You Don’t Know What You Got Till It’s Gone
I know that Takashi* and Sung* had to move forward with their relationship. (*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the innocent, who, if you read on, you will find to definitely include Takashi and Sung.) I know that the time had come for them to shack up together in one of the coveted two-bedrooms in this rent-stabilized tenement. I could even accept that they were ahead of us in line for the two-bedroom, even though Takashi and Sung, being cohabiting lovers and not roommates, only require one bedroom. I just didn’t think that the progression of Takashi and Sung’s relationship and its evolution into apartment C5 could have such negative repercussions for Weinstein and Schiff, Apt. A2.
Takashi and Sung (whom I only know by the names on their mailboxes, having never exchanged with either of them more than a cordial hallway “hi”) were a couple who lived in two separate apartments across the lobby from one another. Whether they were neighbors who became lovers or lovers who became neighbors I could never discern, but every so often I’d catch one of them in the lobby wearing pajamas, en route to the other apartment. I could also never tell whether they maintained the two apartments as independent residences, or whether they were sleeping in one and working in the other, or some such arrangement. All I know is that we never had any trouble.
Takashi, by all appearances, was a jazz musician. Still is, I’d imagine, but he’s up on the third floor now, with Sung, and pretty much out of sight and mind. The beauty of Takashi is that even when he was right next door, he was also pretty much out of sight and mind. He would come and go at odd hours with his bass on his back, and sometimes I’d hear the faint sounds of him practicing next door as I sat up late reading and writing and alphabetizing my books (never, you know, smoking and drinking and ranting). The major evidence of Sung’s existence in the building were rare sightings in the lobby, and whatever she did made no sound at all.
Then one day the only family in the building with young children produced one too many and moved to Philadelphia. Takashi and Sung moved upstairs, and we got new neighbors, and all hell broke loose.
The new neighbors are not jazz musicians. The new neighbors are not up at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday, and they don’t like it when we are. They express this to us by banging loudly on the wall between our two apartments, so loudly that the picture frames rattle, so loudly that we scream and jump and cower in the corner. Have you ever seen two grown but very short women cower in a corner of their own nice but very small apartment? It’s a sad sight.
For the last year and a half, there has been an escalating struggle along the once-peaceful border between apartments A2 and A3, and it’s starting to take its toll on everyone involved. A peace has never been brokered, and a peaceful solution has never been tried. One day we lived happily in our little home, half a living room, two bedrooms, two iBooks, two New Yorkers, three Netflix DVDs, $250,000 worth of undergraduate education, a dozen different knds of hair care products, countless neuroses, a half-eaten avocado in the fridge at all times. About an equal number of boyfriends and panic attacks per year for both of us, perhaps fewer boyfriends and more panic attacks than we would have chosen, but enough of each to keep us humble and things interesting. We counted our blessings and went about our self-absorbed striving. And then suddenly, it seemed, we found ourselves in a state of constant fear and aggression that hasn’t abated in months.
All we are ever doing when they pound on the wall is talking normal tones and maybe listening to some music at normal volume. Sometimes on a Saturday at 11 p.m. and sometimes on a Wednesday at 2 a.m. Sometimes we have guests over, and these neighbors and their pounding are frightening our guests. They are making us look like bad hostesses. And while there are very few norms of social interaction to which I subscribe, being a good hostess is something I take very seriously.
I refuse to acknowledge that there is anything out of the ordinary about the schedule we keep in A2. The way I see it, some people choose to work between nine a.m. and five p.m. and sleep between ten p.m. and six a.m., while others choose to work between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and sleep between 4 a.m. and 11 a.m. That’s what makes the world go ’round and that’s what makes this here little archipelago The City That Never Sleeps. It never sleeps, see, ’cause someone, somewhere, is always up. And we’ve got the 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift.
And if it is late, and if we are noisy, would it kill you to maybe just tap on the wall, instead of bang like the world is ending? Because the shock of the adrenaline is not good for our nerves. Though I’d like to point out that I do not bang on the fence that separates us from the yuppies, nor do I bang on the side of the garbage trucks I can hear while I’m sleeping, nor do I run down to the subway in my loungewear and bang on the side of the L train, which I can hear blowing its whistle with increasing frequency as the morning commute escalates right through the middle of my night here in the tiny time zone of the Republic of Myself, nor do I slam on the ceiling when whoever it is vacuums at 6 a.m. and moves the furniture all over, nor do I stand at my window and dump buckets of water on the heads of everyone who rattles the garbage cans in the alley right outside my window, because that would be a distinct misapprehension of what it means to live in an apartment building in the most densely populated city in America. And while there are very few aspects of reality on which I have any kind of grip, the fact that I live in an apartment building in the mostly densely populated city in America is one of them.
I have entertained many solutions to this problem. I have fantasized about getting a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and simply firing through the wall the next time they bang. Their senseless pounding will seem so impotent when a giant flaming fireball rips through the wall and into their bedroom. I have considered taking the high road and baking them a basket of muffins. I have considered taking the low road and baking them a basket of muffins laced with enough marijuana to render them catatonic and eventually unconscious, but could never abide wasting drugs on people I don’t like. I have considered buying them a noise machine and some earplugs. I have considered singing lullabies. I have considered getting a sledgehammer, knocking down the wall that separates my bedroom from theirs, and climbing into bed with them and rubbing their heads until they fall asleep, then putting them out on the garbage alley and doing a little impromptu renovation in which I turn their bedroom into a kind of master-bedroom suite by connecting it with my bedroom, and put a hot tub where their bed used to be, which will drown out all kinds of noise.
Our landlord, when he was uncomfortably involved in this situation, had his usual wisdom to drop on the subject. It was both a vague and all-encompassing statement that explained everything and solved nothing.
“On the one hand,” he said, “they need to sleep. One the other hand, you need to live.”
My only hope is that we’ll one day ascend to one of those two-bedroom apartments, which have a living room that doesn’t border any other apartments, a living room in which our wildness can run rampant through the twilight of our twenties and the twilight of our twenties can run wild through the night. Until then, all I can do is send a silent plea across the lobby and up the building’s western stairwell. Takashi! Sung! I hope you’re happy! I miss the hell out of you, you lovelorn bastards! Come back, and it’ll be just like old times! We’ll ignore each other from extremely close proximity, and all will be right with the world.