apartments above. All good and fine for general living. But I’ve always had a hard time getting packages delivered. Delivered to me, anyway; they deliver them somewhere. Most things just sit in the lobby by the mailboxes but some things do not.

A few days ago I ordered some coat hangers to clean up a messy closet. (Technically it was a “hanging organizer,” but let’s keep it simple for rhetorical sake.) It was from Amazon, and was scheduled to be delivered the next day just in case it was a dire closet situation and Marie Kondo was at my neck.

Indeed the following day the package was dispatched, and I checked its status every so often while I worked. Around half past noon, it was delivered. (Funny how all the delivery services use a passive voice; it never says ‘a person handed you a box’, it just says that the ‘package has been delivered’.)

But first let me tell you about the police who knocked on my door in April holding a scrap of cardboard. A worrying sight. They explained that they had caught a package thief fleeing from our building the night before. Around 2am or so a man got into the lobby and rummaged through the mail, helping himself to whatever looked enticing. But the building’s super intendent somehow caught wind and chased him out. A good man, perhaps one of the only good building supers. The police subsequently caught the thief and his cache of nicked packages, and among the detritus was a shipping label with my address. So the police knocked on my door the next morning just to let us know.

As such, whenever I am expecting something to be delivered, I try to be expedient when retrieving it from the lobby.

When the coat hangers arrived I went down to the mailboxes and found nothing. Nada. No note, no boxes. Unfortunate, but not a big ticket item. The absence of coat hangers is no tragedy. Prior to this, in all the years of chasing boxes I’ve only had one thing go missing, for-real missing: an iPhone. An iPhone! Practically the most valuable thing you can mail. Like slipping an gold ingot into a mailbox. But this isn’t about the iPhone.

I went back to my apartment to check the delivery status again, to see if they left any specific detail of where it was left — ‘by the door’, ‘in the mailbox’, etc. — and there was none. But this particular shipping company provided something new with the delivery notification that I hadn’t noticed before going downstairs: a photo.

Photo by Lasership

That’s not my door.

No clear number on the door either, though the hallway is recognizably somewhere in my building. But it reminded me of the missing Indian food.

Last September I ordered Indian food for my birthday. When the delivery person arrived outside the building, he called my phone to let me know. I went down but there was no one there. Assuming he had gotten inside and I just missed him, I went back to my apartment — and there was no one there. He called my phone again and said he was outside my door, where he certainly was not.

So I walked down the hallway and heard him in the distance, on the other side of a fire door that separates the left and right sides of the building exactly in the middle. He was standing outside of an apartment door with no number that he had incorrectly guessed was mine. In fact, I had to show him my phone to prove that I was me and not some meddling neighbor trying to steal the food. I haven’t ordered from them since. Too much work.

But I knew why he thought that was my door. For some reason this building, the old Belvedere, has all the odd numbered apartments on one side and all even numbers on the other. I’m an even number, so my immediate neighbors are 2, 4, 6, etc. My apartment number is 8.

The man with the Indian food followed the numbers and went to the door next to 7, a door that just happens to have no legible number. But it’s over in odd-numbered land where the odd people live so the door next to 7 is 9, presumably. Or 5. I don’t know if other hundred-year-old buildings are like this, but that’s how they designed things at the Belvedere. All the odds on the right, all the evens on the left.

So when I saw the photo of my coat hangers outside of a door with no clear number, I had a hunch. Even though the address wasn’t visible, it was next to the perpendicular swinging doors that separate the building exactly in the middle, between the left and right side of the building. Odds and evens.

Sure enough I went down the hall to the same door where I argued for my Indian food a year earlier and found my coat hangers.

It hadn’t occurred to me until now that the lost iPhone might have ended up there too, at the door with no number. But that’s another mystery. Someone signed for it and left the initials “OA”, according to the post office. (Perhaps a clue, but those are also my initials, reversed, so that might be a dead end. It could also be Brit Marling.) Lucky for me the cell company replaced the lost phone (and mailed it directly to the post office for pickup) so that case is all hung up as far as I’m concerned.

But if you’re ever in the Belvedere and run across the no-number door in the odd hall, ask them about it for me.

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