For a long while, I've had annoying run-in with my neighbors downstairs. I know such things aren't uncommon, though in my case this has been going on for about...oh, 15 years. I won't go into all the details and minutiae, because it would be too mind-numbing. I've discussed it with the building owner who has his own issues with them, and commiserates with me, but that's about all he can do.
The short version is that they complain about all the noise I make. (Most of it from one guy, the other doesn't speak English well.) The noise I make, I should note, is walking around the apartment. It's an old building, and there are areas where the floor makes big creaks whenever you step on it. I try politely to avoid those areas, but some you just can't avoid. Like the entrance into the bathroom. There even have been a lot of times when I've stayed in my bedroom late at night, rather than stroll to the kitchen since I know the floor will creak and going to the other room really isn't critical enough. Nothing I say can convince him that I'm doing nothing, how it's an old building where the floor has spots that creak badly, and that therefore there's nothing I can change other than get in my bed and stay there all day. Once, I dropped a soup bowl while drying it after dinner -- the guy started pounding on the ceiling. Another time, after throwing out my back I had a cane, and it fell over at 11 PM, thwock. Pounding from below immediately followed.
For 15 years this has been going on. "We are both men" is the way he likes to phrase things. (The other fellow mostly glares.) And he makes sure to add that's he's just politely asking me to be quiet. Relentlessly. I've invited him into my home so he can see where the floor creaks, but he refuses, and simply doesn't accept that that's the problem. I'm the problem. "But I'm just walking in my home. Don't I have the right to walk in my home?" But I can hear you, he says. We are both men, I am just asking you to consider being quiet at night.
The problem, among other things, is that apparently he goes to bed really early because he gets up really early. But that hardly means I'm supposed to go to bed early. Or stop walking in my home. The neighbor to my left has never once complained. The neighbor to my right has never complained. Just the devil below.
For 15 years, if not more.
It was suggested that I get the police involved, but not for the reason you'd think. It's because I'm pretty sure that the two are not, how shall I put it?, legally invited guests in the U.S, and if the police came it might terrify the bejeepers out of them. But I don't have it in me to do that.
About two months ago, the talkative one of the good fellows ratcheted things up. Still whining about how much noise I supposedly make, and me saying that I’m just walking around my apartment, but the floor creaks. But now he's added to how I play the TV so loud, and me saying that my neighbor next door who shares the wall with the TV never has complained about TV noise once. Nor has whoever who's lived in that apartment in all the years I've been living here, which is quite a while.
And then the other night it was taken to a new level.
I spent an hour having the most insane, pathetic, annoying, infuriating discussion with the fine soul from downstairs. You must believe me when I say describing this doesn't even begin to do it justice. It went on in a maniacal circle for an hour. One hour.
It began when he knocked on the door around 10:45 or 11 o’clock, complaining about my TV being too loud. (When I actually lowered it, to make a point, I asked, “Is that too loud?” Yes, he said, because he could still hear it. “Of course you can hear it,” I said, “you’re 10 feet away!”)
He kept says that all he was doing was just asking me politely if I would turn down my TV as a good neighbor. I kept explaining, “You’re not asking me, you’re telling me. And you’re not being polite, you’re actually being a bully and harassing me because you want me to live my life the way you want it to be. And you’re not 'just' telling me to turn down my TV, because you also always complain about how I walk around my home. And I did turn down my TV when you came here tonight, but you’re still complaining about it.”
That’s because I can still hear it, he’d say. “But you’re 10 feet away,” I’d answer. Again.
It’s 11 o’clock, you’re keeping me up, I can’t sleep, he’d say. I’d ask him then if I’m not allowed to watch the news? To watch David Letterman or the Tonight Show? “All I’m doing is asking you to turn the TV down.”
And on and on we’d go in circles. For an hour. “I’m not doing anything unreasonable,” I’d say. “I know you can hear noise. And I feel terrible about that. And I've felt terrible for years. But I’m just walking around my apartment. And it will always make noise. It Will Always Make Noise. And you will always complain about it.”
And I have the right to complain, he’d say. And I will complain every day you’re too loud. "Yes, you do have the right to complain," I'd reply. "But I can't do anything different. I'm just walking in my home. Don't I have the right to walk in my home?" He wouldn't ever answer that, just keep saying that I'm making too much noise. "Don't I have the right to walk in my own home??" I'd ask again. If you keep making noise I will call the police and the manager, he'd threaten.
