So it was a beautiful evening that I was spending with several of my closest friends in San Francisco on the terrace of the new flat I’d just moved into. We had a couple of bottles of wine open and were clearly heading towards Merryville. However it was still early in the evening – the summer sun was still hanging around just above the horizon – so we really weren’t being too noisy for that time of the day.
I went in to get the last bottle of wine from the kitchen, when, hearing a voice, I opened the kitchen door. It opened into the back stairwell and some five floors down, there was this guy leaning over the balustrade, peering up at me…”He’s back. And now you’ve had it with all the noise you’re making.” He said, in a distinctly unpleasant way. I don’t know why, but it raised goosebumps all down my back. Following some atavistic instinct for self-preservation I ran to the terrace to warn my friends…not sure about exactly what. There was no one there…so I ran back into the house and into the living room and that’s where everyone was. They were gathered in a semi-circle in the middle of the room looking at a small group of people who were standing in the front doorway. I don’t quite recall what they looked like, but there was a general air of menace hanging over the room. One man was clearly in command and I just knew that this was the guy the lower-floor neighbour had been referring to.
“You’ve just arrived and are already creating a nuisance.”, the man said – or something to that effect. “Well I live right beneath you and I’m going to show you why that’s a bad idea.”
I wasn’t sure where this was heading…but it wasn’t to Merryville for sure. My friends were standing there seemingly paralyzed. I said something like “you can’t barge in here. I’m going to call 911 if you don’t get out now.” Only to find I didn’t have my mobile phone on me. I looked around a little panicked, it wasn’t anywhere to be seen in the living room. I hissed at my friends with rising fear and frustration, “Guys can one of you give me your mobile phone?” They looked at me dumbly and one of them piped up, “We don’t have them.”
“What? Why not” , I asked through clenched teeth, trying hard to stay calm.
“He asked to see what they were like and so we gave them to him. And now he won't give them back.”, said my friend.
I looked at the guy from downstairs to see that he did indeed have several phones in his hands.
I could hardly believe it. “How could you guys be so dumb!”. I yelled...abandoning my attempt to hide my panic. And the goose-bumps? Well they were more like goose-mole-hills now. From the way my heart-beat had accelerated, I knew this was really bad news and that it was going to get a lot worse.
That’s when, thankfully…I woke up. Sweating. Heart beat racing. All goose-bumpy.
Anyone who’s come to stay with me or even visited me, knows that I’m a little paranoid about my downstairs neighbour. Almost unfailingly when I have guests staying over, or even just friends at home for dinner, he will come up. A quiet really very unassuming knock announcing his arrival, he will proceed to complain about how much disturbance we’re causing. He usually sports this disheveled, massively harassed look, designed to show me how much trauma has been inflicted on him.
And his complaints can border on the bizarre. “Sometimes when I’m sitting and trying to read in the evenings and you walk heavily, it disturbs my train of thought.” He told me one day. He also complains about his downstairs neighbour playing the TV too loud, so I’m pretty sure I’m not really the one who’s the problem here.
Wanting to be the good immigrant neighbour, I’ve ended up tip-toeing around the house in bare feet, harassing any friends/guests to do the same, making sure to speak in low voices after 9:00pm and generally avoided inviting people over for dinner (my courage usually holds up for lunch).
This was the first time though, that he’d invaded my house in my dreams. Make that nightmares. Funnily, its happened at a time when I thought I was making progress with standing up to him – I recently told him he shouldn’t expect me to walk quietly in the house between 8:00am to 11:00pm. I felt proud about that for several days after that.
Obviously though, living in fear of disturbing my neighbour has affected me in some really insidious, subliminal ways. Neighbours inspiring nightmares can’t be healthy in the long run.
As I see it, I have a few choices:
a) I could move away – but that would mean giving up the view of the Golden Gate
b) I could give him my Bose noice cancellation head-phones to help him concentrate better when he’s reading and sleep deeper when’s he in bed – But I’ve lost my I-Pod head-phones and that would leave me head-phone-less and therefore I-Pod-less; certainly a fate worse than insomnia
c) I could buy him a lifetime’s supply of Ambien to help him sleep better – but then he might start sleep-walking (like many Ambien consumers seem to do) and binge-eating (also a side-effect). Worse he could try to sleep-walk into my kitchen and that would really be my nightmare come to life…except for the move from the living room to the kitchen
So for now I’m left with no good choices. Like the the beautiful lake-house in “What Lies Beneath” that hid the source of much mental anguish for its new residents, my rather charming rent-controlled apartment has proved to be rather less fun to live in than it promised. Of course having said that, I would probably complain less if J looked more like Harrison Ford…thirty years back. He doesn't.
In the mean-time, I’m going to hold on to my cell-phone. And keep it charged. And if you do come to visit – please remember to tread softly.