09/18/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

New York Neighbors Are Wonderful! (or Never Install An Air Conditioner in the Middle of the Night)

Last night I was hot. I had done a 30-mile bike ride in the afternoon, and I was exhausted, but I was just too damn hot to sleep.

At 1 AM, after two hours of lying awake in a pool of my own sweat, I was in a groggy, insomniac haze. And I had a very bad idea: get the air conditioner out of my roommate's room and put it in mine. (He's out of town, and it's actually my air conditioner, which I had generously lent him at the beginning of the summer.) I figured he had done a shoddy installation, and I planned to do the same in my room -- just enough to get me through the night.

In his room, I found that he had done no installation at all and the A/C was only held in place by the closed window. So, naturally, I opened the window. Yikes.

I grabbed at the A/C as it flew out the window, but the piece I grabbed came off in my hand. With some kind of high-speed adrenaline-fueled gesture, I managed to catch the cord, which was still plugged into the wall. Amazingly, the thing stopped falling. But pull as I might -- with all the strength in my little frame -- I could not lift the air conditioner even an inch.

It was just like one of those scenes in a movie where the good guy is holding the bad guy (or the reverse) with one sweaty palm as the bad guy/good guy teeters over the edge of a cliff on the Mediterranean or a New York skyscraper. But it was me and a large metal appliance. And I wasn't Bruce Willis.

I was horrified by what was about to happen. It was inevitable: the A/C was going to win. In another moment, I would have to let go, and it would slip from my fourth floor window, probably hitting other windows on its way down, possibly hurting someone, crashing with a deafening noise that would wake up the neighborhood, and shattering into pieces on the concrete below.

In a sudden act of bravado -- after peering over the windowsill to make sure there was no one the A/C was going to kill if it fell -- I let go and swiftly pulled the window shut on the cord. It slipped another few inches, but didn't fall.

Now what? Who do you call at 1 in the morning when you are dangling an air conditioner from your 4th floor window?

Then came the knock on the door. I opened it and there stood a calm and composed woman -- in her pajamas -- who smiled and asked me, "Do you know about your air conditioner?" It was her bedroom the thing was dangling outside of. It was also her first night in the building. Her name was Arielle.

We brainstormed. Neither of us had the number for the super or building owner. I tried calling my roommate. I don't know why. Perhaps I thought he had some special knowledge of how to retrieve large, heavy objects hanging out of his bedroom window. He didn't answer. Arielle and I decided she would go back to her bedroom, stand on a chair, and try to push it up toward me while I pulled. It didn't work. She couldn't even reach it.

She came back and we braced ourselves for the fall and the damage it would incur. We both kept saying, "It's going to be awful."

Suddenly Arielle asked, "What if we both pulled? Do you think that would work?"

We opened the window and began a hand-over-hand joint effort, and... the A/C began to move! We pulled and pulled together -- me shouting, "Arielle, you are my fucking hero!" into the night -- and that giant apparatus crawled back toward my roommate's bedroom window.

Right at the moment of truth, it got stuck. There was some kind of molding just below the windowsill. Arielle held the cord and I tried to reach out and maneuver it over the molding, but my muscles were shaking with the effort, my arms were digging painfully into the windowsill, and I just knew I didn't have it in me. So I asked Arielle if we could switch. I took the cord and she took the beast. I held on with all my might while I watched her -- this stranger who is even more petite than I am -- lean out the window and lift the A/C over the molding and into the room. It was absolutely glorious.

For a moment we stood there, marveling at the size of our catch. Then I thanked her profusely, we shook hands, and she disappeared.

You can consider this little tale a warning about improperly installed air conditioners, midnight flights of fancy, or heat-induced imbecility. But, most important, it is a shout-out to kind and helpful New York neighbors everywhere, and especially to Arielle, the angel of Park Slope.