They live upstairs. They are big, ponderous people, endlessly shifting from one end of the apartment to the other until my ceiling creaks like an old ship. They scrape chairs across the hardwood floor. They spring open what has to be a wrought iron sofa bed, crashing it onto the floor. They stomp their feet heel to toe, toe to heel. And when they roll bowling balls across the length of the apartment–how else to explain the thunder? –I wait for an explosion of pins that never comes. They are the people in Apartment 22, and they are driving me crazy.
At first it was music, if you could call it that: a throbbing, monotonous bass punctuated by treble notes and vocals that are about as welcome as sand in the eye. I complained, they lowered the volume. Then came movies in a home theater system with surround sound. The walls in my apartment shook like the walls of Jericho. I complained, they explained that it was already at the lowest setting but eventually relented, lowering the volume. Now, it is neither music nor movies, but a ritual of nightly banging that has me waiting–literally–for the other shoe to drop.
I am a reasonable man. I understand that not everyone lives the way I do. I keep strange hours, work tirelessly, eat little, and cherish silence. I don’t mean quiet. I mean tomb-like, hermetically sealed silence. That’s hard to do when you’re a living, breathing human being, which is why most people outside of monasteries do not live like this. I get it. So, in order not to drive me and everyone else around me crazy, I have solved the problem with technology. In this case, it is low tech, but low tech is still tech the same way that bad poetry is still poetry. My bad poetry consists of a collection of ear muffs like the ones you see baggage handlers wear as you’re waiting for forty-two rows of people to “deplane.”
These earmuffs counter the noise from the things that the people in Apartment 22 drop, butterfingered as they are. These include beads, balls, marbles, dishes, shoes, silverware, remote control devices, frying pans, screwdrivers, pens, Mason jars, and, from the sound of it, bodies wrapped in area rugs like so many Cleopatras delivered to Caesar. The miracle of ear muffs is that even if the sound penetrates the padded ear cushions, it is still negligible. If it gets worse, I put in ear plugs before putting on the ear muffs. The only protection greater than that would be deafness or death, neither one of which I am ready to try, although losing my hearing is oddly appealing.
The interesting thing about all of this is that noises can tell a story. Over the past two years, I have reconstructed what I think is the story of the people in Apartment 22. It is a sad story, which is one reason I haven’t made a big deal about the noise, except for one night bouncing a lacrosse ball against the intersection of wall and ceiling. What can I say? I have my limits.
When they first moved in, they were a family of husband, wife, and child. That was the music period. When there wasn’t throbbing of one sort, there was throbbing of another. I know this, because our bedrooms are directly aligned. Then a baby came, naturally enough. But almost immediately the sex stopped and the arguing started. After a while, I saw neither baby nor wife. They abandoned the man in Apartment 22 with the older child, whom I believe is from another marriage. Of course, I could be wrong about that. I would like to be wrong.
There are few things worse than divorce. If you’ve ever pulled anything up by the roots in a garden, then you have some idea of the violence and trauma involved. Divorce is that ripping sound, a tearing apart what was once whole even if imperfect. It is a destroyer of worlds and, perhaps, the ultimate betrayal. What it does to children is unconscionable, throwing them off course, in many cases, for the rest of their lives. There are no ear muffs to protect against it.
The other day I came home to find a note under my door from my neighbor below me. It seems my grinding espresso beans in my electric grinder at 5:00 am is waking him up. Could I please keep the noise down? And so it goes.