Wednesday, June 21, 2006

I Am Going to Give Myself an Aneurysm

We have a new neighbor upstairs—he’s renting the unit from its owners, who were temporarily transferred to Merry Olde England. It took them awhile to find a tenant, so for the past few months I’ve been reveling in the sounds of silence.

Then along came Idiot Boy.

I knew we were in trouble the second I saw his buddies unload the big screen TV. I keep hoping our building will attract mild-mannered horticulturalists who spend their evenings quietly honing their bonsai technique, but the reality is always closer to Johnny Knoxville.

Idiot Boy’s first purchase for his new pad was a sub-woofer. You know those cars that pull up next to you at a stoplight, and the street starts to shake from the sonic boom? We now have one permanently parked above our living room. Dave politely complained about the noise, but apparently his comments fell on deaf ears, which might explain why Idiot Boy needs to play his music so loudly in the first place.

When our dinner was interrupted last night by House Party III, I lost my cool. By now, I have my tirade down to a routine, as we’ve had a Jackass living downstairs for the past two years.

Here’s how it works: First, I step into the hallway to trace the thumping to its source—above or below. Then I approach the enemy camp, a stream of invectives straining to be let loose. Then I lose my nerve and retreat behind friendly lines. (I have always had a thing about knocking on other people’s doors. I can’t do it. When I was little, my sister Anne would take me by the hand, walk me to over to the Carnovale’s house, do the knocking for me and ask if my friend Amy could come out and play. Oh Anne, why hast thou abandoned me?)

And then comes the tantrum. “Do you HEAR that? We should NOT have to put up with this shit. I HATE these people. They are so fucking rude. I HATE them. I CAN NOT live like this. We have to MOVE.” I punctuate each point with a forearm slice through the air. For added effect, I will either stomp on the hardwood, which might be how I injured my shin, or throw a book in the air, which is definitely how we got that blue smear on the ceiling. Frequently, I interrupt my stream of consciousness with additional forays into the hallway and subsequent drawbacks.

While, in my ideal fantasy world, these actions would be intuited by Idiot or Jackass as “Shut the fuck up,” I am really putting on a show for Dave. If only husbands came equipped with magic decoder rings, he would understand me to mean “You suck for not making this stop.”

They say that opposites attract, and in many ways that’s true for Dave and me. In the simplest of terms, he doesn’t care which lane we choose at a toll plaza, whereas for me, getting in the shortest, fastest line of cars is a matter of vital importance. But when it comes to asserting our Right to Peace and Semi-Quiet in our own home (I believe it’s a sub-section of Right to Bear Arms), we are both a couple of weenies. Now, I don’t blame him for not wanting to enter into a potentially confrontational situation with people who live in such close proximity to our personhoods. We are just a deadbolt away from being knifed in our sleep. All I’m saying is that he’s the boy and as far as I’m concerned, chewing out neighbors is part of the job, like taking out the garbage and opening pickle jars. I’m looking for a show of chivalry.

So sometimes when Idiot Boy or Jackass is pumping out the jams, I simply walk out. I do this to convey a heightened level of hysteria, similar to a Terror Alert Red. Dave should be afraid, very afraid. My intent is that once I’ve vacated the premises, Dave will pull Jackass or Idiot Boy aside and say, conspiratorially, “Listen, I don’t care if you crank your stereo to 11. But my wife is a total nut case—seriously psychopathic. You’re driving her crazy, and that means she’s driving me crazy. I just want to watch the ballgame and have a few beers without her going ballistic. So I’m begging you, man to man, please keep it down.” In this situation, I am willing to let that pass for Sir Lancelot.

In actuality, every time I come home from one of my jaunts, Dave is playing “Blitzkrieg,” his WWII computer game. (Apparently his non-aggression pact does not extend to animated Nazis.) He shoots me a look that says, “I’ve hidden all the knives—your padded cell awaits.”

I’ve come to the conclusion that in the matter of Us vs. Idiot, I’m going to have to be the one to grow some cojones. So I went for a walk in the park to rehearse a number of conversations with various audiences. In theory, so easy. In practice, never gonna happen.

