by Abigail and Jesse Pesta

In the kitchen, Dad's sitting on the linoleum floor, cussing at a vacuum cleaner. The piece that's supposed to connect the top to the bottom doesn't quite fit. It's August and the apartment is boiling hot.

With sweat pouring down his neck, Dad looks up at a pigeon on the windowsill. The bird is watching him with its creepy pink eye. "God, give me a break," Dad says for the fifth or sixth time. "Please, just one break."

He's so mad at the vacuum cleaner, he's hissing his words. "Just one single break. Is that so much to ask, God?" he implores. The pigeon blinks.

In the front bedroom, by another window, Mom is puzzling over a small brochure. Someone has slipped it through the open window from outside the apartment. The window is at street level and faces the sidewalk, and has no screen. The sidewalk is so close that, a few minutes earlier, someone stuck his head in and asked how much the rent was.

"Becky, I think we should close the windows," Mom says to me.

"Please, anything but that!" Dad shouts from the kitchen. "It's hotter than a volcano in here."

It's my first weekend in the city, in my first apartment after college. My parents are here to help me set things up. I'm starting to think this may have been a mistake.

* * *

From the moment Mom and Dad first saw the place last night, I knew there would be trouble. Dad opened the door and immediately shrank back in disgust.

The object of his horror: the navy blue wall-to-wall carpet, which had an inky sheen that can only be the product of unspeakable grime. "I'm afraid to step on that," he said, "even with my shoes on."

Dad decided the carpet was the first thing that needed fixing. So even though he had just spent a half-hour trying to find a parking spot for the car, we got right back in and drove 100 blocks downtown, to Canal Street, to buy a vacuum cleaner.

Of course, the only vacuum that could really fix the problem would be one strong enough to suck the carpet right up off the floor. But Dad insisted. So, hours later and $50 poorer, we were back at my apartment with a Dust Buster on a stick. Assembly required.

By now it was after dark. Rather than vacuum, we decided to eat some dinner -- pizza slices from around the corner -- and hit the hay.

Mom had brought three rubber air mattresses from home. The apartment was so narrow, we had to line them up end-to-end, feet-next-to-head style. Next to his air mattress, Dad laid a towel down on the carpet, then carefully placed his slippers in the center of the towel to protect them against the carpet.

That night, lying in the heat on our rubber beds, we concentrated on keeping absolutely still so as not to burn a single extra heat-generating calorie. "If we had only bought an electric fan instead of a vacuum," I whispered.

"Don't talk," Dad said. "It's producing more heat."

When I finally had to roll over in my mattress, or risk going insane from being immobile, I accidentally tapped Mom in the head with my foot. "Watch out with your feet!" she said.

Wide-eyed in the darkness, we caught isolated pieces of evening conversation drifting through the open window from the sidewalk just beyond. Curious pieces of people's lives, all the more startling for their proximity just steps away. As if the city was forcing us to be voyeurs:

"I like sitting naked in my chairs," someone said matter-of-factly. "Watch your step" ... "he's gonna get her back" ... "confess" ... "fish taco" ...

On the walls, shadows danced as strangers swept beneath a streetlamp. One shadow lingered a bit too long. Someone was rifling through a trash can underneath the front window.

"That's it," Mom said. She got up and slammed the window shut.

"Oh no," Dad said. He climbed out of bed, placed his protective slippers on his feet, and gingerly walked to the sink, where he soaked a washcloth in water and draped it on his head.

"I can't believe you made me walk across that floor again," he said.

Somehow, we eventually got to sleep.

* * *

So now it's the next morning. Dad is sitting there on the kitchen floor with the vacuum cleaner. The pigeon is watching from the windowsill.

Dad struggles to stand up without actually touching the floor with his hands. The pigeon turns to watch with its other eyeball.

Dad swats at it -- "shoo!" -- but it just waddles aside and stays put.

"That bird has been watching me all morning," Dad says, looking out the window into a narrow alley between buildings. It's piled high with garbage that people have thrown out their back windows -- a suitcase, some eggshells, an old globe.

"What a bunch of trash," Dad says. "That's where the vacuum cleaner belongs."

In the front bedroom, Mom opens the brochure that someone slipped through the window. "This is weird," Mom says. She reads aloud: "The apocalypse is nigh. Would you rather end up in heaven or a lake of fire?"

I'm watching the pigeon, which I suddenly feel sorry for. It's been there for hours; is it sick? Why doesn't it fly away? Out of sympathy, I impulsively decide to do what no real New Yorker would ever do -- give it a piece of pizza crust from the night before.

Dad turns around to see what's going on. "Don't feed that bird," he says. "Your windowsill will become a bird toilet."

The bird pecks at the crust. "Soon we'll both fly away," I say to the pigeon. He winks in agreement.