Sunday, September 30, 2007


This weekend, after a month-long wait, the Time Warner cable truck rolled up to my apartment and produced a cable installer who brought with him my free-for-three-months cable box/DVR player.

The first thing the cable installer said to me was not what you might expect. It was not Hey or Hi there or How are things? Instead, the cable installer said, "Well, someone sure isn't going to be happy."

At first I thought he meant me. At first I thought he was about to give me some bad news about the cable--maybe that Time Warner had done a background check and found me unworthy of their services, that they weren't going to save me from the funk that has surrounded me for this month I've been separated from the Food Network and TLC. I was prepared to beg. I was prepared to get down on my knees and say, Please, sir. Anything. Do you want me to bake you a pie? A nice chicken dinner? Do you want a pork loin? A milkshake? And by the way, these are things I learned to make by watching the Food Network, so please, for the love of God, give it to me.

But the cable installer wasn't talking about my unhappiness. He gestured behind him and stepped back so I could lean out the door frame and see down the stairs and through the high doors and out to the street. Next to the curb in front of my house was a small red truck, and all of its tires were slashed. It looked ridiculous there, sunk and pitiful at the bottom of our granite steps.

"Oh," I said. Then I gasped. I was remembering the night before, 1:00 AM, 2:30 AM, 3:30 AM, the couple upstairs getting into a major row and screaming and stomping and throwing and slamming. At one point, their front door opened and one of them crashed down the stairs and out toward the street, only to return a few minutes later. If I were a betting woman, I'd put some money on the fact that the guy went out there and slashed the tires of his girlfriend's truck.

I don't know much about the people upstairs, but I do know that the red truck is not the man's car. I've seen him getting in and out of some Jeep. He is the only one I've ever had any interaction with. These interactions--every single one of them--have been odd, just a little bit off.

I can't claim the first-ever interaction. That distinct honor belongs to the Boy from Work. It was during my first week here, the week I had the BFW with me. It was a weeknight, after 11:00. There was a knock on my door--a big ferocious-sounding knock that echoed everywhere because I had no furniture to my name (except for a blow-up mattress) at that point.

At the time the knock bounced off the living room walls I was wearing pajamas of the sort that should not be paraded out in front of neighbors. The shorts were short. The cami was plunging. I froze and stared at the door, then told the BFW he needed to answer the knock, which he did. I stood in the bedroom, leaning as far out as I could without stepping into view. The conversation went something like this:

BFW: Hi?

The Guy: Hi. You new tenants?

BFW: Yeah. Well, sort of. I mean, my girlfriend is. This is her place. I'm just here helping her move in.

TG: Yeah? Where is she? I'd like to meet her.

BFW: Uhm, she's in the bathroom. She's getting ready for bed. It's kind of late.

TG: Oh. Well, you know what? Can I just tell you something? This is really strange. I was told they weren't accepting any new renters on this property because the guy who owns it is trying to sell it. I tried to sign another year lease but they wouldn't let me, and they told me they weren't letting anyone sign another lease. They gave me another six months and said that was all they could do.

BFW: Huh. Strange. I mean, there's a sign out front of the building that says For Rent!

TG: Right. I'm not sure what's going on here. I've just got that six month lease. Your girlfriend signed a year lease?

BFW: Yes.

TG: Huh. I just don't understand it.

BFW: Yeah, I don't know what to tell you. It sure is strange.

--Silence, silence, silence--

BFW: Well, I think we're going to get to bed now.

TG: Oh. Oh, sure. Okay. Right. Well, goodnight.

The BFW said the guy just stared at him and seemed completely content with standing silently in the door frame. "He's creepy," the BFW said.

"Well, yeah," I said. "Who knocks on a complete stranger's door on a Tuesday night after 11:00? Creepy people, that's who."

Later, this creepiness was confirmed. I ran into another one of the building's tenants out on the back steps one morning. She was out there in a ratty sweatsuit. She was smoking a cigarette like her life depended on it.

We said hi, exchanged pleasantries, then she gestured up the stairs. "Listen," she said. "Just so you know, you've got a weirdo living above you. You met that guy?"

"Not personally," I said. "My boyfriend did."

"Well, he's totally strange. He's always coming downstairs to try and get me to drink beer with him. My boyfriend does not like it one bit. He's just off. I think he has mental problems."