Chat #1, Idiot Boy. I can’t decide whether to cuss or not, but I do like the way “you little piece of shit” sounds. In this scenario, I actually summon up the courage to knock. “Hi [you little piece of shit]. I live downstairs. I think you talked to my husband about the sub-woofer. Yeah, well, this is a really old building. We can pretty much hear your phone ring and your clothes spin in the dryer. Now, I can live with your dog [zing]. What? Well, I’m guessing you have him in a crate and he whines all day long. Yeah, I work at home. It goes something like OWWW, OWWWWW, OWWWWWW. And I don’t really mind the treadmill [zing, zing]. What? Yeah, it sounds like thunder. Not a big deal. But the sub-woofer is just too much. I thought maybe [you little piece of shit] you could come down to see what it sounds like in our place. Great [you little piece of shit]. Thanks.” I will not mention the retaliatory measures I am prepared to take, which include running my vacuum cleaner at odd hours or studding his back porch with push pins—that’ll really give pooch something to whine about.

Chat #2, condo board. “Let me just say that while you dither over where people can place their satellite dishes, you fail to address matters that would actually improve the quality of life for residents. What we really need is an amendment to our constitution that bans sub-woofers. And people I hate.”

Chat #3, real estate agent: “Got anything with soundproof insulation between floors?”

Chat #4, Dave: “I don’t care if we have to put our stuff in storage and live in a studio apartment, we are making a plan and getting out of this place—today.”

This didn’t really calm me down. In fact, as my walk progressed, I was reminded of more and more things that piss me off.

People Who Water Their Lawns: Chicagoans do not have yards in the same way that a person who grew up in suburban Ohio would define one. You could not, for example, play a game of whiffle ball here without drafting the property of several neighbors. Yet homeowners persist in employing sprinklers to water their lawns when a squirt gun would do. In the process, they wind up spraying not only the grass but the sidewalk, and sometimes even the street. I have this to say to them: “I think it is inconsiderate to water the sidewalk and annoy pedestrians [me] who aren’t in the mood to get wet. What if I try to avoid a soaking and twist an ankle or pull a muscle? Then I will have to sue you. And then you won’t be able to pay your water bill or your mortgage and you will wind up with an uncontrollable facial tic whenever you see a garden hose.”

Dog Owners: “Hey you with the leash in your hand, try attaching it to your dog.” I know people love their pets, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us hold Fido in the same regard. Once, I was out for a run in our old neighborhood. I turned a corner and was tackled by a dog off its leash and hit the pavement hard. The owner felt a “Sorry” sufficed for the near-death experience. I felt a “fuck you” was in order. Ever since then, I’ve been skittish around dog owners who fail to rein in their charges. “She’s just being friendly,” they say when Fluffy starts to paw me, uninvited. “She won’t bite.” Lady, I’m not worried about Cujo there mauling me to death (well, maybe just a little). I’m picturing her tripping me, me falling head first onto the asphalt, me smashing my face and losing all my teeth, me spending months in and out of hospitals having my jaw reconstructed. And you still walking your dog without a goddamned leash.

“Cyclists”: You could ride the lakefront bike path end to end, and back again, and not amass more than 40 or 50 miles. Lance Armstrong eats that kind of distance for breakfast. So why do so many cyclists treat the city’s byways like the Tour de France? By all indicators, mainly copious amounts of brightly patterned Spandex, they take the sport seriously. Their speed announces they are not some loser mountain biker. Yet they insist on careening along pathways choked with rollerbladers, strollers, joggers and people carrying on an imaginary tete-a-tete with Idiot Boy. I am not impressed. When Dave and I were out West last summer, we came across cyclists on some of the lonesomest stretches of road I can imagine—lean, haunted figures testing themselves against nature, frontiersmen on two wheels. I remember one guy, straining his way up a mountain pass in Colorado that was taxing our car’s transmission. I admired his strength, his grit and his calves. “Now that’s a cyclist,” I thought. To all others, if your trail takes you within 5 miles of a Coldstone Creamery, put away the yellow jersey.

If I keep this up, I am going to give myself an aneurysm.

By the time I got home, I was so hyped up about the cyclists, I had all but forgotten Idiot Boy. Dave was sitting on the couch reading a book. The ceiling had ceased to throb, through no efforts of my little scaredy cat. But he had taken out the garbage.

The next evening, Idiot Boy continued to profess his love for the sub-woofer. I decided to go on a different kind of rampage—I got all sugar-buzzed on a half a box of Strawberry Yogurt Burst Cheerios, chocolate chips and Diet Coke. We hunkered down in our “den/office/fitness center,” which is as far from the living room as we can get. I watched Dave play “Blitzkrieg” and have to admit there is something soothing about gunning down German tanks, especially if you picture Idiot Boy’s face plastered to the gunner.

Then I lay awake until dawn rehashing Chat #1. Maybe tonight will be the night. Or maybe tomorrow I’ll invest in a giant box of ear plugs.


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