Neighbors. Everyone has one. Some are nice; some are mean; and some are crazy. People living next to people finds its most intimate setting in apartment complexes—inspired by the devil one might think if he or she has experienced all that I have in apartment living. Apartment life is necessary for a lot of people. It may result from money issues or a dense population. Whatever the case, there is often no greater hell than having to put up with the voices on the other side of the wall. Whether it’s music, surround sound movies, or the couple whose lovemaking screams from the bedroom, neighbors suck.
I have lived in apartments most of my adult life. Even as I began writing this post (years ago, actually) music thumped from somewhere in the complex, vibrating the walls and stirring anxiety in the deep recesses of my soul. You know the feeling, like someone wrapped an anvil around my stomach, and its pulling me to hell with a slow throb. My heart rate would rise and pound the bass beat through my body. I didn’t know where it was coming from, but I felt the floor vibrating beneath my feet. Through the blinds I saw tail lights. Some guy was kissing his girl goodnight. I stepped outside to say something but immediately felt disoriented. The sound bouncing off all the buildings was impossible to pinpoint. I stepped back into the apartment and pressed my ear to each wall. It was definitely coming from outside.
What could I do? I had called the police on noisy neighbors before, but never there. Besides, by the time they got there, I knew the guy would be gone. What I’ll never understand is the mentality of the man or woman who has to listen to music so loud that it disturbs others. Notice I didn’t say “bothers.” Are they oblivious to the existence of other people? Are they simply stupid? Can anyone answer these questions? I love peace and quiet, and I rarely get it. There is no greater crime, no more demoralizing experience than not being able to relax and find peace and quiet in my own home after a long day of work or school or both. I will never forget one of the worst experiences I have ever had with a neighbor.
* * *
Newly married and ready to start graduate school, my beautiful bride, Leah Marie, and I thought that $425 a month for over 800 square feet of a two bedroom apartment was the best deal we could find, but I sensed danger. When we first viewed the apartment, I stepped onto the back balcony and looked below. Twenty feet away from our building stood a church separated from us by a high wooden fence. Tacked to that fence was a large Budweiser sign. Below it sat a love seat. Between it and the patio below our balcony was a makeshift wooden table with an ashtray piled with cigarettes. I leaned over the railing and saw a metal bucket full of empty beer bottles.
I responded to Leah Marie’s enthusiasm. “Are you sure about this apartment?”
“I like it, and it’s really cheap.”
“I think the apartment down stairs likes to party.” I motioned to the Budweiser sign, beer bottles, and ashtray.
“I don’t think they will bother us.”
I love my wife, and I have never blamed her for what followed. I really liked the apartment, too, and I was tired of searching for the perfect place. This apartment was just up the hill from campus—a five to six minute bike ride for me. It was in a quiet area, across the street from Rose Hill Cemetery. I had no doubts that we would love it and the large master bedroom. Besides, we were newlyweds; no one else existed.
The day we moved in we met our downstairs neighbor. I never knew his name, but I’ll never forget what he looked like. He was short, maybe five nine, and buff, walked a little bowlegged, and carried a respectable beer gut. He was also Hispanic and had a short mustache. He greeted us with a broad smile.
“Hey, you guys moving in upstairs?”
“Yeah.” I was carrying a heavy box.
“If I ever play my music too loud, just pound on the floor or something, alright.” He laughed. We laughed.
He got in his car and drove away, leaving us with a positive first impression. If apartment living is hell, then that man, we came to learn, was the proprietor.
It started with the floor vibrating. I knew that our neighbor was playing music, but we barely heard it. If that’s the loudest it gets, we won’t have a problem, I thought.
It didn’t take long for the floor to start thumping in short bursts, maybe twenty, thirty minutes. We lived with it because it didn’t happen all the time, and it was mostly confined to the living room.
The dog came next. He and his new mostly-live-in girlfriend bought a puppy together. And where do you think they tied that thing up late at night while they were out? Right below our bedroom window. The dry southern Idaho heat kept our windows open; otherwise, we couldn’t sleep. The yipping dog forced those windows shut. Even then we could hear the dog—yipping, barking, yipping, barking.
I finally got dressed and knocked on the neighbor’s door. No answer. It didn’t take long for me to start pounding as hard as I could with the side of my fist. No answer. I heard the television and saw some lights on, so I pounded again. No answer. I finally gave up. Visions of slaying the dog danced in my head.
I started up the stairs and noticed a dark figure headed toward me. An older man, also Hispanic, wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt and jeans started to enter my neighbor’s apartment.
He stopped and turned around, doorknob in hand.
“That dog out back is barking and yipping and keeping us awake.”
He lowered his eyes and contemplated. Did he understand me?
“Can you shut that dog up?” I had almost completely lost my patience.
“I don’t think anyone is here. It’s not my dog.”