"Fantastic," I said, and then for the next few days I kept one cautious eye turned toward my front door, praying he wouldn't get it in his head that he wanted a proper introduction to me now that my boyfriend was gone.

Inevitably, of course, we had our first meeting. It was a Tuesday night at 8:15 PM when he knocked on my door again. I'd been in the kitchen with my hands in a sink of dirty dishes. I had Lowest of the Low cranking from my bedroom--turned up just enough so I could hear it in the kitchen. It was loud, but it wasn't offensive. And it was a reasonable hour.

I grabbed a towel and opened the door. The guy was standing out there in faded jeans, a gray t-shirt, and hiking boots. He had a slouching problem. He had stubble--but not the sexy kind; it was the vaguely serial killer kind.

"Can I join the party?" he asked. I half expected him to produce a six pack of beer from behind his back.

"What party?" I asked.

He jerked his head to the right, indicating my music. "Or do you want to join my party?" he asked.

I said nothing.

"We can sort of hear your radio upstairs," he said, and with that he gestured behind him, like there was someone there, someone who would back him up, someone who would chirp Yeah!

There was no one there. It occurred to me that maybe this guy had an imaginary friend or, if he was really crazy, an imaginary girlfriend.

"I'm really sorry about that," I said. "I was just doing some dishes and trying to make it more bearable. I'll turn it right down."

"Okay," he said. He gave me a look that was heavy with disappointment--like he was my dad and I'd just snuck in past curfew.

"I'm sorry to have disturbed you," I said, because I really was. I didn't know my music had been that loud, and I had no intentions of irritating my neighbors. At least not in my first month.

He disappeared up the stairs without another word. I went and turned the radio off and returned to soaping down my dishes.

Twenty minutes later there was another knock on my door. I considered not answering it. After all, I knew who it was, and there was absolutely no reason for him to be knocking on my door twice in one night. Or in one month, for that matter. I figured maybe he'd gone out for that six pack and returned with the intention of asking me to have a cold one with him. I wanted zero cold ones, especially in his presence.

But I did open the door. After all, he knew I was home. I gave him an expectant look as soon as the door swung back and he came into view. My look was one that said What? What now? What could you possibly want now?

He looked absolutely bashful. "Sorry about before," he said. If he were a cartoon man, he would've been drawn stubbing his toe into the ground, embarrassed-like. It was as if whoever had sent him down there in the first place--maybe the girlfriend (real or imaginary)--was now gone, and he didn't give a shit about how loud the Canadian rock was.

"No," I said, "it's fine. I didn't realize. I apologize again."

"No, no, no," he said. "Don't apologize. I need to apologize to you." He shrugged. "You know what? You should turn your music back up. Play it as loud as you want. No, really. Go ahead. Crank it up!"

I shook my head and started shutting the door in his face. Just the way everything was going--the way he was talking and acting--was off, and I wanted no part in his off-ness. "Nope, sorry!" I said. "Have a nice night!" And then I put the deadbolt on and returned to my bedroom.

The next time we ran into each other it was dark out. I was coming down the back stairs--which I almost never do because they are rickety and close. They are claustrophobic stairs. This house is an old, old house and its construction clearly shows that. The back stairs are outside and poorly lighted. They are stairs straight out of a Stephen King novel. And, considering he grew up about fifteen minutes away from here, it wouldn't at all surprise me if he had at some point in his life attended a get-together at this house, seen those back stairs, and said to himself, Now those are some creepy stairs. I'll remember those!

Anyway, I was coming down these back stairs in my teacher clothes. I still had my high heels on. I tend to clatter on stairs when wearing heels--I'm not a very graceful descender. And on these wooden stairs, I sounded like a clamoring moose. When I got to the bottom, I saw that the guy was standing outside his car. He looked up at me.

"Was that you making all that noise up there?" he asked. He said it as if it had taken me half an hour to get down the stairs. I may not be a graceful descender, but it does not take me more than a minute to get down that death trap.

"Uhm, yeah," I said.

"Well, I sure hope I don't get blamed for that," he said, and then he was on his way.

I wanted to turn around and stare. I wanted to say, Are you out of your fucking mind? Do you often get confused for a woman going down the stairs in her heels?

And besides, the two seconds of me clattering down the stairs was not going to bother anybody. That he'd even wasted breath on that type of exchange instead of a polite hey-how-are-you boggled my mind. I wanted to egg his car.

