The Man Upstairs

Every once in a while I wish I could see what is really going on in my upstairs neighbor’s apartment. He is an intriguing mystery. Like most of the people who live in my building, he has a vaguely familiar face I occasionally see in the elevator. However, his is the only apartment I wish I could spy on. I have my theories about what goes on in there, but given what I hear and smell, some things I know for certain.

I know that the man upstairs smokes pot. And whatever variety of marijuana it is, I hate it. I’ve smelled pot before. It was a pretty common aroma in college. But I don’t remember being bothered by the scent of it then. Did my fellow alumnae smoke a different, better-smelling variety? Or did I care less?

The man upstairs doesn’t smoke pot every day, but when he does smoke, he smokes for hours. The stench of marijuana creeps into my apartment like an invisible fog. I can follow his olfactory trail through the building without a bloodhound. I can tell when he’s taken the stairs or checked his mailbox. I can smell when he’s been in the laundry room or used the elevator.

The man upstairs often keeps nocturnal hours. Now and again I will wake up in the middle of the night and hear him watching television or playing a video game. He also chooses the wee hours of the morning to drag furniture across the floor. I imagine he thinks nighttime is the best time for redecorating.

The man upstairs loves the song “The Lady in Red.” I know this because he plays it on a regular basis at maximum volume. He has a lot of songs that he likes. Some weeks he plays those same songs, in the same order, at maximum volume, every day. He usually sings along. The man upstairs is tone deaf, so that is always an unwelcome sound.

Fortunately my upstairs neighbor’s taste in music isn’t graphic or offensive. Unfortunately, his volume preference is often invasive. Sometimes he plays his music so loud that it takes on an almost physical presence—a presence strong enough to push me beyond the boundaries of my sanity, if not out of my apartment. I don’t know how he enjoys or endures such voluminous sound without being overwhelmed. I suspect he doesn’t hear very well.

Whether singing off key or talking on the phone, the man upstairs has a voice that carries. He sounds passionate about things. This is most unfortunate for me when he is singing and distracting when he is talking to someone. I don’t think he lives alone, but his is the only voice I ever hear coming from his apartment. He is angry (or emphatic) a lot.

Quite often it sounds as though my upstairs neighbor is dropping things or knocking them over—heavy things. That, or he has installed his own bowling alley. Sometimes I imagine that the man upstairs lives with a heavy-footed baby giant who is still learning how to walk. The baby giant stomps around my upstairs neighbor’s apartment bumping into pieces of furniture and knocking them over. The baby giant amuses himself by picking things up (like a loveseat, bookshelf, or refrigerator) and then dropping them. And because the baby giant is still learning how to walk, he falls a lot.

Then, often for weeks at a time, the man upstairs will be silent. Those quiet days are like Christmas gifts. I cherish them. I can sleep as late as I need to instead of being woken up by the sound of “The Lady in Red” blaring through my upstairs neighbor’s stereo and his vocal accompaniment—energetic and atonal in equal measure. I can think and work without loud interruptions that leave me to wonder if the baby giant has fallen and can’t get up, or if the man upstairs is trapped under something the baby giant dropped. I can breathe deeply and open the windows without having my nose offended by the stench of marijuana. On these days I don’t have to explore the violent or vindictive facets of my imagination. I don’t daydream about torturing my upstairs neighbor with sounds or sensations he’s powerless to stop. Instead, I am at home (and at peace) in my apartment.

Whether the man upstairs is being quiet or noisy, I would love to be able to secretly peek into his apartment and see what’s really going on—to be able to match accurate visuals to the smells and sounds. Is there a baby giant up there? What keeps falling/getting knocked over/dropped? Does the man upstairs have a bowling alley? Is he practicing for karaoke? Is he there when it’s quiet, or is he sleeping or at work? I’m so curious to know.

My curiosity makes me wonder what my downstairs neighbor imagines about me. What does it sound like when I’m doing Zumba or burpees? Am I louder than I think? Are the sounds I make interesting?

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