I grew up in an apartment building in Little Ferry, New Jersey. Four rooms for the five of us in a featureless, rectangular block of a building that was, frankly, kind of a community eyesore. My father labored nights and overtime for years to get us out of it. Which he did, in 1972, when I was 10.
I can still remember the powerful smell in the halls of that building, an odor comprised of institutional floor cleaner, cooking grease, and the ineradicable olfactory wallop of coal dust from the cellar. The building had been heated by a coal furnace until at least the mid-to-late ’60s and I can remember the excitement of a coal delivery, the coal truck arriving in the rear courtyard and extending a chute into a cellar window at the side of the house, the roar of the coal as it rumbled down the chute into the dark bowels of the building. That cellar was off-limits to us kids, so of course we were obsessed with it and were forever devising new sneaky ways to gain access to it. The identical apartment building next door to ours, occupied entirely by elderly people without kids, was another frequent target of our trespassing schemes.