Broken down street signs, graffiti scattered throughout the brick-and-mortar buildings – it’s like the sun shines everywhere else, but cross a street into Q-ville and you’ve got grey and dreary clouds surrounding you. Nothing shines on Avenue Q. Most people agree that the clouds conspired and decided to keep this one section of the sprawling metropolis covered in shitty days and rain. Life on Avenue Q…it’s not glamorous, it’s not ritzy or dazzling, but it offered more character and charisma than the good life could provide any other day of the week.
At least, this is what the residents of the avenue like to tell themselves.
Masuda didn’t grow up on Avenue Q. Actually, Masuda was born and raised and grew up in the suburbs east of the city, born into a decent family with a great athletic background. So how he wound up as the superintendent of Avenue Q was a mystery, one that often piques the curiosity of all, but never solved. All common knowledge stated was that when Masuda turned twenty-one, Johnny-san left and Masuda magically became their super and all further inquiries, questions, complaints and concerns should be directed in his direction.
Masuda himself wasn’t a bad guy; he was far from it. He was always polite, greeted everyone enthusiastically whenever he saw his tenants leaving the building, didn’t slack in any repairs that was called in. He was reliable, well-mannered, and just sociable enough to not be seen as a complete stick in the mud – maybe just a halfway stick in the mud. He wasn’t dense, either, because after three years, he knew the type of neighborhood Avenue Q was, and so he figured the less he knew about the personal lives of his tenants, the better off he was.
But sometimes, when you live in such close proximity to some of the weirdest people you ever will meet, things are learned. And maybe they aren’t so weird after all.
Yokoyama and Murakami were two of Avenue Q’s longest staying residents. Yoko, as he allowed Masuda to call him, was fun and slightly endearing despite his doofy side; Masuda liked him a lot, felt it was all right to be a little less formal around him – and if anything, Yoko always offered food whenever he came around for any routine checks or pesky radiator repairs. Masuda wasn’t sure what Yoko got up to during his days off – he wasn’t really sure what Yoko did in general, come to think of it – but Yoko had always been amiable and lively. Masuda didn’t mind him.
Murakami, better known as Hina in the area although how he came to have that nickname Masuda didn’t know, was, in a way, a much more reliable person than Yoko was. Hina was loud and proud of all things that made up who he was at his core, but really had his head on straight with clear paths in mind. Masuda knew he wanted to get out of Avenue Q, had worked his ass off for years to continue school to try to get something set up for himself, but everything was always a lot harder than it sounds like in the back of minds or it seems in movies.
“It’s hard when there’s nothing out there for the little people,” Hina said matter-of-factly one day when Masuda was over to fix the dishwasher. He made a small, agreeable noise, admittedly not paying much attention when there were electric wires hanging right by his face.
“This guy,” Yoko piped up out of nowhere, though by the sound of the toilet flushing in the background, he had been in the bathroom. “He’s been saying that for years. At this point, what’s the point of having a degree?” Yoko paused. “Also, you might want to wait awhile to use the bathroom.” Masuda could hear the giggle behind the words.
“This is the city, it’s not like I can just join up anywhere!” Hina groaned; there was a small noise, like rustling cellophane, and a telltale click! of a lighter. Hina always turned to cigarettes when Yoko was being bratty, which Masuda concluded had to be all the time.
“You’d think that there’d be more places to apply to in a city like this,” Yoko retorted
“You’d be surprised. The larger a city gets, the more room for not-so-honest people,” Hina replied, taking a deep drag of his cig. “There has to be a secret to getting out of here, though.”
“Masuda-san, do you know of any such way?” Yoko asked.
“If I knew the way to get out of here – ”
“You’d tell us, right?”
“Nope,” Masuda connected the last few wires and straightened, pressing a button on the front of the dishwasher. The machine whirred to life, which brought elated applause from Yoko, because washing dishes just wasn’t up his alley. He turned and smiled at the two, sitting at the small dining table. “I like you guys. I would tell the two who live below you, though.”
For the life of him, he couldn’t quite understand how Yamashita and Akanishi got along. They lived in the apartment underneath Hina and Yoko, and were as different as chocolate and vanilla. They both liked their mischief and their partying, but when it came down to it, Masuda thought Yamashita had a pretty good head on his shoulders; he tended to do things his own way and at his own pace most of the time, but behind the slight wavering attention span, he always meant well.
Akanishi, on the other hand…
It was the middle of the night when Masuda received a call from Yamashita, filing a complaint about excessive noise. Masuda sat up in his bed, rubbing his eyes and trying to listen as best as he could, but besides Yamashita breathing on the other end of the line, he couldn’t hear anything.
“Yamashita-san, I appreciate your call, but I don’t hear anything – ”
“Of course you won’t, because it’s Jin,” Yamashita exhaled exasperatedly.