And then Friday night came. It was the first night that I was confident that the guy had an actual flesh-and-blood girlfriend because she was most definitely there, most definitely screaming at the top of her lungs. They fought gloriously: the slamming and stomping and pushing and breaking of things was impressive. I was up, so I found it an amusing late-night theater, but if it had been a school night I would've been royally pissed. But, as it were, it was Friday and I was on the phone with the Boy From Work, so I was able to give him a play-by-play.

"Oh God, oh God," I hissed. "One of them is coming down the stairs! Oh, someone broke something. Oh Lord."

Another door slammed and then a radio came on, full-blare. Angry rock music poured down into my apartment.

"Oh, you're fucking KIDDING ME!" I said. "My radio is too loud at eight-fifteen? It's one-thirty! What an asshole."

After awhile I fell asleep. It was 3:30 when I woke up to go to the bathroom. The two of them were still sort of going at it. They were out in the hallway now, but talking in more reasonable tones and coming down the stairs.

"You know what I have a problem with?" the girl asked.

I leaned closer to the door to hear what she said but couldn't.

The guy, too, said something inaudible. But then he raised his voice. "You know what I do have a problem with, though?" he asked. "People who are all hopped up on drugs."

At this point, they were right outside my door and headed for the next set of stairs to the main floor.

"Well," the girl said, "I'm on drugs right now, but for good reason."

And that was the last I heard from them. The next morning the truck was sitting on the curb looking like it had seen better days--millions of them, in fact. I'm guessing that during the initial outburst, the guy had been so filled with rage at what she was saying--and, boy, was she saying it in banshee-like tones--that he stormed down stairs, breaking beer bottles as he went. He went out to the front, where her truck was parked. He jimmied a knife out of his pocket and went to work, digging it deep into each tire's thick rubber sole. The slashes were elegant, long, impressive. And then he went upstairs ready to argue some more. Eventually, at 3:30, after they'd put their argument away and started to sew themselves back together, he had to take her home because there was no way for her to get there, what with her truck being deflated.

The next morning the cable installer was pretty impressed with the guy's work. "They really did a number on that," he said.

"I bet it was the couple upstairs," I said. "I heard them going at it last night. Real bad."

The cable installer smacked his lips together and shook his head. "Some people," he said. "That's just sad."

And then he came in with the little silver box that would deliver me back to the civilized world of What Not to Wear and Ace of Cakes. And that's just what he did--he delivered me back to the world of non-network TV. And the first thing I did was sit down and watch three back-to-back episodes of Making the Team: The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

What can I say? I think that was my quiet rebellion against the weeks and weeks of PBS programming I swallowed--much of it delightful, but it was no Clinton Kelly in a purple velvet blazer telling hopeless women why their wardrobe makes him want to vomit up his expensive lunch from Nobu.

Besides, I was pretty sure I wasn't the only one in the apartment building who might be tuned into CMT at that exact moment, watching limber girls do kick lines in hot pants. I had a sneaking suspicion that the couple upstairs, if they were both there at that moment, would be stretched out on their own couch with a couple beers cracked open in front of them, and they too would be marvelling at the way the girls' legs kept kicking, kicking, kicking, straight up into the afternoon sun, their whole bodies saying, Look at me! Look at me! Just look, look, look!


Jean said...

Holy crap! My favorite part of this post is that you called it "trashy."

And I watched the coolest wedding cake show on the food channel yesterday. Welcome back to the world of cable. I went three weeks without, and it was unbearable.

Diane said...

Please don't open the door for creepy man anymore! Seriously, you never know. I don't answer the door for anyone who wasn't invited, even if I know them. Unexpected visitors bring the worst news.

Jason said...

I might be the worst apartment neighbor ever. I'd have had the cops on your neighbors in a heartbeat, and I may have been at your door about the stereo, too.

I hate when my neighbors make sounds. When they walk heavily, or when they laugh too loud. I hate children in my vicinity who use their voices.

I need to move to a hermitage, I think.

But, yeah. Keep the kooks at a distance, please. If they kill you we have nobody to visit in Maine.

And that's the least bad part.

Jess said...

I know, I know... I'll be careful. I wish I had a peephole! Will someone make me a peephole?

Jason said...

For peepholes, you should see Kurt Vonnegut.