I stared him down, and he finally said that he would take care of the dog and let the owners know about it. I stood by the bedroom window until the stranger took the dog inside. It wasn’t the best night’s sleep, but at least we slept.
The dog kept barking. Not that night, but it didn’t take long for them to leave it outside again. What the hell do people think about when they leave a yipping dog outside, at night, below someone’s bedroom window?
After pounding on the door again with no answer, no stranger appeared to help us out, so I attached a note to the door.
“It’s really hard for people to sleep when your dog is outside yipping and yelping” (yeah, those are two different sounds).
We shut the window, turned the fan on high, and busted out the ear plugs. I still heard the dog, but it was a distant yelping that faded into a restless sleep.
The next morning we found a note taped to our door. Our neighbor had obviously written it. He explained that they were still training “Nico.” He offered no apology, and the tone suggested no remorse but an air of snobbery. How dare we say anything bad about their precious dog. To hell with that. It’s a freakin’ dog. Respect your neighbors. Your neighbors are supposed to suffer until you can train your dog? Unfortunately, this was the start of one of the worst living experiences I have ever had.
The music wasn’t the only problem. The intense summer heat pushed toward 100 degrees everyday, and we liked to keep the sliding door to our balcony open. It didn’t take long for us to realize that our neighbor liked to smoke more than cigarettes. A sickly sweet smoke wafted into our apartment many days, forcing us to shut the door and, we later decided, forcing us to gain some weight. Oh, how many nights we munched on popcorn, cookies, and anything else we could get our nibbling teeth on.
Over the next several months, the music downstairs got louder and more frequent. I started to lose my mind, but somehow, I lived with it. One day, the floor had vibrated for so long that the soles of my feet felt numb. In a fit of rage, I stomped as hard as I could. The music quieted, and for a few days, we lived peacefully, though we still dealt with the smoke.
It didn’t take long for the floor to thump again. It had worked before, so I jumped high and stomped harder. The music disappeared, but I heard a heavy clomping on the stairs outside, followed by a pounding on the door. When I opened the door, I looked down at our neighbor. A bead of sweat trickled down his crinkled brow. He rounded his shoulders, probably trying to intimidate me. Whatever.
“Why the hell you bangin’ on my ceiling?”
“You need to turn your music down.” I stared hard at his staring eyes.
“You don’t need to bang on my F—ing ceiling,” he screamed.
I raised my voice. “Hold on. Don’t you dare come to my home and use that kind of language.”
He didn’t have anything else to say.
“Your music has been shaking our whole apartment all afternoon.” I could tell he was searching his thoughts for a masterful retort. It never came.
“You can just knock on my door.” He tried to sound tough, and even though he kept his eyes narrowed, his face softened a little. I’m sure he didn’t expect me to call his use of language into question, and he still hadn’t fully recovered.
I agreed, and even apologized for stomping. That, too, surprised him, and his shoulders relaxed.
Was I sorry I stomped? Yes, but in the heat of the moment it was all I could do. Had I knocked on his door, he might have seen it as a personal attack and fought back.
Despite that agreeable price and otherwise nice apartment, we looked high and low for the means and opportunity to move away from the Boise apartment that hovered above the gates of hell. Our Bud-drinking, pot-puffing neighbor hated us and we him. Though the police had visited frequently and the property manager had done the same, the bass-thumping floor remained a permanent fixture.
Late one night, the apartment directly next door to our pot-smoking friend in Boise decided to have a party. Now, we’re cool with parties—we’ve had a few ourselves. However, we’ve never had so many people that have made it so loud that the police could here it blocks away. It sounded like we were standing in the middle of a crowded airport or football stadium with everyone talking at once. I called the police who arrived within ten minutes. With glee, Leah Marie and I pranced around the apartment to shut off the television and all the lights. We listened intently from the windows and heard the police explain exactly how far away they heard the noise. We also heard our downstairs neighbor (probably high) explaining who he was.
“This is what’s going to happen,” an officer began, “he’s gonna get a ticket, and you’re gonna get a warning and if we have to come back here tonight …” the voice trailed off under my squeal of laughter. I don’t know who the officer was talking to, but I loved every word and related it to Leah Marie. Oh, sweet revenge.
We didn’t stay long after that. With plenty of options, we looked to move fast. The property manager made one last attempt to keep us onsite: “You can’t move. You signed an agreement that I wouldn’t raise your rent for a year, and you still have two months on that.” The funniest part? She waited until the day we were loading the moving van before deciding to share that information. It was, however, little more than her desperate attempt to save herself from more work—the complex was full. Our actual lease agreement had been up for four months already, and we were literally scratching our heads about why we still lived there.
We haven’t lived in an apartment for a few years now, and I do not miss the experience. Of course, homeownership and neighbors brings a whole new set of problems. But I will save that for another post.