Neighbors always present a challenge when you're living in an apartment complex or a house divided. Over the years on this blog, I have cataloged some of my interactions with noisy, obnoxious, and asshole-thug neighbors, but they weren't all bad, and as long as we're living in an apartment, the subject never really gets old, so I decided to revisit it.
When my wife was in graduate school, before we got married, she lived in an apartment alone, and I would visit her for long weekends. Sometimes a crazed, drunken man would huff gasoline with a garbage bag over his head and scream incessantly, blind kung-fu battling invisible demons in the alley beneath her bedroom window, waking us at all hours of the morning. We called the cops, but it kept happening.
My wife and I are now on our third rented living space in seven years, and as long as we're sharing walls, floors or ceilings with other tenants, I'm convinced that memorable encounters will abound. It's amazing how reliant we become on the kindness of strangers when choosing to live in these structures, but until we are able to actually afford a free-standing home of our own (or afford to borrow enough to "afford" one, like most people do), I don't think I'll run out of neighbor material.
The first place we lived--the huge old house over the grand basement where Write Club (RIP) once flourished--was divided into four apartments, and we claimed the bottom floor. I wrote about the basement, but I feel like I left a few characters out of the story.
There was a guy named Jackson who lived alone upstairs, a pony-tailed, flip-flopped, partially hearing-impaired math tutor and blues guitarist who was a real sweetheart of a guy who belted out U2 songs at the top of his lungs and from the heartfelt depths of his tortured soul for extensive and unpredictable sessions at entirely random hours.
There was Sadie and her sister Sally, the quiet brunette sisters who lived upstairs opposite Jackson and rarely spoke but shared a tendency to date BMW-driving frat dudes who would park behind my work truck and 30-foot barn trailer, blocking me in and causing early-morning conflicts. There was the precocious puppy that one of the sisters brought home and his marathon indoor shuttle runs alongside one of the heftier boyfriends, whose footfalls reminded us of someone dropping dumbbells on our bedroom ceiling at three in the morning.
There was Andrew, a huge guy with a huge truck who was nice as could be and had been a classmate in my SCUBA course. He lived in the tiny studio apartment above Jackson, Sadie and Sally. His giant SUV with tires nearly up to my shoulder, each worth more than my old Toyota, would take up half the parking lot. Just the storage rack on top of that monster truck could have held nearly everything I owned at the time.
There was Cliff from next door, the bald, jolly teacher who reminded me of Frank Black of the Pixies but with Tom Waits' gruff baritone voice tweaked by a slight touch of southern accent. Just before Cliff moved away, we bought a large portion of his enviable albeit well-worn paperback novel collection for a song.
There was Cliff's replacement, a troubled young war veteran named Alan, who may have had Turret's Syndrome and didn't seem to work but would come home with groceries and sit alone in his pickup truck outside our kitchen window at night, his long straight hair drooping over his twisted face as he screamed obscenities at his invisible tormentors until he had calmed himself enough to bring in the food.
Next door to Cliff and then Alan there was Layla, a short, feisty young woman with a fiery shock of red hair, a fondness for blue eye shadow, tight brown T-shirts and frightening fake fingernails, and Bobby, her rail-thin, seven-foot-tall beau, he of the braided, beaded facial hair, oversized clown pants and bowling shirts, backwards trucker hats, do-rags and turquoise bolo ties.
Bobby and Layla's torrid love affair would regularly spill out into the parking lot we shared with public displays of passion and rage, at times including From Here To Eternity-style makeout sessions on the hood of Layla's Camaro but usually concluding with four middle fingers aloft, a Fuck You! screaming contest and the squealing, smoking tires of her caramel burst-colored, ground-effected, glass-packed, t-topped, rear-windshield louvered Iroc-Z, which was usually back in our parking lot by the next day.
The next place we lived featured a cast of characters all its own, many of whom I have written about here previously. An apartment complex with dense clusters of eight-unit buildings, this little village hosted a revolving door of residents. A college buddy of ours moved in to the building next door to us in an upstairs unit. He was soon joined by a memorable downstairs neighbor who, despite being a scrawny teenager and working at a fast food restaurant, fancied himself a very tough gangster and was fond of enacting mock executions of his live-in girlfriend.
According to reports from our friend who lived above this budding Scarface, he was subjected to a loud downstairs ruckus on a regular basis. After long sessions of fucking, fighting and puking (yes, puking), followed by more of each phase of the process in the same sequence (I think the girlfriend was doing the puking), this young man would yell:
"WHERE MY PHONE, BITCH? WHERE MY GOT-DAMN PHONE?"
This could go on for hours. Once he found the misplaced cell phone, he would yell (presumably pointing at his lady with either a real or imagined firearm):
"POW! POW POW, POW! BITCH, YOU DEAD NOW! HA!"
At this point, the cycle of love and sickness would begin again. We felt sorry for the cute little pit-bull puppies who were left chained outside of the ground-floor apartment most of the time. We wondered how Little Scarface afforded two blinged-out hoopties (older cars tricked out beyond their actual value with absurd, oversized, sparkling, spinning rims and other useless, flashy accessories) on his fast-food salary.
When this same friend of ours lived upstairs in another section of the same apartment complex, a very small man lived underneath him with a very large woman. The very small man would sit outside with a cooler drinking cans of cheap beer for hours and was usually quite drunk. Late at night, his wife would (presumably) attempt conjugal relations. Our friend would awaken to the regular sounds of the downstairs struggle:
"GIT THE HELL OFFA ME, WOMAN! WHAT DID 'AH JUSS TELL YOU? GIT 'DA HAYULL OFFFFAA MAY, GOD DAMMMMMIT!!"
