The Girl/Guy/Man/Woman Next Door

Good fences make good neighbors, the poet’s neighbor says. I would amend that to “Good soundproofing makes good neighbors.”I have always had living situations with neighbors and I like it that way. Not for me the vast solitary stretches of prairie or heath or woods or moors or walled gardens. I like people and I like the sounds of their lives. It’s comforting to hear silverware clinking at dinner, a chortling laugh with a family member, tuneless singing at a birthday party, or the hum of a television lulling the warrior home from work.It’s less comforting to hear loud arguments, two people sharing a shower, an exorcism, or armored tanks. The first was commonplace in my hometown, where reckless urban development meant that old ranch-style homes gave way to tenement-like monstrosities

peopled with families who seemed to be living right by your bed.

The second was an occasional annoyance in my last apartment building in the Mid-West. The female partner would often complain that the boyfriend was getting her hair wet and he would apologize. New couple…I would think cynically. Let’s hear how long this lasts.

But they did not hold a candle to my neighbors by the other wall, who appeared to be running their own church and crusading against old Nick. It was a slow burn, if you will. I listened with some bemusement when the group prayers began and then in the following weeks with confusion and then outright concern at the loud thumping and call-and-response yelling. I confess that my worry was less about slaughtered poultry (since I eat meat) and more about humans getting all manner of sins pounded out of them. The above recording was made by me standing out in the hallway with my laptop and then sent out to friends, who confirmed that the noises were what I though they were. Since the young men who lived in the apartment were perfectly polite, friendly and non-crazy (as well as the building’s managers!) I didn’t file a complaint with the landlord but I did gently mention it to him when I was leaving. I hope the new tenant is just hearing the water conservationists on the other side of the apartment.

In my current residence, the noise-making prize goes to the folks above. They appear to be riding WW-II Panzers every night after 11 and every day before 7. The rumbles continue for an hour or more on the un-carpeted floor (in a building where all apartments are required to be carpeted by co-op board rules). I have been up there to knock on the door twice, being met both times by different but equally frail old folks who barely open the door wider than an inch. The noises cease after these visits but resume their usual war-path footing the next day. Every once in a while, the noises of a scrabbling animal or a rhythmic banging adds to the symphony. So now I amuse myself by imagining that some version of Narnia is unfolding upstairs. When I really need to sleep, it’s some handy ear-plugs.

The next time I look for an apartment, I definitely want the top floor or some industrial sound proofing. And no exorcisms.

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