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Neighbors, Noise, and Living With One Another

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At approximately 6:14 this morning my downstairs neighbor came a-calling. She was irate because I’d woken her, as she says I do every day,  “dragging shit” all over the floor. I tried to tell her I’d covered all the chair and table legs with felt so they make not a sound, but she kept talking right over me, cursing like I do when I’m mad. “I don’t wanna listen to you,” she shouted, “I listen to you every fuckin’ night.”

“It’s morning,” I corrected her.

That’s how far apart we are. As she yelled, though, I figured out it must be my desk chair that’s making the noise – it’s on wheels that can’t be covered with fabric. I admit I would not want to be woken up by wheels rolling across a hardwood floor either. I guess I’ll have to buy a small rug. I won’t apologize to #109,  though – she was too nasty to rate an apology.

This was not the first time she’d come calling. Once when I ran across the room to pick up the ringing phone, she came up and told me to “walk a little lighter,” which kind of knocked me out. Did she think I was going to be running marathons up here? After that, whenever I swept the floor, or even so much as dropped something, she banged on the ceiling like a maniac. That’s why I put felt on everything: I’m not  inconsiderate, I just hadn’t realized my chair was so loud.

The irony  is, I write in the early morning hours partly because of all the noise around here. Most mornings I’m at my desk, and therefore in my wheeled chair, by seven. At 10:30 or so the guy upstairs gets out of bed, turns on his music, and stomps around; it feels like footsteps pounding on my head. Every minute he’s awake and  home he’s playing music, sometimes unbearably loud. I don’t hear music down here, though: what I get is the steady BOOM BOOM of the bass. If I’m writing I put on jazz to cover over it (lyrics distract me when I’m working).

I’ve spoken to #309 several times, and so has the building manager. After the first two visits, he lowered his music considerably, but it slowly began to drift into the upper decibels again. “It’s not that loud,” he said the third time I went up there. I stood still and listened. It really wasn’t that loud. He’s a young guy, his girflfriend’s there half the time, they want their music….I was almost ashamed. I decided to leave the kids alone.

A few hours after #309 gets up, the street beneath my window comes to life, as people return from work and kids from school or camp. When I moved here in March I didn’t realize I was moving into el barrio, but that’s exactly where I am. The street is the site of evening socializing, festive weekend parties, kids playing, and – worst of all – cars cruising, parking, and pulling out, all the while blasting music. People frequently leave their engines running, with or without music, for fifteen or twenty minutes while they go off somewhere. Not only is it noisy, but my apartment needs daily dusting, and if there’s that much dirt in the house, what must be going into my lungs?

One night a car was parked under my window, its radio so loud I actually couldn’t hear my own tv, the car’s owner nowhere in sight. Frustrated, not knowing what else to do, I tossed frozen string beans onto his windshield until he showed up; he was mad but couldn’t help laughing. I’m probably known as the Crazy Old Lady on the Second Floor.

I’ve lived primarily in apartment buildings since 1970, when  I took my kids and walked out of my beautiful ranch house in suburbia. I lived in New York City, where you expect noise, and never had a problem. In San Francisco, my upstairs neighbor complained about my singing. Yes, I sing once in awhile, and my voice is less than wonderful….but come on! The landlord sided with my neighbor;  she’d previously evicted the opera teacher who lived across the hall. I’m no opera lover, but I liked it when his students came for lessons – that sort of thing reminded me of New York. And yet the landlord gave me a condescending lecture, saying I had to “learn how to live in apartment buildings.” She felt perfectly justified about giving the opera singer the boot – so she sure wouldn’t hesitate to throw out someone who couldn’t carry a tune. My favorite part of this story, though, is the name of the complaining neighbor: Kathy Annoye. My son and I called her Ms. Annoy, and he used to get a thrill out of ringing her bell and running away.

Anyhow, in the here and now I’m sandwiched between one neighbor who’s noisy, and another who expects me to play dead, all of it going on against the backdrop of a soundtrack straight out of Mi Familia. I decided months ago that I can’t stay in this place, that I’ll move when the lease is up. But now with #109 cramping my style (I like to breathe) I’m thinking I’ll have to break the lease and get out sooner.

Next time I move I’m going to scrupulously assess every detail, from my neighbors to how many trees are on the street (very few here, but that’s another blog). I’m getting sick of these lateral moves – but maybe no place I live will be tolerable. Maybe life is the way Marge Piercy exquisitely said it at the end of Gone To Soldiers, when her Jewish characters leave Europe for Israel:


……of one set of problems is the beginning of another.

June 31st Update:

Yesterday I went to Office Maxx and purchased (for a whopping 40 bucks!) a hard plastic mat to put under the wheels of my chair. On the bus ride home a bizaare event occurred: a woman asked me where I got it, and told me why she needed one, and I told her my reason, ending with “My neighbor better not complain after I spent $40 on this thing.” Suddenly a voice somewhere nearby said, “And that neighbor is ME!” I looked up abruptly, and there she was, on the bus: #109. Can you believe she “caught” me talking about her? And then she just walked on to the back of the bus.

Meanwhile, this stupid mat slips around on the floor. I’ll probably kill myself on it.


4 responses »

  1. Ahhh, the joys of apartment living. I haven’t lived in an apartment for many many years, but still remember very well the trials and tribulations it brings.

    I once lived in a fairly nice duplex in what was once a quiet neighborhood. The duplex was unusual in that both units had full basements. Mine was partially finished, but the walls were all bare (unpainted) drywall. I decided to spruce up the joint by painting the walls, so I started the project by painting the common wall between the two units. About ten minutes into the job, the women next door started banging on the door, demanding that I stop the noise (a paint roller moving across drywall on the middle of a Saturday afternoon must be absolute torture, right?)
    The family living next door was an eccentric crew, to say the least. It was an Asian family, husband, wife, and 6 children all between the ages of infant to about 12. The odd thing was, I had never heard any evidence that anyone lived next door – not a peep! How a family with 6 young kids could manage to be absolutely silent was beyond comprehension. Anyway, long story short, I called the property manager, who talked to the neighbors and informed them I had his permission to paint, and told them to stop harrassing me. It wasn’t more than two months later I came home from work to find police cars lining the street in fromt of my house – the woman had drowned two of her children in the bathtub. I moved shortly thereafter.
    My husband managed a 24-unit apartment complex when he was in college, and has better stories to tell than I do.

    Good grief, what a story! Thanks for sharing it.–MS

  2. Marcy, thanks so much for sharing your noisy home stories, I can totally relate. We are going to make an offer on a new home this weekend and the main reason we’re moving is that I just want to get away from the noise of the neighborhood. Inside the house is fine, but I have to be outdoors to be sane. Once I’m sitting in my yard, oy, if it’s not construction equipment bothering me it’s the gardener’s blowers, the neighbor’s really loud air conditioner or somebody’s party. The new place will be on a half an acre, so hopefully my neighbors will be background noise instead of in my face noise.

    I’m so sorry to hear you may have to break the lease, I hope it’s not too expensive. But our sanity is worth a lot, and if you’re a writer you definitely need the space to do it. All the best to you!

  3. You’re lucky you can move to a quieter place-MS

  4. We’ll see, I’ve been looking for 6 years! When I first wanted to move a colleague of mine did a market analysis and it’s dated June 17, 2004. Prices are coming down, making things more affordable.

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