The crazy neighbors have topped themselves. I didn’t think they could, but last night they did. I read once that while many people respond to logic and others to emotion, there is a slice of humanity that’s turned on by probability. Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile…the (alleged?) moon landing…the first time Michael Jackson moonwalked…a Democrat-controlled White House, House, and Senate still somehow unable to push through public-option universal health care…all had to happen, eventually. But that didn’t mean your temporal ass would be around to witness.
(the magic happens at 3:38)
I spent last week on vacation. This was my 2nd vacation in 15 years. One perk to molasses-slow rates of vacationing is you really, really enjoy yourself when you do take one. I visited family in Florida. Took a sleeper car train down. Why train and not plane?
1) Train travel’s my absolute fave.
2) Plane travel’s my absolute not.
3) I had a ton of work to do, and figured I’d be more productive over 48 hours on a train than 6 on a plane.
4) Taking a sleeper car is on my bucket list and has been ever since I first saw North By Northwest. I did not consider the fact that it’s possible one cinematic representation of sleeper cars from 50 years ago may not be an accurate reflection of the reality today. And it isn’t. It was quite comfortable, other than the sleeping part. Your own toilet. Leg room. Complimentary newspaper. Meals included (which matters, ‘cuz the prices on an Amtrak menu are like Soviet-era inflation prices).
The dining car was another lovely experience unique to train travel: the forgotten joy of having to sit at a table with 1-3 complete strangers and try to make friendly without spilling sauce or drink on yourself or on them (trains are bumpy). You find yourself resurrecting your junior high social skills. Wine helps, if you can afford Amtrak wine, which rivals wartime embargo black market wine prices. Over dinner I met a charming Bahamian-born Bronx-bred man named Uncle Wally. We drank and shared stories about letting the universe unfold and laughed till we cried and closed the dining car down. At breakfast I met a charming couple of Russian Jews worried that their 19-year old daughter doesn’t take college seriously enough and may not have what it takes to succeed there.
(Fun fact: due to censorship, Eve Marie Saint’s original line “I never make love on an empty stomach” was changed to “I never discuss love on an empty stomach.”)
(Hottest flirting scene EVER. How far have we sunk as a society today when it comes to clever flirting? Vanilla Sky. THAT’S how far we’ve sunk.)
Financial realities being reality, I traveled by coach on the return leg. This meant I did not sleep. Instead, I laid as far back as I could in my chair, tried for an hour not to touch the other non-petite dude sleeping in the seat next to me before accepting that our bodies could not avoid some crossover and realizing we were both more comfortable with our butts propped together, and closed my eyes without ever falling asleep. I figured I’d catch up on sleep when I got home last night.
The crazies had other plans.
I got home shortly before midnight. With 20 minutes, the war downstairs had begun, a 5-hour symphony of screaming (both), crying (him), bleeding from the head (him), cursing (mostly her), emasculating (all her), threats (both), shoving/slapping/throwing bodies (both), throwing and breaking inanimate objects (both)…if ugliness could be condensed to a single shnozzberry, that’s what the night became. One potent, poisonous shnozzberry.
Around 4:30 a.m., the fight fell out into the street. Just before 5, the man began screaming like he’d had his hand cut off, a blood-curdling, awful, awful, awful, rending shriek, on a loop.
I called the cops. They arrived about 30 seconds after the couple fled in her car. I said I wanted to press charges. They said I can’t. Said all I can do is “request that the landlord evict them.” I said the landlord has served them with a certified letter informing them that eviction is underway. But what about disturbing the peace? My peace, specifically? Surely I can charge them with something? It can’t be legally kosher to fight and bleed and break things all night and into the morning, then be out screaming in the street for a half-hour? The cop was insistent: there’s nothing I can do.
I have 42 essays to grade in 2 days. After not sleeping Saturday night on the train and not sleeping last night, I’ve felt like I’m 10 feet underwater today; like, multiple standard deviations below my normal intelligence. I have barely been able to keep my eyelids open all day. All day. Since 9:00 in the morning it’s taken all my energy to not fall asleep, because I have to teach tomorrow morning, and I expect they’ll be fighting again tonight, and I didn’t want to sleep during the day and then be awake during the night, ‘cuz then tomorrow I’d be about as useful as Confederate money.
I have no brainpower. I bought some groceries and that depleted the last of my brainpower. I’m fucked this week, work-wise. Fucked because of these two fucking losers.
10 years ago, I lived in a welfare motel in Buffalo. I thought it a grand, romantic time and place. I’d just started my first grad school and was all about the school of life and being immersed in the salt-of-the-earth. Sure, there was ugliness, and danger, but as an aspiring writer this was the sort of formative experience one can’t put a price on.
Actually, the price I could put on it was part of the appeal: $300 a month included rent and all utilities. Above me lived a lesbian couple who got drunk and beat each other every weekend. They had a 10-year old son who came to my door every day asking for money. I gave him change for a few weeks; when I finally said no, he filled my mailbox with garbage from Mighty Taco. I don’t mean garbage as paper refuse. I mean there was sour cream and sauce all up in my mailbox. Like a burrito had spontaneously combusted in there. There was a guy in the building I used to play catch with who’d had so many DWI arrests he wasn’t allowed to drive ever again. On the top floor was a prostitute. She used to love when I played the piano. She wanted to hang out one night and drink and listen to me play. She ended up OD’ing in her bathtub. The water was running and ended up flooding: there was a seamstress shop below her apartment. When the tub overflowed it looked like it was raining inside the store.
There was a couple then who lived in the adjacent building. One night I thought this man was going to kill this woman, he was beating her so violently. She was screaming and screaming; I thought he was going to punch her through the wall into my living room. I called the cops. When they arrived, the couple went radio silent. The cops knocked. No answer. The cops, for reasons I still don’t grasp, then came knocking on my door (I was the only apartment on the ground floor). I didn’t answer, but from then on, every time I saw the abuser out on the street, he gave me the evil eye.
My last few weeks in that apartment, there were countless nights I was up at 4, 5 in the morning, a baseball bat in my hand, sitting a few feet from my door while someone outside was turning the knob and trying to jimmy the lock. Eventually it was too much. I moved.
I’m moving next week. This will be my 5th move in 9 months and 11th in 4 years. Doing that math just fried my last exhausted brain cell.
The couple downstairs just woke up. Neither has a job. They usually sleep till 9 p.m., sometimes later. They’ll have dinner and watch TV until 2 in the morning. They’ll fight. I’ll call the cops. They’ll lie when the cops arrive, say the girl is clumsy and bumps into things, say she had an asthma attack and that’s why she was screaming that she couldn’t breathe. I’ill wake and go to work and be behind schedule, worry that I’m failing my students, that I’m positioning myself to lose a job I love because I don’t have the energy today to do what I need to do, blame myself and use that blame as fuel to inspire me to accomplish a crazy amount of work the next 2 days. Then I’ll be dead come Thursday. And I’ll be beat this weekend because that’s when I move to the new place.
And one day next week I’ll wake up and realize for the first time in months I slept peacefully, without that knife of stress that’s embedded itself in my chest since January, the one that presses into me the moment I hear the first raised voice or loud crashing sound that acts as overture to the evening hostilities. One day next week I’ll wake up and this will all be Past Matt’s problem. It won’t be my problem anymore. It has to happen. Eventually.