Thursday, November 29, 2007

One Man's Ceiling

I was fortunate most of my life to live on the top floor. While it is true that I spent a good deal of time in the basement of my parents' house, when I reflect back on the years I lived there, I think first of the corner bedroom that was first "my room". I learned to recognize most of the Beatles' songs by their bass lines after listening to them coming up through the floor when my brother played them on his stereo downstairs. When I took over his room, I learned to revel in the privacy, but was always acutely aware of exactly what was taking place above me: the dog jumping off the couch, the water running in the bathroom, my father walking to the kitchen. The world played out over my head, and I sometimes wished that I could move back upstairs.
I know that there are plenty of people who would shop for apartments that put them in a particular position. There are those who prefer to be close to the parking lot. Some prefer to be away from the stairs. Still others like to have a southern exposure. I was not one of those people. I took the apartment that was open, and moved in my stuff. It is only upon recent reflection that I have discovered this trend of upper floors.
In hindsight, I'm sure that I was generally a pretty good neighbor. The obvious exception to this rule would have been the somewhat regular occurrence of late-night debauchery in my college days, and in the years following my eventual graduation. Celebrating Bruce Springsteen's birthday with a keg on our porch in the middle of a work week seems like a bad idea now, but back then it was de rigeur. We made the lady downstairs cry. We used to tell people who threatened to call the cops on our loud parties that they wouldn't have to call loud, since on any given night there might be a few of them sitting on our couch, drinking beer or dodging flying darts. Maybe we weren't such terrific neighbors after all.
Maybe that's why I was mortified to discover that years after I quit drinking, I was still managing to upset the delicate balance of apartment dwelling. One morning as I was preparing to head out to work, I discovered a note that had been pushed under my door. It read, "I just thought you should know that I had to listen to every word of your phone conversation last night." I knew immediately what had happened. My trusty Spider-phone was in my bedroom, next to the wall, and I had been up late the night before having one of my late-night time zone bending chats. As I have confessed here previously, I was not blessed with what anyone would consider "an inside voice", hence the terse words from the lady next door. I spent the day ruminating on the things that I might say in apology or defense. I thought about all the things that I might do to make things better, or worse. In the end, I did nothing, with the possible exception of feeling extremely self-conscious every time my phone rang.
These days I wake up any time my son snuffles in his room, or my dog chases rabbits in her sleep. I hear the cars go boom as they roll down our urban street, and the sirens remind me of where I live. But upstairs is an empty attic, and downstairs the laundry room is quiet at night. When I do drift off, I'm glad to be back on top.

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