On Neighbors and Other Monsters

I couldn't find any better title than Slavoj Zizek's to describe my situation with the creature living downstairs. So what is my pointless rant about this time? Let's start from the beginning... 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 The residents have mostly been replaced by yuppies and well off families though a few ancient inhabitants still exist in rent controlled apartments.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!
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The Gaza Diary

Via Syria Comment, a young Palestinian woman from Gaza publishes her diary entries in an Italian newspaper:  
Jalal We all sat in my brothers room this morning listening to Jalal recount his story. He is one of my brother’s close friends and colleague in the engineering faculty. For the past week my brother had lost touch with Jalal, who’s home lies in the most dangerous neighborhood in Gaza city, al Zaytoun. This neighborhood has been closed off by the Israeli military with earthen barriers, even ambulances aren’t allowed in, while houses are being demolished over the residents’ heads. Tens, if not over a hundred people have already died there, and that’s why my brother was so worried about Jalal, being unable to reach him by phone. Jalal called my brother yesterday evening to tell him he was ok, and came over to see us this morning. Let me tell you a little about this incredible young man.... ...... A taste of destruction. (Published Jan 10) Today we came close to experiencing the destruction and disposition experienced by 15 000 Palestinians in the past 13 days. As we sat down to a dinner made from scratch we heard a loud explosion that seemed to come from right above of our heads. We sprang up and didn’t know what to do. Should we go outside? If the building was being targeted that would be dangerous. In a matter of seconds tempers had flared and we proceeded to argue over the next course of action. Our argument was cut short by a banging on the door and shouts coming from outside “The building has been hit!! Evacuate the building”. It took us a few seconds to gather ourselves, and we immediately sprang to action, gathering small bags containing our official documents, pulling on jackets and shoes, grabbing cell phones and rushing to the door. We made our way downstairs along with the residents of our 14 floor building and ran across the street, gathering in front of the gate to the UNRWA headquarters. Everywhere you looked people hung on to each other, young children stared open eyed and infants wrapped in blankets began to wail. A fight arose between two men from the building and an UNRWA guard. The guard refused peoples request to open the gate and allow them to take cover inside. “If anything happens our children’s blood will be on your hands” screamed the impassioned father. “Go to the UNRWA shelters”, the guard screamed back, there’s one 10 minutes away. 48 people have already been killed in these shelters and we all new that....
   Thanks FT
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Memoirs of a State Security Thug

Thursday March 15,

Dear Diary;

Today I had to get up early and get ready for another round with those anti-Egyptian foreign agents who like to call themselves political and human rights activists, Huh!

Since their demonstration was supposed to start around 4pm in Tahrir square we got orders to be there from early noon to be ready to thwart any attempt to start it earlier than that.

I was very excited. For a long time now I have been deprived of the joy of kicking the shit out of these worthless mother f***ers who do nothing but scream slogans full of hate for our great leaders. Unfortunately my excitement didn't last long. When I got to the square I saw to my horror that none of the state security police had their anti-riot equipment on! I was devastated because this meant only one thing; the demonstration will be peacefully put to an end! Why would any sane person do that? Anyway, I can't really question my superiors' decision, they know better.

I stood in Tahrir square for a while talking to other colleagues when we saw one of the officers. I ventured to ask him why the decision was made to end the demonstration peacefully. He told me that this was because there was a lot of foreign media and the government didn't want to be put on the defensive again. "The government has had enough trying to explain to those dumb foreigners who don't mind their own business why it had to deal severely with the bastards." He told me.

We spent the rest of the day and evening doing nothing but hang around the corners of the downtown streets waiting for orders. Other colleagues had more fun. Mohamed, for instance, helped arrest three of the thirty something rats we caught and Mahmoud was able to push and kick some of the demonstrators who wanted to leave the cordoned area.

At around 11 pm we left for home.

God! What a boring day! If this persists I'll go back to being privately hired. Government work is no longer any fun.

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Memoirs of a Journalist in Cairo

Chapter 1: Waiting for Godot.

On a Thursday, trying to get hold of an important government official.

Me: Hello, can I talk to Mr. Fulan

Civil Servant 1: Wait a second please,

Civil Servant 2: hello?

Me: Hello, can I talk to Mr. Fulan?

Civil Servant 2: who wants him?

Me: I'm a journalist and I want to talk to him abt…

Civil Servant 2: then you should call the PR office.

Me: Can I have the number please?

Civil Servant: sure,…


Me: Hello, is the PR office?

PR: Yes, who's speaking?

Me: I'm ESM, a journalist for…. I need to talk to Mr. Fulan about…

PR: Ok, please send us your questions in a fax.

Me: Can I send them on email instead?

PR: Sure, our email is…. Email us and we'll call you back.

Me: Thanks.


After the weekend, on Sunday

Me: Hello,

PR: Hello, yes?

Me: I'm the journalist from… I've sent the email on Thursday and just wanted to know when I'll get a reply?

PR: Oh, yes! I'll check the computer now and will call you back.

Me: Thanks!


Two days later

Me: Hello, I'm ….., You said you'll call me back, but..um…when will I get an answer for my email?

PR: I'm sorry but the email hasn't reached us!

Me: But I did send it?!!!!!!!!!!!

PR: You sure you sent it to….

Me: Yes!

PR: Then Can you please email it again!

Me : Ok


Next day

Me: Hello,

PR: Yes?

Me: I'm….

PR: Oh, hello

Me: Did you finally get my email?

PR: Can you please call me back in an hour? I'll go check your email now.

Me: ok, thanks.

An Hour Later

Me: Hello

PR: Oh, hi

Me: So…

PR: I'm so sorry but I don't know why we didn't get your email… anyway, can you please send us the email again on this address,….?

Me: Ok, I'm emailing it right now.


Next Day

Me: Hello, Mr…., I'm…

PR: Hello

Me: So, when do you think I might get a reply?

PR: hmm, tell you what, why don't you take Mr. Fulan's secretary office number and deal with them directly?

Me: (finally some progress!) Sure.


Spending all day trying to call the secretary whose phone is always busy.


Next Day

Me: Hello, Miss….

Secretary: Yes?

Me: I'm ….. I've been trying to get hold of Mr. Fulan for the past few days,

Secretary: Oh, Yes, I know

Me: (finally somebody who knows what is going on in office!) So when could I get a reply from Mr. Fulan? They are only three short questions?

Secretery: Yes, I know, but Mr. Fulan has been busy so we haven't given him your email yet.

Me: (wtf!!!) Oh! So when do you think he can reply back?

Secretery: Please call me tomorrow.

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