Won't you be my neighbor?


I don't really have time to be blogging today, but I need a break and I'm feeling verbose, so lucky, lucky you...

I wanted to write about my neighbors. There are two possible things going on with me+neighbors. The first is that I just have incredibly bad luck when it comes to neighbors. The second is that the problem is not them, it's me. Hopefully after reading these total unbiased accounts of my neighbors, you'll be able to decide for yourself which is the problem.

Note that I am leaving out dorm neighbors here, because that is a whole other problem.

Case study #1: "Arg Fuck"
My junior year in college, I lived in an apartment with my then-boyfriend, Simon. It was my first long-term experience living off-campus and on my own. Retrospectively, the tiny apartment was kind of a hellhole, but at the time I was quite excited.

Or I was excited until I experienced Arg Fuck. Arg Fuck was my next door neighbor, an emaciated man with long stringy hair. Arg Fuck was, in my best guess, a man with a small methamphetamine problem. Or perhaps a large methamphetamine problem. This became apart to Simon and I when we were awoken the first time by his midnight tantrums. These were the most extreme tantrums I have ever had the displeasure of listening to, at least thrown by an adult. They included what sounded like throwing furniture down the stairs and repeated yelling of "Arg! Fuck!" (hence the name). They included screamed phone conversations with one of many women. Then, one night, they included what sounded like physical assault of a woman. That was the first time we called the police. There were at least half a dozen other times in the space of about six months, and many of those came with added bonus of having him come pound on our door after the cops left and scream that he was going to kill us. Keep in mind that this man had a balcony adjoining ours. It was freaking scary. There was also an incident in which he smeared blood all over the walls of our hallway.

We complained to the police. We complained to the management. Nothing happened. It was awful. So after that I moved back to campus. Dorm neighbors may be loud and obnoxious, but at least they aren't usually frightening.

Case Study #2: Don and Pauline
After I graduated, I moved into this great house with two friends, Natalie and Jenny. The "house" was actually a tri-plex, with a small upper unit, a large lower unit, and a small basement unit. We rented the middle part, the landlord, Don, lived in the basement, and another woman, Pauline lived upstairs.

At first, it seemed like a good situation. Pauline was quiet, Don seemed like a pleasant old man (he was in his mid-80s, I'd say), and the house was great.

Then a few things came to our attention:
1. Our thermostat controlled Don's heat as well as our own--and he insisted it be way the fuck up all the time.
2. Don came into our apartment when we weren't there. All the time. He didn't even try to pretend he didn't. And there was a door that connected his place to ours, which locked only from his side. He often left us rambling notes, giving instruction, with many exclamation points and always signed off, "God bless."
4. Sometimes Don would come in when we were there. He called it an inspection. He was a WWII veteran. These occasions were very odd. He wanted to make sure we weren't repainting or anything, he said. What seemed more likely was that he was checking for alcohol and other contraband. He was not just a little bit Catholic and he had very specific ideas about what was and was not appropriate for three young women living alone to have around.
3. Don liked to make rules. No doing laundry at night (we learned of this rule when he came pounding on our door at 9pm when we were doing laundry, screaming at us about how inconsiderate we were), no washing your hair in the shower because it clogs the drain (yeah, right), etc. These rules were subject to change at any time and without any notice, and we may or may not be notified by screaming note or screaming voice.
4. Don was deaf. Don's living room was directly under ours, and although he otherwise lived pretty much in squalor, he had a giant big screen TV with cable. It was turned up so loud whenever it was on that we could not only tell whether or not he was watching a war movie or the Christian Broadcasting Network (his only two choices, apparently), but we could tell which war movie or what the sin of the day was.
5. After we'd lived there for a few months, Don tried to raise our rent by several hundred dollars a month, saying that he'd been mistaken about how much he charged us in the first place. This was only one of several times he tried this. We were always able to talk him out of it, but it was still weird.
6. I could go on and on about Don, but you probably get the idea.

Above us was Pauline. Have you seen What's Eating Gilbert Grape?. The mom in that movie was Pauline, both physically and temperamentally. She had some sort of condition that caused her to be very very obese. What exactly that condition was wasn't ever clear. At first, she was very nice, she invited us up and wanted to meet us, etc. (she was housebound). Then it became apparent that what she really wanted was three free caretakers. She'd call all the time, asking us to run to the store for her, and later to come up and rub her feet. Her heat was always on and her apartment was always at least 85 degrees. And it smelled bad enough to make you gag, literally. I felt sorry for Pauline, she was sick and lonely, but she was also very demanding. Then, one day, I came home from work and kept hearing this weird sound, like a cat crying. I went up to Pauline's apartment and found her on her kitchen floor, having fallen and not been able to get up. I had to call EMS and they send the fire department as well, to haul her back up. It was humiliating for her and for me. She went downhill after that and moved out and into a nursing facility a month or so before we moved out (which we did as soon as we could get out of our lease), and she died a few days before we left.

Case Study #3: The 1331 crowd
The next place I lived was a double-studio apartment in a very rundown building. The price was right, it was the first place I'd ever had of my own, and I was jazzed. And in general, my neighbors were OK. Except. Except that there was an old man in the building, an alcoholic who used to be the building manager and sometimes thought he still was, who would come knock on your door and solicit money. Except that my next door neighbor had a delinquent grandchild who beat on her door and threatened her in the middle of the night every now and again. Except that the person who lived above me bowled in his apartment every now and again. In general, though, it was a step up.

