Life in an apartment building is seldom uneventful but it’s far from all bad, writes Donal O’Keeffe
“It’s just apartment house rules so all you ‘partment fools, remember one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor”
– Paul Simon – One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor (1973)
I live in an apartment building and I hate my neighbours.
Well. Not really. Not usually. For the most part we all get along, in the sense that we all stay out of each other’s way and nobody troubles each other very much.
I’m pretty sure that when Bryan Dobson eventually mentions my name in the top report on the Six-One, he’ll start with the phrase “A North Cork town is in shock this evening, as a middle-aged man finally snapped” and I’ll be described by neighbours as “a quiet man who kept to himself” with the probable addendum “apart from the Bob Dylan”.
The two main flashpoints in my building tend to be the communal stairs and the bins. I resent deeply that living in an apartment building has turned me into the kind of Ned Flanders who actually resorts to Google Translate for his missives to the neighbours. The last one I wrote was “Proszę, dla miłości i czci Boga, powstrzymać wprowadzenie odpadów spożywczych w recyklingu pojemników.” (Please, for the love and honour of God, stop putting food waste in the recycling bins”.)
I’ve lived here for over half a decade and things are quiet, usually. However, there was that time I was awakened in the middle of the night by a man literally screaming “Murder!” on the stairs. So I ran out to see if I could help. I couldn’t. He had met a lady in the nightclub and brought her home. Once in his apartment, they had a disagreement about money. Me, I have no earthly idea why the subject of money would come up. Maybe I’m very innocent like that. Anyway, dissatisfied, she utterly wrecked his apartment. She smashed chairs, she threw plates at the wall and she kicked in his flat-screen TV. Classy lady.
All of which was bad enough, but in my haste to prevent loss of life I had ran out in my boxer shorts and my apartment door had swung shut behind me, leaving me looking, in my underpants, somewhat less than heroic as the Hell Hath No Fury Lady swept past me on the stairs. Once I’d established that all she did murder had been a telly – and my sleep – I had no choice but to attempt to kick in, barefoot, my own front door. The door proved, the one time I needed it to be otherwise, reassuringly robust.
Then there was that time when that nice young man downstairs broke up with his girlfriend and decided to mourn his loss by consuming what I believe must have been a very large amount of alcohol and some serious mind-altering substances while playing Jungle Music very loud at 2am. The late Father Crilly would sympathise. My neighbour answered his door to me, eventually, waving not one but two meat-cleavers and, try as I might, I could not help but notice that he, on the other er hand, was not wearing boxer shorts. Or, apart from a look of confusion, anything else either.
And don’t even get me started about the Upstairs Sex People. I swear to you, for the first six months of their tenancy, I honestly believed they were some sort of amateur carpenters. Now that I’ve realised the true reason for the all-day, every-day banging sounds, I’m deeply troubled. I mean, I can only assume they have some class of an industrial-strength headboard, but my concern is more that it’s hopping off a support wall.
We say hello on the stairs but there’s never any eye-contact. Would you blame us?
I mentioned bins. Having been raised on “Top Cat” cartoons, my preconceptions of the behavioural patterns of feral cats took a severe dent the day my neighbours let our shared bins open. Not for my local alley-cats (the feline type, not the ones upstairs) the jazzy jive of hanging around trash-cans shooting the breeze whilst planning sub-Bilko capers and tormenting the area constabulary. No. All along the bin-front, wild cats did prowl and they did scatter rubbish everywhere too.
As a reluctantly responsible citizen and only because nobody else would do it, I cleaned up the mess and, while I was about it, I gained an unwanted insight to the contents of my neighbours’ rubbish bags too. I’ll spare you the worst of it, but someone in my building has something horribly wrong with the insides of their ears. Also, what kind of a human being puts used toilet-paper in the bin? And why?
Still, apartment-living isn’t all bad. The nice Indian couple who lived next door to me for a year gave me a beautiful rug as a thank-you for letting them use my wi-fi. And a few years ago, an American couple rang my bell and presented me with a Thanksgiving dinner.
In fact – for the most part – apartment living isn’t bad at all.
(And, in the interest of fairness, I suppose I should admit that the Dylan and the Springsteen and the Rory and all the rest can get a bit loud in my apartment, so I’m sure I’m far from the model neighbour myself.)
However, since the bins incident, when I pass my neighbours on the stairs, I will for the foreseeable spend a very long time indeed trying not to speculate as to which of them threw out their leopard-skin knickers. And, indeed, why.
And now, as I write this, I discover that the communal hall door has yet again been wedged open. Off I go to Google Translate to write a letter in Polish “from” the TV licence inspector.