2:30 a.m. I wake up after fitfully falling to sleep an hour ago, when the last of the fireworks outside had been launched, and the drunken revelers had stumbled off to bed. There was no one outside my window on the pool patio, and the girls above me had stopped their clomping, stomping, and banging on my ceiling. I don’t know if they are doing Aerobics and trying to retile the floor with claw hammers, but it was goddamn loud. The first thought to pass through my mind was, “Am I on fire? Why I am so fucking hot? “ Then I put my hand to the radiator and quickly pulled it away. It was on, full bore, steam and water spraying up in a small arc. In July. My confused mind takes a minute to register this. My bed takes up a lot of room in my studio apartment, and the head rests directly by the furnace, which is recessed into the stucco wall. I do not have control of the heat or when it turns on, although there is a black knob to turn, which ostensibly adjusts the flow. As near as I can tell though, all this actually accomplishes is to change the whistling of the steam to a different pitch. I have the one of the windows above my bed open, although it is slightly covered by the insulation I have set up to muffle the noise coming from the pool below. This is basically a thatched bamboo mat with foam insulation duct taped to one side. This works marginally: that is to say the non-stop screaming and idiotic conversations are muffled to the degree where I can no longer hear every single word. In the summer, I am forced to either have this window open and listen to this stream of babble, or close it and count on the boxfan and the crack of my door that lets in air from the swamp cooler to keep me from shriveling to a dried-out husk. I leap out of my bed and cross to the kitchen. Instantly, just being ten feet away from the radiator is cooler. I mull my options. I could call the maintenance people who never answer the phone and cross my fingers that they might eventually show up, or wait for the thing to turn off. I decide on the latter. I stick my head into the freezer and rest it there among the frost and popsicles. It feels good. I look over at my bed, which I desperately want to climb back into, and swear I can see waves of heat rippling off of it like on a desert highway. I lie down in front of my door and feel the cool air of the hallway hit me. It must be a good thirty degrees cooler outside. I have never been a fan of heat, as my bearish physique (tall, beefy and hairy) does not allow it. I have been known to sleep with the window open in December and feel perfectly content. So this is an especially cruel torture for me. Paranoid thoughts brought on by lack of sleep begin to cross my head. I try to dismiss them outright but they stay creeping around the margins of my thought. I continue to lie in front of the door for several hours, soaking up the coolness parceled out to me. I briefly consider sleeping in the hallway, but dismiss this, although some
homeless people have been known to sleep off benders there when my idiot neighbors don’t lock the front door or leave it open. Sun starts creeping in through my blinds. I mentally compile a list of all the ways I want to kill the maintenance crew. Impalement with rusty hooks, being dragged behind a pickup truck, and public flogging all make the top 3. Finally, around 7 AM, the heat shuts off, but my room is still a balmy 90 degrees, even with the door and window open. I crawl back into my toasty bed and wait for the heat to dissipate, which it reluctantly does with the boxfan trained on it. By 9 AM, the room is finally cool enough for me to drift off to sleep. Just in time, too: the pool opens at 10 AM and will soon be filled with shrieking children. I call the rental agency to complain, and wonder aloud why they have seen fit to torture me. Of course, I end up wondering that to an answering machine. No one sees fit to offer me any sort of apology, nor is it apparent to them that one might be deserved. All this is absolutely par for the course in student hell.
2. Oh yes, the pool. Let me tell you all about the bane of my existence. My apartment windows directly face a gap between buildings in which there is a small pool. As it is between these two brick buildings sound made in it creates a kind of box canyon effect, amplifying and echoing towards anyone who can hear it. From the end of May to the end of August this pool is filled from 10 in the morning to whenever the sun goes down (and after: people love to stumble in drunk from the bar at 2 AM and go for a dip, or just climb the fence with their friends if they don’t live here.) The sunbathers are the least offensive: at least they are quiet, and if they want to bake themselves with skin cancer, I could really care less. Then we begin to climb the annoyance ladder. There’s the family from down the block: mom, dad, and their two shrieking little girls. The girls never stop making noise: if they are not screaming loudly while chasing each other, or screaming while arguing with each other, they are crying, gibbering, whistling….if they stop making noise their brains probably start working. Dad never stops talking, either, in his booming nasal baritone. He knows exactly what is wrong with the NFL and will tell you all about it, in excruciating detail. Dad also likes to drink beer and listen to bad FM radio (particularly 80’s soft rock) while watching, or not watching, his little hell spawn running amuck. Mom I never hear. Probably because the din of the other three drowns her out. It’s just as well; I doubt she could compete with the combined effect of her braying, jackass husband and the jet engine whine of her offspring. The constant exposure to these three has probably worn her down to a nub.
