Sunday, November 13, 2016

Flexicore and neighbors

It's funny. When I first moved into an apartment complex, I was instantly introduced to the Neighbor Problem. I believe I have chronicled it here. Awakened by strange loud slapping sounds, which had entered my dreams as a little girl (why a girl?) in flip-flops running to catch the bus with her father on her first day of school, I came to slowly, looked bleary-eyed at the clock, saw 2:00 -- and realized no child was going to school at that hour, talking to her father; I awakened a bit more and realized my young asinine neighbors were having a loud vigorous conversation on their porch -- one of them slapping a cigarette pack against the palm of the hand, which I guess is a thing --  at 2:00 am. So I put on my white robe while shaking with adrenalic fury (I thought this was my future, forever), went out on my porch, and leaned on the railing and stared across the fifteen foot gap between us, until they noticed. They looked abashed or "creeped-out." They shuffled inside.

The next day I complained officially to the management of the complex. My neighbors were sent a letter. Or so I was promised. For the whole following year, the noise directly on the other side of my bedroom wall, and on the porch outside, seemed to get better. I also grew somewhat accustomed to the fact of having neighbors directly on the other side of my bedroom wall. When the video game thumping started on the occasional Sunday morning ... ba-ba-BA-BA-BOOM...BA-BA-BA-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM BOOM! -- I reasoned, it's Sunday. I suppose they must have their fun.

Then the complex was sold and the new regime raised rents drastically. I dug into the savings and moved to a condo building. We are all owners, not renters. Granted the units themselves are glorified apartments. Granted people move like crazy no matter where or what they "buy." Still you feel you have a "stake in the place," because at least on paper we have, all of us, vowed this will be home for the next thirty years. Somehow you surmise therefore it won't be as noisy at night. The association even has bylaws: the right of silence after ten o'clock. (I haven't heard of that since my school trip to Europe more than thirty years ago. We were scolded about disturbing people in the hotel. At that time my teen friends and I could not imagine such an outrageous, fuddy-duddy demand.) But why surmise that owners are quieter than renters? Perhaps it's really because there is no buck-stops-here landlord, for whom conflict resolution among probable transients is a very low-priority. We just keep quiet. Good fences make good neighbors because no landlord oversees the fence.  

(As an aside, thank God that when I unthinkingly watered my orchids on my old apartment porch just by sloshing water through them, and it all ran down in floods to the next two balconies, -- thank God  those units were empty by that time, with no one in them to complain about me.)

At least we mostly keep quiet. It happened, and this is what's funny (odd), that when I was awakened one dark early morning, here, now, by what I thought was the sound of raucous laughter above, from two people perhaps watching a movie, although startled enough to really feel the deep weakness in all one's limbs that comes from being jolted out of an absolutely sound sleep, I nevertheless wasn't as enraged as I had been before. Maybe renter's transience makes neighbors' habits seem more threatening, just because there are so many of them and you don't know your or anyone's future there. But, when I meet this one on the stairs ...I can sleepily vow... there are only twelve of us. When I go to the next association meeting ....

What seemed like laughter turned out to be sobbing. It went on and on, and moved from room to room above, varying with shouting. The f-bomb dropped frequently. It was entirely the woman making the noise, so exclusively that as I sat up and listened I thought she might have been on the phone with the ne'er-do-well. Certainly, there was a ne'er-do-well in the picture. Someone was the f-ing idiot and f-ing animal. Someone was told "I don't do that. I do not do that," a strange and serious thing to abruptly tell someone over the phone, weeping, at 4 in the morning.

After about half an hour, the noise stopped. If I had met her on the stairs anytime soon after, I might have asked -- somewhat nettled -- whether she had passed a bad night; or I might have said, my dear, it's none of my business but I know much more of your business than I should. You might want to keep it down. Only I have not seen her since.

There is nothing sinister or Hitchcockian, nothing murder-mystery going on. I think she may have thrown him out. More weeping resounded from above on a few odd afternoons the following week, and once when she and I were leaving our apartments at the same time, she took care to hold back her dog and stay on the third floor out of sight until I had gone. A week later still, the man upstairs, I'm almost sure it was him, pulled up in the dark of night, and seemed to trudge upstairs and down carrying bags. Then he drove away. Then, curiously, he returned. For there he was again, I'm pretty sure, taking the dog out himself one bright morning.     

What am I to make of it all? One of the selling points of the condo was the building's "Flexicore construction," the same as in parking garages I was told. "It's not going to come down," if the upstairs neighbor has a flood you won't be the first to know because the water won't go anywhere. "Practically soundproof." Yes, almost, except for serious and outraged, non-renter's sobbing. 

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