The guy who lives above me won’t shut up. It didn’t occur to me when I moved in that when the building manager said the walls were thin, that extended to the ceilings as well. This guy has a deep, booming, middle-aged man voice. He talks quickly, sharply, at the aggressive, unconsidered pace of a working-class shmuck. The kind of guy that thinks talking louder means being heard better. He blathers on the phone night and day to Whoever. I think he is single and lonely. His evening conversations begin shortly after midnight. He’s warm in the night talks with Someone. His heavy chuckles tumble down into my room. He prattles along in a playful coo, several notches above considerate library level. A female friend perhaps? Long-distance lover? Some muddled intertwining of the two?
Whoever he talks to in the afternoon is either male or family. Here, he is much more combative. Insistent. He talks, but I can’t find many spaces (involuntarily eavesdropping) where he listens to the other end. And like a buildup of pressure in a stepped-on garden hose, the longer the pause, the more explosive the release. His rabid monologue turns into my droning background counter-melody, interrupting the flow of my (perfect, priceless) thoughts and the harmony of my seclusion.
The monk in me wants to channel this distraction into productive fire. The rabble in me wants to drag him from his hole and beat him to death with his Nokia.
I admit, my tolerance for neighbors has never been sterling. The rule is: if I’m aware of them, then there is a problem. In my mind, a neighbor is a neutral NPC at best, the closest thing I have to a real-life antagonist at worst. I project sad novellas and Tom Waits stories onto my neighbors in order to rationalize their existence as weirdos and idiots. Back at my previous apartment, there was Cat Guy. My bedroom wall was connected to the living room, and most mornings I’d wake up not to my alarm, but to him shouting commands at his cat:
Mssr. Cat, resoundingly impervious to the English language, and potentially all human languages (unverified), meowed back: an unintentional call-and-response, with both parties incorrectly assuming they were the caller.
In less aggravating moments, I’d simply hear Cat Guy’s hacking smoker’s cough, which sounded like if you filled a t-shirt cannon with mayonnaise. This would either directly precede or follow the waffling, leaden stench of cigarette smoke passing from his window to mine. Whenever his crufted-up lungs give out, I’m sure his cat will eat him.
Before that apartment, I lived with a series of dude roommates. This went surprisingly smoothly. There may have been a couple hey-can-ya-turn-that-downs, but whatever annoyances occurred, I was able to channel them through my empathy lobe and process them in my liver. I have a tolerance, is what I’m saying. But the body can only take so much poison in the form of other people.
Before that was college. College was college. What could I expect? College is where I learned to use earplugs and facemasks and for a little while developed the ability to sleep through the buzzing, chatting, chortling, slamming, stomping, tickling, snoring, braying, scribbling, gasping, sneering, groping, fondling, creaking, crying, sniffling, grunting, howling, crackling, scampering, laughing, writhing, sobbing, ever-present, ever-rumbling peopling.
A confession: I did have serious issues with my freshman year roommate. Look at him, just sitting there. In my space. I grew up an only child; I’ll take the blame for not watering that garden. I was young and angry. I was lonely and in an unfamiliar place. I spent nights on the phone.
A confession: age me forty years, and I was the guy who lives upstairs, yelling into the long distance, wishing himself elsewhere, all his neighbors hearing him, never heard.