It began shortly after we moved in. We would be sitting in the living room, when he would begin to pound.
Bam bam bam bam bam bam!
At first we had thought the display of anger correlated understandably with the cats — fat on beef with gravy, chasing each other madly around the apartment like two drunk buffalos. Pipsqueak could tumble off a bookshelf, or Jack would initiate a surprise-attack from behind the laundry basket, and two seconds later we’d hear it — bam bam bam bam! Bam bam bam! We guiltily locked the kitties into our bedroom, and made a note to apologize to him later, talk to him about it some time. I wrote him a letter, and we just kept editing it, never actually slipping it beneath his door.
But then it began happening when we were reading in bed, the cats asleep at our feet. It could be three in the morning, six in the evening, noon. Noon! Weekdays, weekends: our floor would shake, the frames would rattle on the walls. Jurvis would be out of town for a couple of days and in the wee hours of the morning I would hide, locked away with the cats as he threw thunderbolts of rage from below. The door quivered — I would clutch the sheets and freeze, plan an escape route out the window.
“That dude is a dick,” I said.
“The cats were sleeping!” Jurvis would cry. “Was he pounding just now because the steam heater was rattling? We don’t even control the heat!”
“Total, super dick,” I said.
Jurvis talked to our super, who said that this guy had already complained to him about us. The super had told this guy that he should just come talk to us about it. But that was a long time ago. “He’s still pounding?” the super asked.
It was 2am. The cats were slumbering in hiding: presumably a closet or boxspring somewhere, and Jurvis and I were talking in the living room. Quietly — we always walked on eggshells now. We weren’t moving from our seats. We didn’t play music.
Bam bam bam bam bam!
I darted straight up from the couch. “I’m going to go talk to him,” I said.
Neither Jurvis nor I are very confrontational people — as evidenced by the fact that this conversation has been put off through two lease signings — so lately we tend to take turns, as favors for one another. He’d talked to our upstairs neighbor a few weeks prior when she got a treadmill, and successfully negotiated good versus bad times to run: this was all mine. I took a deep breath, put on a pair of slippers, ran down the stairs and knocked on his door before I could think about it too much.
I realized, in the few seconds I waited for him to answer the door, that we had lived in our apartment for a year and a half, passing his door every time we came and left the building . . . and somehow, we’d never seen this man. I briefly wondered if this 2am meeting was a bad idea. But I didn’t have much time to deliberate: suddenly the door swept open and there he was, squinting into the florescent lighting of our hallway, somewhat large, with a beach ballish belly contained by a thin grey t-shirt. He was thirty-five, maybe forty years old. His skin was greasy and pallid like gum eraser, and his eyes were red-rimmed, watering grease-tears.
“Oh!” I said. “Hi there. Hi. Hey, so, I live above you, and we heard you knocking right now, and I’m just wondering — is there a problem?”
I mean, heck, maybe there wasn’t a problem. Maybe he . . . hung a lot of art.
“Yeah there’s a fucking problem!” he bellowed. “You’re fucking pounding on my fucking ceiling, all the fucking time! I haven’t gone to sleep before 5:30 in the morning in weeks!”
I don’t know what I expected. A shy smile? An embarrassed shuffle? I tend to believe that face-to-face contact alone resolves most disputes. Oh, you’re a human being! the fight in my mind ends. How awkward, I thought I was expressing anger at the plaster.
“I . . . I’m s-sorry to hear that,” I said. “I, um, I just wanted to let you know — I don’t know what’s causing the noise for you, but this time, we were sitting quietly upstairs. I’d say about twenty percent of the time you knock, we’re being completely quiet.”
He stared in disbelief. “What is this now! You think I fucking pound on my ceiling for fun?”
“No! No, it’s just, it’s an old apartment, we have steam heating — sometimes when you pound, our cats are running around, and we lock them away — but sometimes they’re asleep, and there’s nothing going on in our apartment, it’s completely quiet. Like right now — look, I don’t know what is causing this, but I just wanted to let you know that we do what we can, and sometimes we can’t tell what the problem is.”
“There is no one else it could possibly be. You live right upstairs.”
“Yes, but — ”
“Look,” he sighed, pressing his thumbs into those oil-pot eyes, “now is not the best time, all right?”
“I . . . right, that’s, uh, I understand — it’s late. This sounds like something we should discuss together . . . with the super. But I just wanted to let you know. Maybe we can revisit this later, and figure out what’s going on?”
He slammed the door shut. I bounded back up the stairs, where Jurvis was peering out of our apartment.
“That went pretty well,” he said. “Good job.”
“Dude is a dick,” I replied. “Definite, total dick. Ah well. Communications have been opened. Maybe next time he’ll come up and talk to us, instead of threatening us from below like some kind of balrog.”
Last night he pounded again. It was 8pm and the cats were going on an unusual, but brief, 8pm spree. “It’s 8pm!” I cried. “Our lease allows cats! What does he want us to do, keep them in a closet all day? He lives in a building with other people and he’s going to have to freaking deal.”
This time, for the first time, we pounded back.