Case Study #4: Jack and Jill
The next place I lived was the upstairs bit of a really great duplex in a wonderful neighborhood. Well, wonderful except for the methadone clinic two blocks away. Anyway, I lived there with Mark and our friend Erica. Below us lived to student from my alma mater. They had annoying matching names, so I'll call them Jack and Jill. Jack and Jill were nice enough at first--they were in their first place, they were students, whatever. Then we realized a few things about Jack and Jill that were a bit annoying. Jack thought he was a musician and played a guitar and sang, often late at night. Jack was NOT a musician. Jack and Jill liked to have loud-ass friends over. Fine, they were college students, whatever. Normal annoyance. Jack and Jill also liked to have very loud, very melodramatic sex. They sounded like porn. We heard everything.

All of that was minor, though, in comparison to the laundry problem. The laundry problem was as follows: the shared washing machine and dryer in the basement was hooked to their water/electricity. They asked us the first week or so we moved in if we�d mind paying them back for the water/electricity we were using, and we settled on a figure of $25/month. We thought that was kind of odd, but didn�t think a whole lot of it, didn�t want to rock the boat, etc. We found out months later than their rent was $50/month less that ours. This was, at least in part, because they had to pay for our laundry use. When we confronted them with this information, they told us we had to keep paying or we couldn�t use the laundry. It turned into a gigantic battle involving the (extremely worthless) landlord. We eventually won, but they hated us from then on and there were a few nasty encounters.

Case Study #5: The jazz musician
This brings us to our current case. Mark and I love our house. We knew when we moved in that we�d be sharing laundry facilities with a man living in a one-room apartment attached to the back of our house. However, he was a nice-seeming old man in a wheelchair, we didn�t share any non-closet walls, and all we were going to be sharing was the washer and dryer, so we didn�t think it would be a big deal.

We were wrong. So wrong.

First, the annoyance was just his music. See, we were told he was a musician. We assumed, stupidly, that meant he was a real musician. He�s not. He plays what sounds like a little kids Casio keyboard. He likes to play it at 8am. Also, he does laundry nearly every day---at least three times a week, anyway.
However, those seemed minor things and we tried to make friends with him. Before we got a dog, we asked him if he would mind a dog around/in the yard, and he said no problem. This was important, because his back door/small deck faces out into the backyard. Which we didn�t realize was shared space. But it is. But I digress.

Once we got the dog, Chance was understandably scared and confused when he went into the yard and suddenly someone popped up out of nowhere in a terrifying machine (wheelchair). We told the Jazz Musician we�d be happy to work with him in making friends with the dog, etc., so he wouldn�t get barked at and stuff, and he said great.

But all he ever did was yell at the dog. To make matters worse, he spread food out not only on his deck (which is low�at the dogs nose level), but in the yard as well. And then yelled at Chance when he ate the food, as I would assume nature for someone of the canine persuasion to do. The Jazz Musician calls the food �bird feed,� but it consists not only of bread and crackers and stuff, but also of whole fruit, sausages, frozen peas, you name it. He also throws cigarette butts out, which the dog, being a dog, tries to eat. We asked him numerous times to stop this, explaining that it is very difficult for us to keep the dog away from him/his porch when there is free food there. He hemmed and hawed and then said he�d stop if we got him a bird feeder to use instead. We got one. He hasn�t stopped.

Recently, the Jazz Musician asked Mark if he could have a word with him. He will only talk to Mark, not to me. OK, whatever. What he told Mark was that he�d like me to stop
�invading his privacy� by �looking in his house� when I was in the yard with the dog.

Yeah. Right. Like I want anything to do with his scrawny ass. If I look at his house, it�s because I�m trying to make sure he isn�t out on the porch, poised to yell at my dog for no reason. However, he sits in his house with his blinds (sliding glass door) open 24-7, often in his underwear. Even though it looks out on what is supposed to be our yard. So I can see why he�d feel like his privacy was in question.

Things got worse when he got a prosthetic leg (he�s a diabetic who had to have one leg amputated last year, hence the chair). Now that he�s more mobile, he wants to use the yard more. And that means we have to keep the dog out of it, because he is certain the dog is going to attack him (which at this point I�m not sure I�d blame him for) or one of his family members (his grandkids come over sometimes, etc.) He says that he�s going to �teach the dog a lesson.� This is terrifying, because if all 87 pounds of him tries to teach my 110 pound dog any kind of lesson, it�s pretty obvious who will come out on the bad end of it. And if Chance hurts him, then Chance gets put down. So we have to keep Chance away from him.

For awhile we only took Chance in the yard on a lease (what exactly is the point of having a yard then?). Recently things came to a bit of a head and our landlord (who is fabulous and 100% on our side, or at least it seems that way) put a fence down the middle of the yard, separating about 1/3 for him and 2/3 for us. So hopefully that will take care of it.

Some more things about this particular neighbor? He is on 19 different types of medication for his various illnesses, yet he grows a giant pot plant outside on his deck and our yard reeks of ganja all the time, even at like 9am. He also occasionally throws loud fits, yelling and cursing at nobody, although it seems, from what I hear (since I care so deeply about him and his life), that he thinks someone is there. He�s also irritatingly incapable of discerning what is and is not recyclable and how it should be separated, so I always have to take his stuff out of our joint recycling bins and put it where it should be.

Keep in mind that these are just snapshots of my neighbor experiences. All of this really happened, but a ton of stuff I didn�t have the energy to write down happened as well. What do you think�is it them, or is it me?

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April 2012

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