Since I relocated to NYC I have been living in this complex of gentrified buildings that once upon a time used to be housing projects built for GIs. The residents have mostly been replaced by yuppies and well off families though a few ancient inhabitants still exist in rent controlled apartments. A lot has been modified and changed in the area but the main problem (which, according to my New Yorker friends, is symptomatic of all post-war buildings in NYC) still exists -the walls and ceilings are paper thin. They are so thin that I can tell when my upstairs neighbor is wearing a skirt because I can hear the rustle of fabric when she walks back and forth in the apartment!
Apart from occasional inevitable noise by the neighbors, things have been very quiet and calm until a month ago when I realized I lived above Hades, an underground world inhabited by one angry creature who I presume is a living dead for reasons that I will mention below.
For a couple of months I kept hearing screams, loud talk and knocking on walls and pipes that would take place once a week or every ten days. At the beginning I thought that the downstairs neighbors are the hot-blooded type who enjoy an occasional fight to spice up their boring life (I hear all sorts of sounds from all the apartments around me except for one type, if you know what I mean) but by the third time I realized that the noise was always produced by one woman, middle aged or older and that it is always associated with knocking sounds so I assumed that she is angry at someone for not fixing something properly. That hypothesis, unfortunately, only lasted a few minutes and from that day onwards the nature of the downstairs inhabitant was quickly revealed.
It so happened that I had my high heel boots on that afternoon (normally I don't wear heels and I don't wear shoes at all when staying home) and after putting them on and just when I was about to leave the apartment I realized that I forgot a couple of things so I ran, with them on, between the bedroom, the bathroom and the living-room only to notice that what sounds like a broom stick banging on my floor/her ceiling was literally chasing my footsteps back and forth!
A week later, as I was cleaning up my bedroom early in the morning, I moved the bed by mistake. That one short squeak of the bed legs on the wood floor made the neighbor flip so badly that her voice came to me very distinct and clear this time and for 10 to 15 minutes I was bombarded with neighborly pleasantries that only a true New Yorker can produce -a lot of F***s and B****s and other interesting linguistic combinations. Needless to say, that was follwed by me double checking that my apartment door is properly locked and that my mobile phone is where I can grap quickly if I need to call 911. The downstairs neighbor belonged to a hostile species very alien to me.
A few days later loud banging followed the screech of the desk chair I was sitting on as I tried to adjust its position while I sat on my desk reading.
Another uneventful week passed by and after a fun Friday evening party I returned home at 4 am with a friend who had to crash at my place because she missed her last train to NJ. I "instinctively" took my shoes off but the friend didn't and only after two minutes of entering the house the neighbor knocked exactly where my friend was standing with her high-heel shoes! the woman clearly had sharp ears and never slept.
From all the incidents that I have mentioned and a few other very similar ones, I now have a very vivid image of what this neighbor looks like. Below in her Hades, she is perpetually sitting there on the ground on all fours with a broom in one hand and her head turned up towards the ceiling, my floor, waiting eagerly for the least bit of noise so that she can leap to the ceiling and start her sacred and clearly much cherished ritual of banging and swearing -an image not at all soothing and one that had made me so paranoid I sometimes catch myself walking on tiptoe!
If she does that because of occasional momentary noise, I don't want to think about what she would do if I was to have a party at my place.
But seriously, why don't I do something about it? Go downstairs and talk to the woman? Unfortunately, I am the victim of a "genteel" upbringing that has done no good to me but disarm me from vital self-defence tactics like shouting back at people and swearing at them and since it is clear that politeness is not going to work with that woman I can do nothing but make sure I avoid meeting her, avoid her wrath and express my frustration and feelings of being unfairly oppressed through writing.
But occasionally I am very curious to know what this neighbor looks like. There is a grouchy old lady that I keep running into at noon outside the building when the sun is out and there is a paranoid elderly lady who I also keep running into in the entrance of the building in the evenings on my way back home who keeps telling me that she thinks that some strange men outside are staring at the building. She must be one of the two or a third eccentric friend of theirs!