If good fences make good neighbors, my fence was a real jackass.
(Editor's note: Dave Stinton regularly writes The Banquet of Life, his biweekly column that looks at one man's life through the food he eats. As part of our column shuffle, this week he's contributing a Chicago version of L.A. Nuts. Apparently, the City of Angels isn't the only major American metropolis with scary individuals running around.)
My downstairs neighbor’s door opened as I passed it one morning on my way to work.
I had lived on the third floor for four years, and he’d just moved in below me. I nodded and continued past him down the stairs.
“I’m calling the police,” he said.
I stopped mid-step and turned around.
“Sorry?” I asked.
“If you don’t stop the noise, I’m calling the police.”
I blinked back at him, trying to figure out if he was joking. He wasn’t.
“What noise?” I asked.
He started back into his apartment.
I continued. “Seriously, what are you talking about?”
“Get away from my door.”
All day I wondered what he was referring to. I imagined he’d heard a party from across the alley and assumed it was me. My other theory was that he was sleepwalking; the exchange had a dreamlike quality.
I decided to confront him about it that evening. I knocked on his door. His TV was on, but nobody answered. I fingered the note I’d typed up. It insisted that whatever noise he heard wasn’t from me, and further, that his refusal to explain his complaint was counterproductive. It invited him to call if he wanted to talk. But suddenly, I wondered if this guy was someone I wanted to leave my name and number with. I continued upstairs, taking the note with me.
• • •
One night a week later, '80s hits blasted from somewhere nearby. I worried that my neighbor would think it was me, until I realized the music was actually coming from his apartment. Uneasily, I went to bed with earplugs.
The next morning I called my landlord’s office. I spoke to the receptionist, who liked me because I paid my rent like clockwork.
“It’s probably wrong of me to speak badly of tenants,” she told me, “but I think that guy’s crazy.” Recently, he complained because maintenance made him move some rubbish from his landing. In the process, he griped that “the guy above him” made a lot of noise. When she realized that I was that guy, she dismissed his complaint.
Maybe he was just mad at the landlord and took it out on me, I thought. Maybe it’s over now.
• • •
In my building’s courtyard on my way to work, I heard his voice from above and behind me.
I ignored him. He continued.
“Big fuckin’ pussy.”
I turned around and saw him glowering down at me from his apartment.
“What is your problem with me?” I asked.
Silently, he closed his window, then his blinds.
• • •
It became ongoing. He shouted obscenities down the stairwell. He cranked his TV. He stomped down the back stairs and slammed the gate that led out into the alley, very hard, sometimes several times per evening.
He turned on his vacuum cleaner and left the building for nine hours.
Clearly, he wasn’t just an asshole. He was insane. Possibly a paranoid schizophrenic who decided I was the source of his torment. This introduced a dilemma. I didn’t want to get a mentally ill person kicked out of his apartment. But I also didn’t want to be on edge every time I left mine.
I noticed that he always invited me to walk past him before launching into a tirade directed at my back. And if I stood my ground and engaged him, he slinked back into his apartment.
• • •
He shut off my power, twice.
The first time I got home and found my apartment dark, I called the building manager, who informed me that a painter had seen my neighbor lurking around the fuse boxes. The second time it happened, a week later, I called the police.
They stood in my dark apartment and informed me that there probably wasn’t any legal recourse I could take. No one had seen him pull the switch. But they offered to accompany me down to the fuse box.
In the alley, I looked up. My neighbor was staring down at us from his window. I pointed him out to the cops. They aimed their flashlights, and my neighbor dropped his blinds.
“Guy looks like a fuckin' weirdo!” one of the cops said.
We got to the fuses. “Which one is yours?” they asked.
“This one,” I answered, and I flicked mine back on.
“Which one is his?”
I pointed it out. One of the cops flicked it off for a couple seconds, then back on.
“Well, we'll see what that does,” I said.
• • •
I know it was 1:51 because the first thing I did when I heard the thudding on my bedroom floor was look at the clock.
Over and over, for about 10 minutes, my neighbor threw something at his bedroom ceiling.
He interrupted himself twice: once to slam a door, and once to sing a little song. I couldn’t quite make out the lyrics, but they sounded something like:
“He’s a pain!” (beat) “In the aaaass!”
I never got back to sleep. My heart was pounding, and I was furious.
• • •
The next morning, I got a few steps past his door, and he opened it.
I turned to look up at his landing. His door was open, but he wasn’t there. Then, like a cartoon character, he peeked around the doorway. Only the top of his head and his eyes appeared.
