My friend and I wanted to take a trip to New York City to visit our longtime childhood friend Bernice Hedenmeyer. Well that was the plan anyway. We decided to do this trip on a budget since prices for hotels in Manhattan were so high. We went on a vacation rental App and we found a cute little apartment in the “trendy” gentrified neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant for a steal! Instantly, we got a message from the owner of the place. She introduced herself via the online messaging system and sounded really nice. Her name was Crystal and she said she wouldn’t be in town during our stay, but if we needed anything we could call her brother Matt who lived in the building. We flew into JFK on a warm sunny June afternoon, and as we entered the cab, the driver asked us “where to?” We gave him the address and he said, “Oh, you want to go to Bed-Stuy?” as he looked at us with confusion. We replied, “Yes, of course!” So on he drove. He pulled up to a old brownstone and we instantly noticed the homeless man standing outside the building holding Bloomingdales shopping bags. He was actually watching a young couple walk by. The young man was wearing jeans that fell below his tush and the girl was wearing a faux fur coat, (in June!) an extremely short skirt and ripped fishnet stockings. We weren’t completely taken aback because it was New York City after all! But that should have been our first clue. Also, we thought it odd that our cab driver threw our bags on the sidewalk and drove off yelling, “Good luck, you’re gonna need it!”
Upon entering the apartment, we were hit with a very strange smell that neither one of us could identify. We opened windows and it did not help, it was as if the smell was in the entire building! I called Crystal’s brother Matt and we asked him, ” Not to complain, but there is an awful toxic smell in the apartment!” He quickly answered, “Oh, that’s nothing! The last people who stayed here burned popcorn in the microwave.” But to us, it did not smell that familiar. And furthermore, there was no microwave in sight! We figured that the smell would wear off and the apartment was quite lovely, so why complain? As a matter of fact, it was extremely clean. After we hung up the phone with Matt, we decided to unpack, and that’s when we noticed odd items in the closets. There were yellow coveralls, several pairs of knee high green rubber boots, several surgical typed masks, and a box of gloves. My friend turned to me and said, “What an odd choice of clothing.” But, we thought it was so kind of Crystal to have moved all these items to one side of the closet so as to allow room for our belongings. It got stranger as we unpacked our toiletries. Under the sink, we noticed several bottles of Drano, acetone and empty plastic soda bottles. In the medicine cabinet we found 11 boxes of Sudafed and in the drawers there were cases and cases of alkaline batteries! Now we started wondering… and the smell wasn’t going away. I was very thirsty so I opened the kitchen cabinets and there weren’t any drinking glasses, only beakers and test tubes like in high school chemistry lab. I did only what any thirsty person would do, I drank from the glass beaker. We thought how quaint and quirky was it to have beakers instead of glassware? At that moment, I received a message on my phone via the vacation rental app from Crystal. Her message read: “Hi! the wifi code is IcefactoryredP, you may have to jiggle the toilet handle after flushing, and let the hot water run for 10 minutes in the shower, and by the way, there will be some packages coming tomorrow between 3pm and 5pm that must be signed for, will you be in at that time?” Her message continued, ” I’ll give you 30% discount on the agreed upon price of the stay if you could do me one more favor. Find the boxes of Sudafed in the medicine cabinet, pour out the contents from each capsule into a saucepan and take 4 bottles of Drano under the sink and filter them through a coffee filter while adding to the saucepan. Get 19 AAA batteries out of the bathroom drawer and throw them in the pan as well. Oh and by the way, there are some items in the bedroom closet you may want to put on while doing this.” The message had further directions, but you get the idea! We began to wonder what all this meant, we were two middle aged ladies from Florida after all, what did we know from this, and besides, who doesn’t like a good discount? We began to follow her instructions and started “cooking.”
Soon after we started we heard a knock on the door. We thought the packages had arrived early. We opened the door and a man, possibly in his mid thirties, very scrawny with uncombed hair, missing a few teeth, with sunken eyes said, “Give me some crystal, man.” My friend replied, “Oh, Crystal, she’s not here right now, we are renting her lovely apartment.” He seemed agitated and kept shifting from one foot to the other. He went on, “No man, the ice!” So I went to the freezer to get ice. When I handed it to him he threw it down and said, ” Meth, man, the meth!” At that moment, which seemed like eternity, we stood motionless and looked at each other. My pulse started racing as I thought, The batteries, the Drano, the Sudafed, the coveralls and beakers….. without even speaking to each other I knew we had both come to the realization that we were in a meth lab! (which was convincingly disguised as a lovely newly furnished vacation rental). We slammed the door, turned off the stove, packed our bags, called an Uber that was brave enough to come to that area of town and ran pell mell out of there and never looked back!