July 9, 2003

David 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. 

"We 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.

Our landlady agrees with us, although she's not nearly as charitable about it as we are. "He's crazy old fudk," she says flatly.

Anybody 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 infamous broken closet door 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.) 

"He's ... 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.

We've 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.)

It's time to take action.

Originally, 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 *desperation 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.


"Has anyone else 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. 

"You the only ones who hear him," she says apologetically. 

And 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.

A sick, demented, noisy spider with a RADIO.

"All 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.

I can also tell that she thinks there isn't a damn thing she can do about it.

"I'll 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.

Or until lack of sleep turns me as koo-kooey as he is, and I just don't give a fudk anymore.

Stay tuned.

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even my own DAUGHTER is yelling at me.