Humor Magazine

It’s A Small World After All

By Katie Hoffman @katienotholmes

Yesterday I solved a The Great Recognizable Downstairs Neighbor Mystery, and it lifted an enormous weight that’s been on my shoulders since 2012 when I started dating Mike.

My boyfriend lives in an apartment, which means there are a lot more people to covet. Except none of them are worth coveting. Downstairs lives a guy I call MAJ (pronounced mage). MAJ is part of his license plate, and because I have no idea what his real name is, that’s good enough for me. MAJ is either drunk all the time, or he has an obnoxious, boisterous personality that makes you think he’s drunk all the time. If I see him outside, I wait in my car until he leaves. On one side of my boyfriend’s apartment lives a chain smoker that’s constantly sitting outside sucking a cigarette and having personal conversations on the phone. On the other side, there’s a couple that has a little girl. The guy works at a gun shop in Indiana, (disgusting) and deer heads are part of their interior design (yes, I look inside their windows). It really gives their apartment a Deep South feel, which you don’t find in the southwest suburbs of Chicago very often. This entire kingdom is overseen by a quirky Polish landlord. (Please expect to see these characters in the upcoming pilot Complex, which focuses on the interactions and relationships between weird people living in the same apartment complex.)

My favorite neighbor (by default) is a relatively normal guy named Alan who lives downstairs with his girlfriend and her son. Alan’s apartment is right next to the mailboxes and adjacent to the stairs. I often see him outside smoking (I think smoking is a prerequisite to live in this apartment complex; I don’t think they know my boyfriend quit awhile ago, so he may be getting evicted soon), and we exchange awkward hellos. For a long time, I thought the reason our brief interactions seemed contrived was because Alan was weirded out by the fact I’m so much younger than Mike. But this felt like so much more than that. The source of this unspoken discord was much deeper and more overwhelming.

Alan has always looked familiar to me, and I could never figure out how I knew him. This uncertainty went on for two years, until yesterday when I finally figured everything out.


I’m at the mall with my friend because she needs a dress to wear at a wedding. After striking out at every other store in the mall, we’re heading to the place of last resort: Sears. Sears is not only the place of last resort because the clothes are cheaply made and gruesomely ugly–it’s the location of my first part time job. I was a cashier. From 2006 through 2009, you could find me up at the Sears doing price checks for cheapasses and spiritlessly explaining that you could save $15 if you’re approved for a Sears card. As I strolled through my old stomping grounds with my friend, a vivid memory suddenly came back to me.


It’s September 2006, and after being rejected by Hallmark and Great American Bagel, I was thrilled that Sears offered me a seasonal cashier position (because only someone who hasn’t worked in retail could be thrilled about the prospect of it). Because it was my first job (and also my first experience with the hell that is working with the public), I had a lot to learn. Perhaps my biggest gaffe was misunderstanding how loss prevention works.

Every day I’d see the same guy, wearing a baseball hat, jeans, and an oversized jacket, walking around the store. He’d come in from Merchandise Pick-Up, circle through every department, and seemingly leave. I thought he was just a loyal Sears customer. One day he passed by on his evening stroll while I was working with one of the older cashiers. “That guy is here all the time,” I remarked. I thought this observation would cement some retail bond between us. Instead, she looked at me like I was crazy. “That’s Alan. He works in Loss Prevention. He wears normal clothes so people won’t know that he’s security.”

I stopped short in the middle of the aisle.

“What’s wrong?” my friend asked.

“I know where I know my boyfriend’s neighbor from! HE USED TO WORK HERE WHEN I WORKED HERE! He was the loss prevention guy who I thought I was an avid Sears shopper!”

“What are you talking about?”


My boyfriend and I got home at the same time. He was going to get the mail when Alan’s girlfriend’s son got out his bike to take the garbage out. His hands were full of recyclables, so riding his bike back to the dumpster was something that would only seem logical in the brain of a young boy. Alan’s girlfriend’s son seems like a really cool kid, so my heart swells a little when I see him doing cute, boyish things.

“THIS IS MY FIRST ATTEMPT!” he announced.

He pedaled about four feet before dropping an empty gallon of milk. Because I wouldn’t throw this particular child in the river if we lived in Medieval times, I went downstairs, snatched the empty gallon of milk, and carried it back to the trash for him. He held the dumpster lid open and reassured me, “I was going to go back and get it.”

I was heading back toward the building when I saw Alan coming toward me with another bag of trash. This was my moment. I needed to know the truth.

“Hey, did you work at Sears back in the day? You’ve always looked familiar to me.”

“Yeah, I did security. I thought I recognized you. What did you do?”

“I was a cashier. I was actually at Sears the other day, and it just came back to me.”

“Heh… put two and two together.”

Okay, so now Alan thinks I think about him when I’m shopping, BUT WHO CARES! I know his true origin! Eight years before I started dating my boyfriend (which would’ve also been two years before it was even legal), I knew Alan!!!

Now that I know the truth, I’m on top of the world. This may be as close as I get to nirvana. You know the feeling you get when you recognize an actor or actress from some other movie you’ve seen, and you remember which movie it is on your own before looking it up on IMDB? It feels like that multiplied by a million.

Have you ever had a “small world” experience? Have you met someone in the past and your paths crossed later in life?

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