Then sometimes the drunken art students will come in and clank bottles around, play grab-ass and push each other in the pool. It’s pretty random as to when this will happen: could be 4 AM, or midnight, or 3 in the afternoon. Students like to keep it loose. I know, I was one once. Of course, I didn’t have a pool to raise havoc in, so who knows, really? Sometimes I get really lucky and all of these types will congregate together, under the guise of a “BBQ”, even though these are technically illegal according to the pool rules (so are music, bottles, swimming after 8 PM) but there is no lifeguard and the rules are largely self-enforced. So I get all the screaming, all the droning idiotic conversation, with the added ambience of breaking glass, charcoal smoke, and even louder awful music (Dave Matthews is a particular favorite, or Jimmy Buffet- both very popular with drunken idiots.) Then I can only hope for the cooling, vengeful hand of a thunderstorm to send them all running for the exit. This doesn’t happen as often as I would like. Anyway…. I suppose that you think I’m a grouchy old man after reading this far. Fair enough, although I haven’t reached 40 yet. And these people have a perfect right to be at the pool, with their family or their friends, in summertime. It’s not that. It’s that they never leave. I can’t leave my bedroom window open in July without the chance of being woken up at some random hour by one of these chumps. Quiet doesn’t exist in the summertime. Forget about writing or trying to get some work done with that constant din outside. And the thought of being forced to go to the library with the homeless people or the coffee shops with the hipsters to write fills me with dread. That only makes me feel more alone. The peeling patch of skin at the back of my neck is beginning to flake off. It looks like someone attacked my head with an arc welder back there. Christ, I fucking hate summer. Why isn’t it September yet?
3. It is late May and three A.M. The party above my head has been going on for a good five hours now, but just recently got a boost with the addition of a fresh crop of drunken yahoos discharged from the bar. I can hear the ceiling dip and buckle from the weight of the assembled throng. I hope that they stay off of the spot where the ceiling has been weakened by a leak (but I’ll tell you about that later). It is the end of the semester at the Art Institute, located just a few blocks from here, and the none-too-bright dipshits living above me are having a blow out for several dozen of their closest friends, inside their shoebox-sized studio. These are the same heavy-footed girls who like to do aerobics above my head at eight in the morning, and always make their presence known by their incessant clumping pounding. I think they wear cement galoshes. Oh my dear God, there’s that fucking MGMT song again. You kids are so fucking predictable. I wish I had some Merzbow or Napalm Death to throw back at you to make
your upper-middle class white girl ears bleed. You’d be begging to hear nails on a chalkboard then, but by then it’d be far too late. Every five minutes or so, someone exits the party and a new one joins- all running through the hallway and talking at the same volume- that is to say, FUCKING LOUDLY. They are completely ignorant that everyone in every apartment can hear every pointless, stupid thing they are saying. Or maybe they want everyone to hear them. I don’t know, but they are all poking the bear. Everyone knows that you don’t poke the bear. This is why I got out of the service industry: to avoid ever having to deal with these privileged twenty-year old douche bags ever again. I can only take pleasure in the thought of them fifteen years down the line, after the divorce and the alimony and the layoff and the extra thirty pounds around the middle and the balding spot. Life will rape everyone in the end, that’s the one thing I know for sure. The day after, I wrote the following on my blog: I have now gone past the pedestrian level of hate that might be expected for my upstairs neighbors after last night. This is a new and thrilling level of white-hot hate, one that soars leaps and bounds past the stifling limitations that it once felt. I guess it takes five straight hours of horrible, mind-killing bass heavy house music, stomping, pounding feet and the worst Karaoke sing-along this side of China. Hey bitches, I have news for you. You’re not the fucking cast of Glee, all right? You couldn’t even get into the first episode of American Idol with all the rejects. You and all your friends sound like girl-drink drunk whores celebrating your essential uselessness and vapidity. I wonder what it must like to be caught up in such an unrelenting flood of selfishness and ego. I wish I could be the one to slap the smugness off your uncomprehending face, but life will do that for you soon enough, far more painfully than I could ever hope to dream. My hatred for you is a perfect storm of focused anger that levitates me above this building, this block, this fucking town. I can see your empty bottles spilling out into the carpeted hall, and hear the rustling and loud cackling of your friends making themselves heard above the din. Because it’s all about being heard with you, right? Two dozen empty-headed containers of selfishness, screaming to be acknowledged at the top of their lungs at all times. When the rest of the world pricks your very shallow bubble I will be cackling too, but it will be at your terrified and bloody face. My life would have meaning at last if I could only be the agent of your brutalization. You’ve already proved that you clearly don’t give a shit about anyone beside yourselves, so why should I feel compunction about setting your bed afire as you snore in your alcohol-induced coma? Pain is coming. Was that too harsh, do you think? Are the waves of bile and rancor rising off that too much to take? Well, you try sleeping under that and tell me what you think.