HIM: What are you looking at?
ME: You got something to say to me?
HIM: (emerging from his apartment) Yeah, I do!
He wavered, trying to decide whether to go back inside. Then he took a couple of steps toward me. Obviously, he was also higher, since we were on the stairs. I amazed myself by not budging or breaking eye contact. We stared.
HIM: You're blasting your goddam TV at three o'clock in the morning!
ME: I am not, sir.
HIM: (heading back up the stairs) Yeah you are! You four-eyed –
ME: You're making shit up, asshole.
HIM: (re-emerging) What's that?
ME: You're making. Shit up. Asshole.
He came back down the stairs, closer this time, bringing his face, literally, a couple inches from mine. Again, I didn't budge. He stayed there for several seconds before breaking away and heading back toward his apartment.
HIM: Get… Get the fuck going, you four-eyed piece of shit.
He shut his door.
Continuing down the stairs, my knees wobbled, but during the actual confrontation, I was amazingly calm. Maybe my pride was misplaced, but I had a spring in my step the rest of the morning.
• • •
I had three quiet friends over to watch the Oscars. So my neighbor cranked up the volume on his TV. Ridiculously loud, even for him. When he watched the same channel, we could mute my TV and hear everything.
This lasted throughout the telecast.
My guests left, and his TV remained loud for another 15 minutes, during which I paced my apartment, thinking, “Do I ignore him? Call the police? Knock on his door?” But finally, he turned it down, and I went to bed.
The next morning, as I got ready for work, he returned to his tactic of throwing something at his ceiling. Over and over, loud thumps on my floor.
Again: Ignore or Confront? By the time I was dressed, I had decided on “ignore.” Then he did it one last time: THUMP.
Anger makes one brave and perhaps stupid.
I left my apartment, descended one flight of stairs, and knocked on his door. Inside, he paced. He approached the door to check the peephole. I smiled at the peephole. He walked away. I knocked again. And again, until he said, from within, “What do you want?”
“What's on your mind?” I asked.
“Get away from my door.”
“What's on your mind, pal?”
“Why are you bothering me?”
“Open the door, you coward.”
“What did you call me?”
His door remained closed.
He threatened to call the building manager. I urged him to go ahead. He threatened to call the police. I told him I'd love for him, me, and the police to sit around over coffee and hash everything out.
I heard his end of a phone conversation. “Yeah, I'm reporting my upstairs neighbor. He's pounding on my door.” He gave his address and hung up. “The police are on their way.”
“Do you want me to wait here or upstairs?”
“Why are you bothering me?”
“Should I wait here or upstairs?”
“I don't care! Do whatever you want!”
“All right, I'll wait here.”
I sat on the stairs. I heard him stalk around, check his peephole, and eventually, zip up his jacket, exit his back door, stomp down the steps, and slam the gate that led out to the alley.
I sprang down the front stairs and outside. I spotted him and waved him down.
“Sneaking out the back door is cowardly, don't you think?”
“Get away from me.”
We crossed the street and walked up the block. I asked, “What was that hissy fit about this morning?”
“I don't know what you're talking about.”
“What about the police? Aren't they coming?”
“The police will be here. You're going –” And he stopped.
“I'm going where? To jail? I'm going downtown?”
“Yeah, I think you are.”
“You're gonna miss it.”
He bumped his chest into mine and shouted into my face. “What?! I'm gonna miss what?!”
“Did you just belly-bump me?”
He turned and continued walking up the block. I followed him.
He said, “You're a nuisance. You bother people, you make noise.”
“That sounds familiar...” He smirked. I continued. “No, I know the guy you're talking about! He's a real asshole. Maybe if we work together, we can nail him!”
“I don't think so.”
“Seriously! We should put aside our petty feud and join forces! We could be heroes of the whole building!”
We arrived at his car. He got in the passenger side, scooted over to the driver's side, and started the engine. He took one last look at me, then drove off.
• • •
He behaved himself for the final month of his lease, with one exception.
A week before he moved out, we crossed paths a few blocks from our building. We made eye contact, and I nodded at him. I continued on my way, and a few seconds later he did that thing where you cough and hide the insult in your cough.
*A-hoo!*! *A-hoo!* *Dick!* *A-hoo!* *Dick!*
I ignored him, and the farther I got from him, the louder he fake-coughed, until I was almost a block away.
L.A. Nuts is a weekly look at the cast of characters that make up this city.