“It’s Jin. He’s having the loudest, most obnoxious sex in his room with some tramp and there’s something about fingers being where they don’t belong and help me, Masuda-san, please.” Yamashita rambled, desperation lacing his already exhausted sounding voice.
“…are you filing a complaint against your own roommate?” Masuda asked. Just to clarify. Or maybe to file away for laughter when morning came.
“Is that the only way to get you to try and do something about this?” Yamashita replied.
“Well, yeah, pretty much.”
“Then yes. Yes, I am. Will you come now?”
Masuda opened his mouth to say something about how his word choice was really poorly decided given the situation, but thought better of it. Instead, he agreed and hung up the phone, tossed on a pair of sweatpants and a hoodie and trekked the two blocks to the apartment building.
By the time he got there, though, he saw that he wasn’t really needed – the aforementioned tramp was already on her way out, and there was two voices yelling at each other in the apartment. He assumed the smug sounding one was Akanishi, if only because…well, his voice seemed to be stuck on that setting.
“Excuse me,” Masuda quietly piped up, pushing the door to the apartment open after no one managed to open it for him. “Does this mean I can go home now?”
“Masuda-san, thank god,” Yamashita sighed with relief, pulling him further into the apartment by the elbow.
“You called the super?!” Akanishi’s face was a mix between ‘are you kidding me?’ and ‘…no, wait, you’re fucking with me right now’.
“Damn right I did. This is the third time this week you’ve done this and it’s only Tuesday! I can’t live like this, Jin! Some of us have nice, respectable jobs that we need to get up early for!” Yamashita protested.
“Wait, what day do you count as the beginning of the week?”
Akanishi paced around the room, and it was just then that Masuda realized that the man was very, very naked still, which only lead him to hide in the kitchen, facing away from the duo, especially since it didn’t seem like he was going to put on pants anytime soon.
“I know what this is about,” Akanishi finally said. “You need to get laid, Pi.” Yamashita was about to sputter a reply when Akanishi continued. “I mean, that’s obviously it. Do you want that girl’s number? She’ll lie to you about how tight she is, but – ”
“Oh my god,” Yamashita groaned, and Masuda reflexively covered his ears.
“Or if you want, there’s this guy I know – would you mind a dude? – who keeps bugging me to set you up with him. His name’s Jim and he’s packing a pretty big piece, and I’m not talking about guns – ”
“Can you shut up, please, oh my god, I have a girlfriend,” Yamashita cried out, as if he was in agony.
Akanishi was silenced, and Masuda uncovered his ears for the time being. “Shut the fuck up, you do not! Why the fuck don’t I know about her?!”
Yamashita blanched. “…she lives in Yemen?”
Akanishi just looked perplexed. “What the hell is a Yemen?”
Yamashita stared at him for a few seconds, then wordlessly turned and retreated into his bedroom, slamming the door shut and clicking the lock into place. Akanishi and Masuda just stood there for a few seconds, not quite knowing what to do.
“…so, can I leave now?” Masuda asked.
The only one Masuda felt a strong sense of camaraderie with was a cute, young, bratty college graduate by the name of Tegoshi Yuya. Tegoshi’s different from him, by a lot, but even though he’s been out of school for only a year, he had already made his way steadily up the blocks of Alphabet City. He settled in at Avenue Q with not much – just three suitcases of clothing and linens, three lamps, an alarm clock, a phone charger, a large cardboard box of monologue books, and a sofabed. “It saves me time when I end up moving again,” Tegoshi said brightly when Masuda first helped him move in.
From what Masuda could tell, Tegoshi had only stayed at his previous apartments for three months at most, and so when the three month period rolled around, he was expecting Tegoshi to move out, but the call to notify him never came. Then the fourth month passed and still nothing. By the time the fifth month came and went, Masuda just shrugged and let it be.
A few days after the Yamashita/Akanishi fiasco, Masuda was walking by, thinking about checking in, when he saw Tegoshi sitting on the front steps of the apartment building, looking slightly surly and disappointed. Then, Masuda remembered that Tegoshi had an audition a few days ago, and…probably didn’t land the role he wanted, by the looks of things. He went and bought two Choco Tacos from the ice cream truck making its rounds, and walked a few more steps to where the other was sitting.
“Something wrong?” Masuda asked, taking the seat next to the younger man, holding out the ice cream to him. Tegoshi looked startled, but then sighed when he saw it was Masuda, although he nodded his thanks and took the sweet. “How’d your audition go?” Masuda continued.
“Fine,” Tegoshi frowned, taking a bite of his ice cream. “I got a part.”
“Eh, really? Congratulations!” Masuda enthused. “That’s good news, right?”
“No, Massu, no.” Tegoshi’s frown grew deeper. “This is the fifth time I’ve been cast as a sexual deviant of some kind.”