Unfortunately for our friend, who had moved from this apartment to get away from the coupling-couple noise, he was then subjected to Scarface and his frantic antics in the next building over.
For the first year at our next luxurious (sarcasm) apartment residence, we became acquainted with a few more characters. We lived underneath a family of four who shared another small one-bedroom apartment identical to ours: a mother, father, grandmother and toddler. The floors were thin and cheap, and the family was energetic. They would stomp all over the place throughout the days and nights. If they were home, we lived in torment.
The reasonable yet ineffectual husband would smile and attempt to negotiate when we complained, and when proximity and chance would force us to cross paths with the furious wife and grandmother, they would glare at us, seething in silence, eyes searing embers of hate.
"HI!" I would smile and wave, "HOW ARE YOU?"
They were disgusted and we quickly followed suit. Negotiations failed. When the pounding upstairs noise was particularly intolerable, we would pound on the ceiling in return. I used a baseball bat and my fists. My wife slammed kitchen cabinet doors. They would call the landlord. We'd have multiple mediated summits to try and come to amicable understandings, but wife and grandma could not be bothered to attend. It was never resolved until they moved away two weeks before the holidays. That year, an empty upstairs apartment was the greatest Christmas gift we had ever received, and we briefly considered actually renting the upstairs place in addition to ours, just to ensure that nobody moved in.
Not long after we first moved in, I was walking down the alley behind our building with my Mom, who was visiting from out of town. When we noticed what looked like a fire on the back deck of a building nearby, we assumed that someone was grilling food. As we approached, we noticed that no one was around and that the deck itself was indeed on fire. I spotted a hose and scrambled underneath the deck to try and put out the flames, as my Mom yelled for help. Nobody was around. There was no spigot, so the hose was useless, and I called 911. A firetruck came and saved the building without much trouble, but they suspected arson. I never read or heard a word about what had happened, but (presumably) someone tried to burn down a country music hit factory.
One Sunday morning, we heard low bass lines slowly building to a surging, wailing crescendo through the living room wall. The dirge would gradually diminish and then gradually increase in volume and go through the pattern again...over and over. I'd had enough after three hours and went next door to ask for a break, when our neighbor came to her door in a pink bathrobe carrying a tissue box and weeping openly. I asked if she could turn it down and if she was okay, and I'm not sure in which order. She said "Yes, I'm sorry, it's just that someone has died..." Later I realized that she must certainly have been watching the epic, televised funeral for Whitney Houston, which went on for several hours and involved a live band.
Another neighbor, a friendly, rotund fellow of perhaps 50 who may be short a marble or two, lurks creepily on the walkway upstairs while smoking cigarettes at random hours. I don't think he means to be creepy. I think it's great that he keeps an eye on the building for everyone, but he often startles my wife, who enjoys growing vegetables and herbs in containers outside the building. As she's tending her plants, from the balcony he'll mutter in his low, creepy voice:
Then he'll tell her how beautiful she is looking. When he catches me outside, he usually talks about his plans for having sex with as many women as possible, eating cheeseburgers and getting NASCAR tattoos. Another neighbor started leaving trays of bird seed outside, near my wife's plants. Nice idea, right? Who doesn't like birds? Well, the seed attracted rats.
Yes, rats. Not so nice.
One day recently, home for a sandwich on my lunch hour, I noticed that a "Hot Dog Party" was happening across the street. I could tell because there was a PA system set up in the parking lot, and between singer-songwriter performances, the free hot dogs (and frisbees) were being aggressively promoted. I was tempted to head over there for a free hot dog and a frisbee, but I was repelled by the very loud and live country music. It went on for hours.
When I got home from the office, I noticed that the parking lot had been cleared of the tents, staging and band equipment, but now, even from inside the apartment, I could hear a drunken chorus of singers belting out acapella 80s hits from Bon Jovi and Def Leppard. I went outside, suspecting the frat party house not far from our apartment building. A woman next door appeared at the same time, also wondering where the racket was coming from. Together we discovered that a group of party stragglers from the Hot Dog Party were on a rooftop balcony, determined to keep the weekday afternoon event going strong for as long as possible.
Just the other day, a crazy man in the alley a few buildings down from us screamed at the top of his lungs for no apparent reason. We were driving by slowly and had come to a stop to talk to an older couple standing outside. The crazy man emerged from behind a car and screamed (to anyone who would listen, but increasingly directed in our direction)
"FUCK YOU! I WRITE SONGS! WHO ARE YOU? FUCK YOU! I WRITE SONGS, GOD DAMN IT! FUCK YOU! I WRITE SONGS!"
"I'm not talking to you; I'm talking to them," my wife (the therapist) said calmly, pointing to the older couple, and he started up again and shuffled in our direction, yelling loud enough that we couldn't hear the elderly couple anyway, so we rolled on by and called 911 again. Once I told the operator what was going on, she said
"Oh yes, we've had two calls about this guy already. We're on our way."
I wonder what the hell his problem was, but hopefully he didn't hurt himself or anyone else. I have no idea what happened to him. Maybe one day we'll have a free-standing home of our own, away from crazy random loud weirdo neighbors and all of these adventures in apartment living that come along with them.