I am restless.
Nothing sounds interesting. I tried watching television. Reruns. I tried reading my book. Short stories of Dorothy Parker just aren’t grabbing my attention tonight. I worked out. I cooked dinner. I cleaned. I took out the trash.
I’m listening for the neighbors, at this point.
In my last apartment, I knew we weren’t the quietest kids in the complex. My upstairs neighbor (She Bangs, for those of you who remember), reminded me every morning by tap-dancing as she prepared for work. But I’m not disrespectful. I don’t play loud music. I don’t yell and scream. I use my “inside voice,” for the most part. I take the trash out before it’s too late, and I remember to bring the trash cans in before it’s dark again the next day. I thank the mailman when he comes by every day, even if he’s only brought bills.
But I haven’t lived in a house since high school, and I haven’t lived in a “neighborhood” neighborhood in even longer.
The house in Houston, where my mom still lives, our neighbors rarely come around. We hear of them in spurts– when two people check the mail at the same time, or if two couples happen to be washing cars on the same weekend day. But we never had block parties. We never went to each others’ homes for holidays or celebrations. It was a pleasant surprise to hear how much my neighbors reached out to my mom when Dad passed away. They brought her food and gave their condolences. But they don’t engage in gossip, and they don’t invest in each others’ lives. They are families that live near each other, and that’s about it. I think my mom only knows the families on either side of her, and a few other houses around that. I couldn’t even tell you most of the houses, except for the families I just mentioned, and the house where my best friend in high school used to live.
But here I am in a neighborhood, where families live. Where kids play. Kids play loudly. They scream curse words that I’d never have been allowed to use at their age. There are dogs barking and cars screeching and the sound of a basketball at all hours. It’s very different. I’m near a fire house, so I’m still getting the sound of fire engines about five times a day. But I’m not hearing the sounds of partying girls or drunk lost boys finishing a forty outside my back door.
But I now feel like I have even less privacy. My office window looks into the backhouse of my neighbor. They often leave their door open and play musical instruments. My other neighbor’s kid is attempting to learn how to play the drums. He turns on the Rolling Stones and tries to keep up. Every time he messes up he starts the song over again. It sounds like someone’s falling down the stairs with a drum kit as Mick Jagger drives by.
One day I heard kids screaming at the top of their lungs. I thought there was a kidnapping. I saw through the window that they had put their garden hose up full blast and were taking turns shoving the hose up each other’s asses, screaming about how much it hurt. You know, just when I think I understand boys, they go and shove hoses up their asses in a large group and shout about how cold and painful it is to do it.
I didn’t actually see them put the hose up each other’s butts, I just heard them yelling about it. I don’t actually spy on the neighbors. Their voices are louder than my television sometimes.
I hear my neighbors talk, fight, clean, sing and sneeze. I can hear them on the phone. I see them fix their houses. Wash their cars. Walk their dogs. I know that the kid next to me hates the lock on the back shed. I know because he curses it loudly every day, screaming at his mom to take the padlock off the shed. I know that the people across the street have a maid that comes by every day. Her husband parks outside my kitchen window.
And why, why, why would you toot your car horn sixteen times just to tell the people inside that you’re home? Why do you do it during prime nap time? Why? Why? Why?
I’m all sounding like Rear Window here, but I’m just feeling like I’m somehow closer to my neighbors now than when I was in an apartment. I guess in an apartment you just expect a certain level of noise and intrusion. But a house is its own building, and there’s a fence up to pretend you have a moat and a fortress.
The neighbors across the way introduced themselves to me one afternoon by telling me that we’re too loud. “How do I say this?” she stammered. “We can hear everything. We hear your conversations.” She asked us to close our windows at night.
Is it our responsibility to close our windows if we’re just watching television? If we’re sitting up playing Scrabble, do we have to whisper?
Right now there’s someone rolling their trashcans to the curb. It’s midnight. But I’m not upset about it. I know it’s not going to go on for very long, and shit, people sometimes forget to take out the trash. I’m not going to go over there and ask them to remember to take them out sooner, or not park so close to my car that I’m blocked in, or to stop fighting outside my window. Because they’re on their side of the fence. I figure as much as I hear them, they’ve got to put up with me.
Isn’t that what being a neighbor is all about? We put up with all these weird families because we know we’re just as strange? It amazes me when one neighbor moves across that line and decides to change things. I guess it’s because we’re young and we seem to be the “kids” that need to be kept in line. We’re the only people on this block that aren’t families with kids. So any noise is blamed on us. We’re young and new. But I’ll tell you, that twenty-one year old girl in the guesthouse just dumped a box of beer bottles into her recycling bin, and it was damn loud.
But I’m a good neighbor. It’s none of my business.
It’s just none of their damn business, is what it is. If they can hear me and my friends talking, playing a board game, watching a movie or making a pie, I don’t see why they don’t just close their windows or turn on a fan. I’m not running through the streets screaming, or kicking boys out the door so they knock and cry my name to the moon. I don’t have a yippie dog that barks all day when I’m home and howls all night when I’m gone. I don’t have a yippie dog that shits in their lawns. I felt guilty today for breathing too hard while I did my Tae-Bo. That’s not right. I’m worried that Billy’s yelling at me too loudly, but I’m afraid to turn it down because my neighbors might come by to ask me to stop masturbating so loudly near the window.
I’m restless. I need to get out more. I shouldn’t take entire days inside like this. It’s not good for my head.
Anyway, that was the welcome wagon around here. There’s another story about when I thought there was a gas leak. I packed the cats and sat on the curb while the gas lady warned me that my house could blow up at any time. A neighbor came home and informed me that the smell was from when she dumped sulfuric acid in the pipes outside my office window. Her pipes are practically in my house, you see. Then she drove away instead of telling me she dumped acid outside my window.
What? Why? Huh? Can people do that? I wouldn’t do that. When we throw a party we make invites for all the neighbors and tell them to let us know if we’re being too loud. I don’t dump toxic fumes across property lines! I don’t even like to grill food when the smoke might go up to a second floor apartment. I drove poor Ray crazy worrying about the neighbors and sound levels and now suddenly I’m the problem neighbor because I have company at midnight?
I’m getting myself riled up. Restless! Restless!
I bought stamps.
Oh, good. Thank you.
They’re Houdini stamps. I thought you’d like them.
Okay. I’m putting them over here. But I can’t guarantee they will be here later.