“What, really?” Masuda paused, trying to think. “Wait, weren’t you a hairstylist in that one episode of Law & Order?”
“Yeah, I was. A hairstylist who had a thing for orgies and handjobs in public places.” Tegoshi replied monotonously. “Before that, I was a sadistic drag queen. Before that, I was – ”
“I see what you mean,” Masuda cut him off, not needing to hear more. It sucked, and it made Masuda’s stomach churn slightly thinking about it since his image of Tegoshi was too sweet and pure to match up with these counterparts. But it was acting for a reason, he supposed. “It’ll help out in the end, won’t it?”
“I just don’t get why I’m always cast as the skank,” Tegoshi sighed. “I know that these are all stepping stones and whatever, but it’s getting pretty ridiculous. I’d be convinced it was typecasting if it was the same person doing the hiring for everything, but what the hell are the chances?”
“You know,” came a voice from above, and both of them turned their heads upwards. “It’s not called typecasting if it’s the only role you’re good at.” Akanishi beamed harshly down at them, his body halfway out the window with how far he was leaning out.
“Like you’re one to talk!” Tegoshi snapped back.
“Ignore him,” Masuda laughed. “He’s just unruly because Yamashita-san put a sex ban on him.”
Akanishi smiled in glee. “What he doesn’t know won’t kill him!”
“You never fail to surprise me with how disgusting you are, Akanishi-kun. Congratulations!” Tegoshi mocked, rolling his eyes. “Why are you eavesdropping anyway?”
“Wouldn’t you want to know what two of your favorite people on the front steps of your building are talking about?”
“You need a job,” Masuda and Tegoshi said together, and they dissolved into laughter as Akanishi retreated back into his room, slamming the window shut in his wake. Tegoshi turned to face front again, smiling a little bit, breathing in deep.
“I guess it’s not so bad. I’m at least getting work,” Tegoshi said after a few moments, balling up both of their ice cream wrappers and tossing them into the trash can by the curb.
“Truth,” Masuda nodded. “Don’t be like Akanishi.”
Tegoshi laughed again, and Masuda chuckled. They sat there for the rest of the afternoon, talking about everything and nothing, Tegoshi killing bugs whenever they got too close, Masuda making fun of how the summer humidity was making Tegoshi’s hair poof up like an afro.
He was going to miss this a little when Tegoshi inevitably moved away.
Koyama was the kind of guy Avenue Q tended to swallow up, chew on, then spit out on the dingy sidewalk. He was overly earnest, endlessly optimistic, and cared enough about everyone around him to make up for their lack of parental figures – twofold. So when he first moved out to Avenue Q, no one expected him to really stay for long. Freshly out of college, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed – the neighborhood was taking bets on when he’d turn tail and run.
Surprisingly enough, he never did.
Masuda discovered that during the first year Koyama was there, besides doing meaningless telemarketing work that he was actually very, very good at, random members of the community had been seeing him almost on a weekly basis for help, whether it be about how to honestly do their taxes or balance a checkbook, to things like how to become a better friend, listener, son, daughter. Masuda’s interest was piqued – it was true that Koyama was everyone’s fountain of hope, but Koyama had never claimed to be such a thing. However, the simple fact remained – people needed advice and self-esteem boosts. Koyama was just the person to go to for that.
Through Koyama’s impromptu self-help center, Masuda would come to know Nishikido Ryo. He had bumped into him one of the times Masuda went to pick up rent and thought it was a little strange why someone in a smart and sophisticated tuxedo was there, looking really out of place in the dingy surroundings. The thought came and went, though, since Masuda was pretty sure he would never see this man ever again – he was probably lost or something. So up he climbed, collected rent from Koyama, and continued on his merry way.
The next month, he was collecting rent again and he was about to knock on Koyama’s door when it flew open anyway. Masuda jumped, coming face to face with the guy-in-suit from last month, Koyama behind him, smiling happily.
“Ah, Masuda-san! Come in!” Koyama said, cheerily tugging Masuda inside as guy-in-suit gave him a brief glance, then left. “I’ll see you next month, Nishikido-kun!” Koyama called out to him as the door closed. Masuda stared at the door, slightly confused.
“Would you like some tea?” Koyama’s voice filtered into his mind, and Masuda snapped out of it.
“Oh, no, that’s not necessary. I’m just here to do the monthly rent thing,” he replied, whirling around to face the kitchen, where Koyama was busying himself with a tea kettle.
“Actually, I have something to talk about first. Is that all right? Are you busy?” Koyama asked, gesturing for him to sit at the dining table.
Masuda sat and thanked him for the cup of tea when Koyama placed it in front of him. “I’m not busy – what’s up?”