4. It is mid- September and four AM. It is a lovely, brisk fall night and a single drop of water hitting me in the face interrupts my dreaming. Then another, and then three in rapid succession. My cozy dream world instantly dissolves and my eyes open. I flip on my
bedside lamp and look up at the ceiling, which is buckling down directly over my bed, with water condensing in the center and falling down. My brain registers this, and then I stand up to investigate. The ceiling is white stucco, and when I poke at it, it gives like marshmallow goo. I briefly see a mental picture of a bathtub falling through the ceiling and killing me in my sleep. I frantically call the 24-hour maintenance number and after 10 minutes or so, someone picks up. ‘Yeah?” a gruff and sleepy voice answers. “Hi. I’m calling from the Alcott building…I think my upstairs neighbor’s plumbing is busted, because my ceiling is buckling and there’s water dripping onto my bed. I need someone to come here and shut off the water before my ceiling falls in.” “All right, on my way.” Another hour passes before he shows up at the door, a wrinkled and wizened man with a bushy mustache in his mid-forties, with that type of leathery skin that only Colorado seems to produce. In this time, the wet pulpy spot on the ceiling has widened to a 2 by 2 foot circle. I let him in and he takes a glance at my ceiling. I notice his eyes grow large. He runs out and up the stairs, and I can hear a frantic knocking above me. After about five minutes, he comes back down. He has a wry look on his face, as if he just seen something inexplicably amusing. “Did you shut the water off?” I say. “Yes. But you have to hear this story.” I sit down. “Your upstairs neighbor came home from the bar, and decided she wanted a bath. But she passed out after turning the faucets on. She woke up an hour later and the room was flooded.” “And she didn’t call you guys?” I say incredulously. “Nope. Apparently she didn’t think it was that big of a deal, although she did after I told her it was leaking into your apartment.” The look on his face says he is used to dealing with idiocy like this, with a fresh crop arriving every fall. “What an idiot.” I snort in disbelief. “I have to agree. Look, the water is off up there, so you just have to let the rest of it drain through. I’ll come back tomorrow to check it.” “So that’s not going to collapse on me in my sleep?” I almost wouldn’t mind this as long as it was relatively quick.
“I don’t think so, no. The structure is still sound, but the plaster around the leak will drop off till it dries out.” The next day was primarily spent picking up wet bits of plaster out of my carpet, and periodically pounding the ceiling with a broom and screaming obscenities at the upstairs neighbors. I have no idea if they heard me, and I doubt they cared anyway, but that was preferable to what I really wanted done to them, which I will leave to your imagination.
5. So what must you think of me now? An ill-tempered crank shut up alone in his room and despising everything around him? Do you think I am angry because I really long to be one of those art students with a perfect tan and perfect teeth chasing each other around the pool and shrieking? Do you assume I want to be one of those drunken youths, dancing with abandon on a creaky wooden floor at three in morning? And do you believe my hatred stems from the fact that I am not? I never was any of those things. I know what I am and what I am not. And I am not one of them and could never be. All I ever wanted from them was to stay out of my sight. Flush with the insensate hum of being young, they just don’t get it. Kids have always been dumb. They don’t even know they’re young, they don’t know they are at the apex of their short lives, they don’t know or care about anything beyond what is directly in front of them, besides the joint in their mouth and the beer in their hand. There are vast canyons of time I would wish to pull back and reroute, but nothing will give me that control. I heard on the radio some doctor offer a diagnosis: seething hatred at everything, masking bottomless depths of sadness and depression. I didn’t want to admit it but that was me. That is me. Once I could see the whole of the world, legs spread before me, waiting to submit to me. That moment has long since passed me by, but I still rise to open my door every morning. Because I will not be stopped by you. I know I will never have the perfect other half to complete me. But still I drag myself to the bar and force myself to make agonizing small talk to strangers. And not just any bar, the one bar in town where my size is seen as an asset. Where eyes turn to meet me, stirrings of longing directed my way. I’ve felt that heat, I know it exists. And none of you can take that away from me. Especially not you, sorority girl tanning by the pool with your copy of Cosmo, and your boyfriend with the pink polo and the popped collar and the smug mouth full of perfect white teeth. I do not respect the opinions of people who have never been outside anything. Your values are worth less than nothing. And I despise each and every one, because it is so goddamned easy for them. But as all our time winds down, I realize I should be grateful for these clowning jerks. Because they are really the ones driving me along. To prove I have more to offer. To prove I am above all this petty bullshit and frustration. I might live in the center of hell but I am still a
human being. So thanks, nineteen-year-old asshole screaming, “party!” outside my window. Now how’s about shutting the fuck up?