December 14, 2001
Intimate Strangers

I am nearly as familiar with his bathroom habits as I am with my own.

I know when he goes, how long he goes, when he flushes, IF he flushes, and if he washes his hands after. I know that he leaves the bathroom door open sometimes. I know that he prefers baths to showers, but that when he does take a shower the water runs for at least forty minutes.

I know that he doesn't sing in the shower OR in the bathtub.

I am equally familiar with his sleeping habits. Basically: he doesn't have any.

I know that he uses a typewriter instead of a computer -- a rickety ancient portable, from the sounds of it -- and that he types approximately four words per minute. I know that he uses a carpet sweeper instead of a vacuum cleaner, even on the linoleum. I know that he is fond of cigars, talk radio, "Wheel of Fortune" and fried onions. I know that he doesn't like to answer his telephone, ever, and that he rarely opens his door to visitors, regardless of how insistently they knock (or how officially they announce themselves).

I know that he hasn't fixed his fudking broken closet door in three years.

I know an awful lot about the man ... but until this morning, I probably wouldn't have recognized Upstairs Neighbor Guy if he fell through the ceiling and landed naked in the middle of our bed. Such is the weirdly remote/weirdly intimate nature of upstairs/downstairs neighbors. I think I've seen him two or three times, tops, in the three years I've lived beneath him. Both times it was from a distance. We drove past him once, as he stood waiting in the rain at a bus stop; another time I saw him carting a miniature basket of laundry across the courtyard. I remember peeking into the basket -- a couple of towels, a pair of socks, not much else -- and thinking Bachelor.

So it comes as a surprise this morning -- as David and I are walking out the front door of our apartment, on our way to work -- to see this old, gnarled, wizened gnome making his way slowly down the stairwell ... one laborious step at a time. I realize immediately that this is HIM.

The Evil One.

Interrupter of Sleep. Intruder of Intimate Marital Moments. Spoiler of Pleasant Dreams Involving Jacuzzis and/or Matt Lauer.

"That's our guy!" I whisper to David, and he nods, a quick, tight, be quiet he can hear us nod. We politely step to one side, allowing Upstairs Neighbor Guy to squeeze past us. He is incredibly tiny -- he barely reaches the top of my shoulder -- and he has one of those long droopy faces that seem inappropriately large for the rest of his body. There are no words exchanged between us as he passes. We do not make eye contact with one another. As he shuffles by, all pained effort and exhausted dignity, I catch a whiff of cigars and onions.

"You know," I say to David quietly, as soon as Upstairs Neighbor Guy is safely beyond earshot, "it's a lot easier to hate him at 3 a.m."

David nods again. This, too, he understands. There have been nights when we have both been driven to the brink of madness by the sound of that derailed closet door, thudding and squeaking back and forth directly above our heads. For three years I have wanted to march upstairs and demand to know: Why the bedroom closet? Why 3 a.m.? What in the world can be so goddamned fascinating and compelling and IMPORTANT in that closet of yours at 3 a.m. every morning?? I have often prayed, if not for his outright demise, then certainly for his eviction. I've made fun of him on my website. I've complained about him to the resident manager. (She swears that she fixes his closet door -- whenever he will allow her into the apartment -- but four minutes later, it's broken all over again.) I have hated him about as completely and as fervently as any neighbor I've ever hated in my lifetime. (More than Mrs. Pearce, Nutjob Cindy and Joe "When A Man Loves A Woman" in B-16, put together.)

But right now -- watching him hobble along the walkway with his dirty umbrella and his empty canvas shopping bag -- all I can think is He's old and he's alone.

Suddenly I know what I'm going to do with that extra box of sugarless chocolates I got in the mail the other day. I ordered one box as a Christmas present for my dad, but Figi's accidentally sent me two identical boxes of the same candy. I was planning to drop the extra into the Food Bank bin at Albertson's, next time David and I went grocery-shopping ... but this might be even better, from a karmic standpoint. I could wrap the candy in a little leftover Santa Claus wrapping paper -- maybe stick a bow on top -- and leave it in front of his door, anonymously, a day or two before Christmas ... along with some groceries, a holiday card, a couple of cigars ...

... and a bucket of axle grease for his closet door.

tell 'em secra sent you

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~ nil bastardum carborundum ~

thank you for the birthday flowers,
jaymi, joel, "kyle" & "kacie"!
[they're even prettier than the flowers "david" sent me!]