and I are telling
Alma, our nice landlady, that we think it might be some sort of mental
disorder: Alzheimer's, maybe, or depression, or one of those funky
geriatric dementias that find you building furniture in your bathtub at
three o'clock in the morning. We don't mention that we think it may be
exacerbated by alcohol abuse ... that two or three times a week, we
hear him hobbling down the stairs at dawn with a Hefty bag
full of clanking glass. We don't want to sound like know-it-alls, after
all. But we do mention the hearing loss.
think he might be hard of
hearing," David says.
And an insomniac, I'd like to add. And a raging
obsessive-compulsive. And a really, really awful singer. That would
explain the radio blaring at all hours of the day and night ... the
endless ringing phones, never answered ... the 2 a.m. vacuum cleaner/3
a.m. clog-dancing/4 a.m. home-improvement projects. In other words, we
understand that his bizarre and inappropriate behavior may not be
entirely his fault.
landlady agrees with
us, although she's not nearly as charitable about it as we are. "He's
crazy old fudk," she says flatly.
who has been
reading *FootNotes* for any length of time will probably have to agree
with our landlady. Upstairs Neighbor Guy has been a thorn in our side
-- and a squeaky closet door in our ears -- for almost five years now.
Mostly it's the noise that drives us nuts. (Ironically, the
was fixed months ago, and yet he still manages to come up with
innovative new ways to wake us up at night.) But there are other
irritants: the erratic hours ... the shopping carts left abandoned in
the walkway outside our door ... the weird burning-food smells ... the
cigars ... the hostile laundry-room encounters. Lately, Alma tells us,
he has become dangerously paranoid. He won't allow her into his
apartment these days -- most of the time he won't even open the door
when she knocks -- because he's convinced that somebody is sneaking in,
whenever he's not home, and snooping through his personal belongings.
(Like anybody is going to be interested in a Salvation Army hide-a-bed
and a collection of dusty Pete Fountain records.)
... like ...
going koo-kooey in the head," Alma says, in her charmingly skewed
English. And she makes the universal sign for insanity: the twirling
finger next to her ear, the rolling eyes, the lolling tongue.
come to see our
nice landlady tonight out of sheer desperation. It's been two
weeks since I've had an uninterrupted night's sleep, and I can feel my
grip on reason and rational thought slowly beginning to loosen. I can't
focus at work. Everything I write sounds whiney and angry. I'm picking
fights with David for no reason. I feel depleted physically. When I
crawl into bed at night, a bleary twitchy mess, I'm filled with dread:
what will it be tonight? Bagpipes? Jackhammers? A cattle stampede down
the middle of the living room? Thursday night it was the pre-dawn
construction projects in his bathroom: I actually woke up at 3 a.m.,
the morning of the Fourth, to the sound of hammering and sawing
directly above my head. Friday and Saturday, he was moving furniture
and hand-scrubbing floors at two in the morning. Every night since
Sunday night it has been the tinny AM radio, blaring until long past
midnight. Upstairs Neighbor Guy may be able to get by on four minutes'
worth of sleep per night, but it's beginning to take its toll on me: I
feel tired and mean and headachey and intolerant and completely
incapable of dealing with life's tiniest hurdles. (See: Monday's cranky
encounter with the Junior Marketing Guy.)
time to take
I was simply
going to knock on Alma's door tonight and hand her a formal letter of
complaint. I composed the letter during my lunch hour today -- just
before I put my head down on my desk and slipped into a forty-minute
coma* -- and it's a masterpiece of diplomatic rage
and calculated compassion. ("All
previous efforts to deal with our neighbor directly have failed. We
feel that unless apartment management can help us find a solution, we
may have to consider moving out of the Palm Vista Apartments.")
At the very last minute, David decided to come along with me and help
me speak to the landlady directly. He says he's here to lend me "moral
support," although I suspect that he's actually
here to rein me in. In my current angry/agitated/sleep-deprived
condition, I would probably demand nothing less than the crazy old
fudkwad's head on a plate.
in a SHOPPING CART.)
complained about him?" I ask Alma hopefully. There is vindication in
numbers, after all. Surely somebody else hears the radio, for instance:
it snaps on at 9:30 p.m., just as I am drifting off to sleep, and it
blares unheeded until long past midnight. On these hot summer nights,
when everybody goes to bed with their windows open, the noise must
surely drift around the entire complex. But our landlady says no, there
have been no other complaints.
the only ones who hear him," she
she's right, of course. We are
the only ones who can hear him. Because of the way our building is
constructed -- because of the location of our two apartments -- we
exist in a weird isolated no-tenant's-land, without a lot of other
neighbors on either side of us to act as buffers ... or witnesses. It's
just David and I, in the ground-floor unit, and Upstairs Neighbor Guy
looming above us, like a sick, demented, noisy spider.
sick, demented, noisy
spider with a RADIO.
I know," I say to
our landlady softly, "is that I've got to get some sleep." I don't care
if nobody else can hear him in the middle of the night: *I* can hear
him in the middle of the night. And it's got to stop. Alma takes one
look at my exhaustion-ravaged face -- at the American-Tourister-sized
bags under my eyes -- and I can tell that she believes me.
can also tell that she
thinks there isn't a damn thing she can do about it.
write him another
warning letter," she says tiredly. David and I nod -- Yeah,
a letter would be great -- even
though we both know that a warning letter isn't the solution. Our nice
landlady knows it too, we're sure. A warning letter is like
slapping a Band-Aid on a malignant tumor. It may get his attention,
briefly -- it may alter his behavior for the next few nights, or the
next few weeks, or the next fourteen-and-a-half-minutes: who knows? --
and then we'll be right back to thumping furniture and shrieking smoke
alarms and middle-of-the-night radio marathons. The problem isn't
really ever going to be resolved until David and I finally move out of
this apartment ... or until he does.
until lack of sleep
turns me as koo-kooey as he
is, and I just don't give a fudk anymore.
to throw a rock?