The Ex-Husband has
"I'm almost done
building your pizza oven!" he proudly announces, wiping sweat and
tomato sauce from his forehead with a greasy red bandana. "All we've
got to do now is drop the pipe organ into the swimming pool, and we're
He points to the courtyard just outside my apartment door.
Until now, there used to be a swimming pool in the middle of the
courtyard -- a swimming pool usually filled with ducks and garbage and
toys -- but now I see nothing but a gaping hole in the ground,
surrounded by mountains of dirt and broken concrete. A lone duck stands
perched on the tallest mound of dirt and quacks balefully.
Overhead, a military
helicopter is noisily lowering what looks like a massive Wurlitzer pipe
organ into the crater where the swimming pool used to be.
"That's for your
customers to listen to while they're eating pizza," The Ex shouts above
the noise of the helicopter. "We had to knock out your dining room
wall, but I think it's all gonna fit." And that's when I realize that
the entire front half of my apartment is simply gone. I can see all the
way through to the very back of the apartment, to the bedroom, where
David is curled in a knot beneath the blankets, snoring peacefully.
I am absolutely
furious with my ex. "This isn't what we agreed to at ALL!" I shout at
him. All I wanted was a goddamn pizza oven ... and now here he's gone
and destroyed my whole apartment! Plus the noise from the helicopter is
sure to wake David, and he needs all the sleep he can get.
"I want you to fix
this RIGHT NOW!" I scream at him.
The Ex-Husband shrugs.
"It's too late," he says nonchalantly. "I've already put down a deposit
on the helicopter, and it's non-refundable." We stand in front of my
ruined apartment and watch as the chopper drops another couple of feet
lower, until it is hovering directly above the hole in the ground ...
the pipe organ swaying precariously back and forth at the end of its
rope, like an abandoned tetherball in a playground breeze.
* * * * * *
I am wrenched from sleep by the
sound of a helicopter flying low and menacingly over our apartment
It takes me a minute to orient
myself: to realize that the helicopter noise is real, that I'm awake,
that I'm not imagining things, that it's not a Dream Helicopter
lowering a pipe organ into the swimming pool outside. From the sounds
of things, the helicopter is positioned directly above our building: I
can actually feel the vibration of the engine and the chopper blades
shaking our bed, as though somebody snuck into the bedroom while we
slept and attached a Magic Fingers machine to our mattress. If it
weren't so teeth-rattlingly loud, it might not be completely
It takes me another
minute to question why a helicopter is hovering above our dinky little
apartment building at 3:15 a.m.
This is my third or fourth
unexplained helicopter encounter in the past two days. I'm not talking
about the traffic helicopters swooping back and forth above 880
every morning and every evening: those are as much a part of our daily
commute as tailgaters in the Tube and protesters on the street corner.
I'm talking about the big, black, vaguely predatory-looking helicopters
you see in nightmares, or in 'Die Hard' sequels. Twice we saw one coming in for a landing on Coast Guard Island
while David and I were driving to work; yesterday afternoon I watched
one hovering above the Oakland Coliseum for almost thirty minutes,
while I sat at my desk typing soil density reports.
And now we've got one of these
noisy behemoths buzzing our apartment in the deep dark hours of the
I briefly consider crawling out
of bed and investigating the situation further: maybe tiptoeing outside
to the courtyard, to see if I can catch a glimpse of the pilot ...
maybe grabbing the digital camera and snapping a picture for the
website ... maybe turning on the TV or the computer and checking the
news, just in case there has been some ominous overnight development
while we slept. But I can't quite make myself get out of bed. The
thought of running into one of our neighbors in my crusty sweatpants
and my 3 a.m. hair is bad enough.
The thought of hearing about
any 'ominous new developments' in the middle of the night is even
The windows above the bed are
rattling in earnest now. Maybe I should wake David,
I'm thinking. He would probably find all of this interesting.
All I would have to do is poke him gently in the ribs with my big toe,
three or four or eleven times in a row. But in the end I can't quite
bring myself to do that, either. Sleep has become a precious commodity
for us both in recent weeks: between my back problems, his sinus
problems, war anxiety, Tot anxiety, Upstairs Neighbor Guy practicing
his clog dancing at 2 a.m., neither one of us is getting as much
shut-eye as we require in order to function effectively these days. I'm
not about to yank him out of what looks to be a perfectly good REM
sleep just so he can look at helicopters with me.
Instead ... I bunker down into
the blankets and decide to wait it out.
After a couple of minutes -- it
seems like a lot longer than that, but the clock says it's only been
two minutes -- the helicopter departs just as suddenly as it arrived. I
listen as it abruptly lifts itself straight up into the air, then
pivots around with a roar and heads due west, toward San Francisco. The
silence, once the helicopter has departed, is almost as deafening as
the noise itself. It takes at least five minutes for the throbbing in
my eardrums to subside ... for the pounding of my heart to ratchet
itself back down to normal. I wrap the heating pad around my lower
back, pull the top blanket over my head and begin the long patient wait
for sleep to return. Something tells me that the sound of helicopters
-- like sirens screaming past our window at night, like the radio
always running at work, like the emergency siren drills on the first
Wednesday of the month -- is just another one of those wartime
background noises I'm going to have to have to get used to.
Especially if I ever want to
get any sleep at night again.