Sunday, September 30, 2012

Love Thy Neighbor, Or the Big Rug Debacle of 2012

The doorbell to our apartment isn't really a bell, per se. It makes a sound not unlike a spluttering vehicle as it gives out on the highway (not that I speak from experience...), so my first reaction when it "rings" is never one of, "Oh, someone's at the door!" Also, no one is ever at the door because we don't know anyone, & the maintenance guy doesn't knock. In other words, the sound of our doorbell ringing is a wholly foreign one.

When the doorbell spluttered last Tuesday night, then, I hardly recognized it. I was 30 minutes out of the shower, dressed up & preparing to leave the apartment, & Nathan was watching TV as I got ready. I opened the door cautiously.

"Hi," said the unfamiliar face at the door. "I'm Barbara, & I live downstairs. And..." Here she paused, sticking her neck out & opening her eyes wide as if to make a point: "It's really loud." It sounded like a question, almost, but a particularly accusatory one - which makes sense, as she was accusing us of being really loud.

Confession: Just before this accosting, I'd been trying to scare my ever-jittery cat, Whitmore, by lunging & sort of stomping in his general direction. In retrospect, I have no doubt that this was a rather loud activity, especially because I was wearing (the more fashionable equivalent of) combat boots. Of course, I didn't mention this to Barbara. In fact, I didn't have time to mention this to Barbara, as she quickly launched into a very composed tirade.

"Do you have rugs?" Barbara asked us, daring us to say no.

"Yeah, we have... rugs," I stammered in nervous response. Plural, accidentally, though we only had one.

"I'm pretty sure it says in the lease that you have to have rugs," Barbara chastised, clearly not believing me & talking rather quickly in that way that indicates a person will continue until he or she is absolutely finished. "The rugs have to cover a certain percentage of the floor so that things like this don't happen. A lot of rugs. It's really loud when you're just walking around up here on wood floors. And," she added, her eyes scanning to my feet, "I'm sure it would help if you didn't wear heavy shoes while you're home. I think it says in the lease that you have to have rugs?" She even told us she'd had the super over to listen to us "stomping around."

My response was pathetic, really. Taken aback at this interaction & at Barbara's utter lack of neighborliness (heck, I once confronted my neighbors about having overly loud sex, & I practically apologized to them), I sort of gaped at her, terrified, throughout the duration of the interaction, occasionally murmuring, "Okay," in that hurried, huffy tone that teenagers sometimes use with their mothers. "Okay," I murmured when she finished. "We'll get rugs." And then she turned & left, leaving me shaking & embarrassed & angry & afraid to walk across my own apartment.

Look, I don't blame Barbara for coming up. I know it's tough to confront a neighbor. But I take issue with her methodology, the telling me what's in my lease (are you my landlord, Barbara?) & the judging of my shoes. I also wish she'd been more specific. Like, are we loud all the time, like on days when we're mostly watching TV & sometimes crossing the living room in stocking feet to making spaghetti - or just when I'm trying to scare the bajeezus out of my cat? Have we been unbearably loud all three months (!) we've lived here, or have we recently been worse? And if she called the super over, why didn't the super come to us, if it's truly such a problem? Is Barbara extra-sensitive or do we sound like elephants or is there some reality in between?

Immediately following this interaction, Nathan & I switched up our prior plans & drove to Big Lots, where we purchased one big (zebra print?!) rug for my office. I doubt it's going to appease Barbara's delicate aural senses much, but yo, I'm trying. Rugs are expensive! Do you know how expensive rugs are?! I'll buy some more, but at the current going rug rate, I'm running one rug a paycheck! Since Barbara came to visit, I've also not worn those boots indoors. Much.

That night, I also wrote Barbara a very nice note (I didn't want to have to talk to her again!), which I slid under her door, apologizing for my curtness during her visit & informing her of our new floor decor. She slid a response under our door a few days later, middle-school style, & while I think it's nice, I'm not entirely sure. The problem is that now, fearing another encounter, I spend approximately all of my time worrying that my every move is offending Barbara. This is particularly anxiety-inducing as I work from home & basically never leave. In other words, I think about Barbara probably a million times a day.

As much as I didn't love living in a half-underground first-floor apartment like we rented in New Hampshire, I find myself longing for the days when there was nothing below my floors but cement & soil...

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