Ah, I just wish he would. “Call the manager,” I would keep saying. “Call the police if you think I’m doing something unreasonable.” No, he won’t do that -- I knew he wouldn't dare, and I knew he wouldn't call the owner either because I'm aware that the owner would love him out of the building because he hasn't always paid his rent or in full, but...well, there are legal rental issues too long to go into -- but he said, no, it's me who should do that, I should call the police or manager. “Except I’m not complaining about anything,” I’d say.
What do you want me to do differently? I’m just walking around my apartment, and I have every right to do that. “You could be thoughtful and think that your neighbor is being kept awake.” So, I shouldn’t go to the bathroom in the middle of the night? Is that reasonable?? What do you want me to do? I shouldn't walk in my apartment? Really, what do you want me to do?
Well, what should I do?, he’d ask. Don’t I have the right to have it quiet? I explained that the world over, people in lower apartments hear the person above. "What do you suggest I do?" he'd ask again, Well, he could put in ear plugs, I suggested. That brought a howl of laughter, oh, no, he would never do something that ridiculous, he said. Mind you, why it’s ridiculous I have no idea, and I said I’d do it if I were me. Or he could move. More laughter from him. He will never move, never. "So, you will not change anything," he'd say. I'm not doing anything, I'm walking in my home. Don't I have the right to walk in my home? Which he still wouldn't answer, until I finally kept saying he was being a coward to not answer. After about 40 minutes he finally answered, "Yes and no." Well, that's a cowardly response I told him. "I am just being a good neighbor and asking you politely to do down your TV." No, I finally had had enough, you are not being polite and not a good neighbor. You are harassing me and being a bully, trying to get me to live my life the way you want to live. He found that hilarious, that he wasn't at all a bully. But you are, I repeated. Because you are trying to get me to live my live the way you want. "I am only asking you politely to turn down the TV." But I did turn down the TV, the first moment you asked, and you're still hear complaining about it. "Because I can hear it." You're 10 feet away! And you're complaining about me walking around my home.
And on and on and on we’d have the same discussion the same points. For an hour. I’d keep mentioning how no other neighbors are complaining about me being loud, not even the person who’s next door and shares a wall with where the TV is. “Well, I can hear you. And it keeps me up.” The floor creaks, I repeated again and showed him – and invited him to see all the creaks, but he again as always refused – and I said it will always creak, every day, tomorrow and the next day. It will always creak. And I suggested that he won't come inside to my polite invitation because he just wants to complain.
“All I’m asking you to do is be a good neighbor and turn down your TV.” And I turned it down, I’d say – again. And you’re not asking me, you’re telling me. And you’re being a bully and harassing me. And I did turn it down.
“All I can do is ask you, and I will complain every time.” Fine, complain. Call the manager, call the people if you think I’m doing something unreasonable. “I won’t do that,” he’d keep refusing. “I will just complain to you.” And every night the floor will creak, I said, every single night. And no one else here complains. “But I hear it,” he'd snap back. I know you hear it! And I feel terrible you hear it, and have for 15 years. But I’m not doing anything unreasonable. I am just walking in my home.
I said I would try to keep the TV down, but I had to have the right to hear my TV at night. I said I would try to walk carefully and softly, but the floor WOULD creak, every single night. And I will continue walking in my apartment, which was my right.
And on it went for an hour! And it was worse than what I’m describing, going off on bizarre other tangents. (At one point, I used a metaphor, and he told me "Don't use a metaphor." Honest.) And it will happen again. He will complain again. Because the floor creaks and I’m just walking in my apartment. And I will be watching television past 10 PM.
This only took three minutes or so to read. But it went on for an hour. Over and over and over. Repeating everything endlessly, and going off in bizarre directions, only to return to the endless circle.
At one point, I said how weary he was making me. He said, “See, now you know how I feel every night.” No, I said, it’s different. You’re weary because I’m just doing something normal, walking in my apartment which I can’t do anything about. I’m weary because you’re up here complaining about something that makes no sense. “They’re no different,” he said. They’re completely different, I answered. You don’t have to be here. But I have a right to walk in my apartment. “And I have a right to complain,” he said. Yes, you do, I’d reply -- again. But it’s not going to accomplishing anything, because I’m just walking in my apartment and I insist on having the right to do that. And it will always creak. It Will Always Creak. And you simply are unwilling to accept that. “Because I can hear you. All I’m politely asking is that you think about others and be more quiet.” To which we’d get back to, No, you are not politely asking, you are telling me to live my life the way you want it to be.
And then...oh, you know. Because we are both men. Except for those of you who are women.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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