“I was wondering, you know the apartment that Uchi-kun lived in? It’s still empty, right?” Koyama asked, sitting across the table from Masuda. When Masuda nodded, he continued. “See, that man that was leaving when you got here, Nishikido-kun? He’s been coming once a month to work out his creativity block, and he was thinking that maybe he should move here. He seems to think that a change of scenery would do him some good.”
“Eh? The one in the suit and tie?” Masuda asked, surprised. “Why would he want to move here?”
Koyama smiled, shrugging a little bit. “You know, I asked him the same thing, but all he said was that Avenue Q inspired him, so he wants to give it a try.”
“Huh…” Masuda wondered, sitting back in his seat, pondering this thought. He didn’t see how it could inspire people, but to each his own. “Well, if he really wants to, I don’t see why not. How soon is he thinking?”
“In a month or so. He actually lives by City Hall, and there’s some pretty hefty fines if he backs out on his lease before it’s up. He’s free in five weeks, give or take.”
Masuda nodded. “All right, I can do that. Just give me a call when he wants things with the lease squared away? I’ll leave communication up to you.”
“Awesome! Thank you, Masuda-san, really!” Koyama beamed. “He’ll fit in perfectly, don’t worry!”
“…why does that scare me for some reason?” Masuda laughed. “Anyway, is that all you wanted to ask?”
Koyama nodded. “Yep! Really, thank you so much!”
“Don’t mention it! No one else had inquired about the space, anyway. I’ll be going, then.” Masuda stood and pushed his chair in. “Oh, but first…”
“Hmmm?” Koyama asked, clearing the teacups from the table.
Masuda smiled sheepishly. “Rent?”
So it was arranged that Nishikido would be moving in, and as luck would have it, Hina got a job out in the suburbs, so he and Yoko would be moving out. Masuda was sad to see them go, but it had been what they wanted for a really long time now, and Hina promised they’d keep in touch. Masuda settled with this in his thoughts.
Yoko took it upon himself to throw themselves a going away party, inviting the rest of the building, and Koyama pitched in, making it an official welcoming party for Nishikido as well. It was quaint and small, a barbeque in the early evening kind of thing.
“Hey, Masuda!” Akanishi crowed, an arm already slung around Nishikido’s shoulder. “Did you know that this guy’s in the porn industry? His company put out some of my favorites!”
Masuda merely opened and closed his mouth a few times, then turned to Koyama for an explanation. The taller man just shrugged, but at least had the audacity to look sheepish.
“Patient confidentiality?” He supplied.
“Right, right.” Masuda sighed, although now he sort of knew what Koyama had meant when he said that Nishikido would fit in perfectly. He turned his attention back to Akanishi, who was in the process of selling Tegoshi to Nishikido, claiming that since he’s getting cast as all the perverts, he might as well get laid in the process. Tegoshi, in the meanwhile, was steadily aiming a soccer ball at the back of Akanishi’s head.
There was a tap on his shoulder, and Massu spun around to find himself face to face with Yamashita. “Yamashita-kun.”
“There’s someone to see you. I found him wandering around outside.” Yamashita turned and pointed to a young man standing a few yards away. He was around his age, looked awkward and like he was considering just running for it while he still had the chance. Masuda thanked Yamashita, and jogged over to him.
“Hi,” Masuda greeted. The other man nodded in greeting.
“Ah, hello. I was, um, looking around the area for an apartment, and Yamashita-san said to talk to you about it.” He shuffled nervously. “You’re the superintendent?”
“Yep.” Masuda nodded affirmatively and held out a hand. “Masuda Takahisa.”
“Kato Shigeaki, but most people call me Shige,” the other man replied, visibly relaxing a little bit as they shook hands. “So…I guess I’m asking, but do you have any vacancy?”
Masuda smiled, a little amused. “We’re not a hotel, you know. But yeah, actually, one of my tenants are moving out at the end of the week. It’s yours if you want it, I’d just need a week or two to get everything in order. And, well…you see the area. Rent’s cheap.”
Shige smiled, teeth pearly white, the corners of his lips turning upwards in relief. “Really? Oh, that’s really, really perfect. My parents are making me move out by the end of the month, so I was panicking for a little bit there, because if this fell through, then I’d be utterly screwed.”
“No one really competes for an apartment around here, trust me.” Masuda replied, returning the other’s smile. “Do you want to stay a little bit? Besides Yoko and Hina, everyone else lives here, so you can meet your neighbors a little early.”
“To prepare myself for all the porn talk, you mean?” Shige grinned. “I couldn’t help but overhear that part.”
“That’s Akanishi. If you’re smart, you’ll just let him talk and don’t pay him any attention.” Masuda shook his head, then swung an arm over the other’s shoulders, leading him back to the others.
“Akanishi. Got it. Anyone else I should be wary about?” Shige asked, falling in step next to him.
Masuda laughed. “Come and see for yourself. They’re all really weird, I won’t lie…but you’ll get used to it.”