December 14, 2001
nearly as familiar with his bathroom habits as I am with my own.
when he goes, how long he goes, when he flushes, IF he flushes, and if he washes his hands after. I know that he leaves the bathroom
door open sometimes. I know that he prefers baths to showers, but
that when he does take a shower the water runs for at least forty
know that he doesn't sing in the shower OR in the
equally familiar with his sleeping habits. Basically: he doesn't have
know that he uses a typewriter instead of a computer -- a rickety
ancient portable, from the sounds of it -- and that he types
approximately four words per minute. I know that he uses a carpet
sweeper instead of a vacuum cleaner, even on the linoleum. I know that
he is fond of cigars, talk radio, "Wheel of Fortune" and fried onions.
I know that he doesn't like to answer his telephone, ever, and that
he rarely opens his door to visitors, regardless of how insistently
they knock (or how officially they announce themselves).
know that he hasn't fixed his fudking broken closet door in
know an awful lot about the man ... but until this morning, I probably
wouldn't have recognized Upstairs Neighbor Guy if he fell through the
ceiling and landed naked in the middle of our bed. Such is the weirdly
remote/weirdly intimate nature of upstairs/downstairs neighbors. I
think I've seen him two or three times, tops, in the three years I've
lived beneath him. Both times it was from a distance. We drove past him
once, as he stood waiting in the rain at a bus stop; another time I saw
him carting a miniature basket of laundry across the courtyard. I
remember peeking into the basket -- a couple of towels, a pair of
socks, not much else -- and thinking Bachelor.
it comes as a surprise this morning -- as David and I are walking out
the front door of our apartment, on our way to work -- to see this old,
gnarled, wizened gnome making his way slowly down the stairwell ... one
laborious step at a time. I realize immediately that this is HIM.
of Sleep. Intruder of Intimate Marital Moments. Spoiler of Pleasant
Dreams Involving Jacuzzis and/or Matt Lauer.
"That's our guy!" I whisper to David, and he nods, a quick, tight, be
quiet he can hear us nod. We politely step to one side,
allowing Upstairs Neighbor Guy to squeeze past us. He is incredibly
tiny -- he barely reaches the top of my shoulder -- and he has one of
those long droopy faces that seem inappropriately large for the rest of
his body. There are no words exchanged between us as he passes. We do
not make eye contact with one another. As he shuffles by, all pained
effort and exhausted dignity, I catch a whiff of cigars and onions.
know," I say to David quietly, as soon as Upstairs Neighbor Guy is
safely beyond earshot, "it's a lot easier to hate him at 3 a.m."
nods again. This, too, he understands. There have been nights when we
have both been driven to the brink of madness by the sound of that
derailed closet door, thudding and squeaking back and forth directly
above our heads. For three years I have wanted to march upstairs and
demand to know: Why the bedroom closet? Why 3 a.m.? What in
the world can be so goddamned fascinating and compelling and IMPORTANT
in that closet of yours at 3 a.m. every morning?? I have
often prayed, if not for his outright demise, then certainly for his
eviction. I've made fun of him on my website. I've complained about him
to the resident manager. (She swears that she fixes his closet door -- whenever
he will allow her into the apartment -- but four minutes later, it's
broken all over again.) I have hated him about as completely and as fervently as
any neighbor I've ever hated in my lifetime. (More than Mrs. Pearce,
Nutjob Cindy and Joe "When A Man Loves A Woman" in
B-16, put together.)
right now -- watching him hobble along the walkway with his dirty
umbrella and his empty canvas shopping bag -- all I can think is He's
old and he's alone.
I know what I'm going to do with that extra box of sugarless chocolates
I got in the mail the other day. I ordered one box as a Christmas
present for my dad, but Figi's accidentally sent me two identical boxes
of the same candy. I was planning to drop the extra into the Food Bank
bin at Albertson's, next time David and I went grocery-shopping ... but
this might be even better, from a karmic standpoint. I could wrap the
candy in a little leftover Santa Claus wrapping paper -- maybe stick a
bow on top -- and leave it in front of his door, anonymously, a day or
two before Christmas ... along with some groceries, a holiday card, a
couple of cigars ...
and a bucket of axle grease for his closet door.