Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Neighbour Upstairs

I once lived in a crowded split-level house in downtown Toronto that was overrun by 10 university students. There was a jam space in the basement suite next to ours that housed a rotating list of maladroit punk rockers annihilating their instruments every single day. The tenants may have been vampires. They’d mill about until the wee morning hours, banging stuff and carrying on, their voices floating through the thin walls of the house and into my room.

The worst of them was the tenant living directly above me. She was 20 or so, with a Susan Boyle haircut, the snout/build of an English bulldog and, I can only assume, rubber mallets for legs. At all hours of the night, she’d pace back and forth and it seemed that the floor — my ceiling — was going to cave in. She kept me up most nights, dragging chairs, playing music, walking around — just, y’know, living. She was ruining my life.

It wasn’t entirely her fault — the house was a structural nightmare — but from this, I developed an acute irritation to even the slightest household noise, especially at night, and especially that of footsteps above me. I left that dump in March, moved to Vancouver and vowed to never, ever, ever live with roommates again.

And then I moved to Whistler. Finding the right spot at an affordable price is like a rite of passage in this town, usually discovered through word of mouth and only if one has the right connections. I do not. Nor do I have $1,200 to spend on the one-bedroom suites advertised in this paper. I viewed a dozen or so places before settling in the master bedroom with a view of Alpha Lake in a townhouse inhabited by two Grateful Dead fans. Life is great — except there’s a third roommate. And he lives directly above me.

I hadn’t met him before my first night in my new room but, based on the heavy thumping at 2 a.m., I gathered he must be some kind of ogre. The house was built in the 1970s and the floorboards creak with every step. Naturally, I spent the night cursing this stranger, sweaty and irritated, vowing to one day (and soon) live alone in a shack in the woods and never get married, never have kids. Never mind companionship, a man needs sleep.

The next day, I played over in my head how I would tell this stranger that his mere existence above me was driving me absolutely insane. I would approach him with a cold 12-pack of Old Milwaukee, offer him one and ask him to keep it down once midnight rolls around.

Is it acceptable to ask this person — or any person really — to limit what he does in his own room? And, if so, does he then have the right to tell me to go fuck myself? Because we all have the right to our private spaces and to do as we please within them. It’s when our actions negatively affect other people that changes in our behaviour are warranted.

Granted, it’s mainly my neurosis fueling this one-man drama. And I know that some people in Whistler exist quite comfortably living two or three people to a room, in houses of eight, nine or 10 people. But it was noisy up there and, neurotic or not, he was keeping me up at night. Don’t I, like every other person, have the right to a peaceful rest in a quiet room, if I so choose? That night, as the creaking and thumping continued, I decided that my right to a quiet sleep trumped his right to walk around.

The next day, he was cooking up a stir-fry. I took an Old Milwaukee from the fridge (one of 12) and we exchanged hellos. I discovered that he was not an ogre after all but a friendly, beady-eyed fellow from Victoria. We made congenial small talk about work and the weather before settling into a brief silence. His stir-fry sizzled.

“So how’s your room working out?” I asked.

“It’s working out good.” He poured some soy sauce on the skillet and it hissed. “How’s yours?”

“Yeah, it’s good, y’know.” I took a swill of beer. “The only thing is, um, the floorboards between our rooms are kind of weak and…” And so on.

He of course had no idea what Hell had been raised just eight feet below him. He seemed genuinely concerned about this problem. He said if ever there was an issue, all I had to do was simply knock on the ceiling. I offered him some beer.

So far, no problems. But now, every time I see my roommate, I imagine his dark eyes are black pits of resentment, burning fiercely now that his ability to walk freely from end to end in his room has now been impeded.

Because of this, I imagine that he now considers his new roommate a terrible nuisance, and that he lies awake at night, restless and sweaty, while this roommate sleeps soundless and totally at ease.

- published Pique Newsmagazine July 15


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