would you please answer the phone?
a strange journey into the inner workings of the mind
by jeffrey d. walker
I think my neighbor upstairs is a drug dealer.
He only moved in a month ago. I don’t even know what he looks like. But his phone rings at absolutely all hours of the day and night. The ringer is this really annoying high-pitched trill, and it has an effect on my spine that I can only liken to the recoil created by a screaming pair of colic-strickened twins seated next to me on a very small airplane.
Perhaps drug dealer is a horrible assumption. Maybe he is actually conducting some sort of telethon. If that is the case, then I can tell you that he’s really losing a lot of the proceeds because he doesn’t have anyone to answer when he isn’t there. And he’s often not there. And the phone will ring four or five times unanswered. Then it will sit quietly for ten seconds. Then it will ring again. Just when I think peace has returned to me, the blasted ringing returns. If I was not fairly sure of my sanity, I would be seeking therapy to help stop the ringing in my head.
He snores, too. My neighbor’s apartment has the exact same layout as mine, therefore, his bedroom is directly above mine. And almost nightly when I am trying to drift into slumberland, I am subjected to his hideous, floor-shaking, nasal concerto. Sometimes it gets so bad, I have to seek refuge in my blue Lay-Z-Boy recliner in the living room to get any peace. Sometimes I think I could, given the correct gauge shotgun, end his infernal snoring once and for all with a strategically aimed shot directly through my bedroom ceiling. Sometimes I think about leaving some Breathe Right strips in front of his door. Sometimes I wonder if his snoring would be so deafening as to completely cancel out the piercing ring of the phone should someone call in the middle of the night.
Still, not once have I voiced my annoyance directly or indirectly at my upstairs neighbor. The reasons for this are twofold:
1) In my opinion, the less I know about the people that live in my building, the better.
2) I am well aware that I am often guilty of making a racket likely of a greater magnitude than anyone else on my whole block.
I have in my possession all the makings of raucous revelry; a guitar, a bass guitar, several unruly friends who often partake in both drink and song at my place at least a couple times a week, one red beagle-mix of questionable disposition who enjoys barking at all creatures who avail themselves outside of my window, and lastly, my own boisterous voice box coupled with an occasional tendency to make strange noises and outbursts in order to release tension.
Also, noisy outbursts serve to keep my questionably dispositioned dog in line, because if he thinks I’m crazy, he’s much less likely to turn on me.
On more than one occasion, I have heard the footsteps of my upstairs neighbor stamp across his floor, and feared that my unseen foe had finally had enough and was on his way down to accost me. Luckily, though, he has not. Not one knock on my door; not one call from my landlord; not one visit from the authorities.
Sometimes I wonder why. Why do I put up with his noise, and why does he put up with mine? I clearly owe no loyalty to this individual. We’re not old friends whose history is so rich that reprimand for some indiscretion would feel like a slight. He’s of no blood relation that I am aware. I’m more than sure that I have never slept with him (besides knowing that I’ve never been intimate with a man, I’d know that I would remember that damned snoring anywhere).
For myself, I just don’t think it’s worth the effort. If I have my television on, (which is, essentially, all the time), the ringing is not that noticeable. The snoring, while forcing me to forsake my futon for a chair on more than one occasion, has never enraged me enough to warrant donning pants and storming up the stairs to ask him to either put a clothespin on his nose or else stop breathing just long enough for me to slip into sleep. I never even seriously considered pounding on the ceiling with a broomstick in a show of displeasure.
OK. I’m a bachelor. I don’t own a broom. But even if I did, I still wouldn’t beat on the ceiling with it.
As for my neighbor, I’m not sure of his motivation. Perhaps he is too busy with his drug enterprise to worry about his noisy downstairs counterpart. I can only speculate on what, if anything, he might say about me, what with my barking dog, impromptu unplugged concerts, and multiple late night screenings of my favorite videos: Half Baked, Bottle Rocket, and my bootleg copies of the short lived MTV sock-puppet show Sifl and Olly.
“If that guy doesn’t shut that mutt up, I’m going to introduce him to Jesus. And all that music and his friends... and who is this guy Sampson?”
At first I assumed that it was my own noisy tendencies that kept me from voicing any complaints regarding the inconveniences caused by the man upstairs. But I’m starting to think it goes much deeper than that. I’m honestly beginning to feel that, the older I get, the less I want people to know anything about my existence. What is more, I don’t really want to know about anyone else's existences either.
Every time you grow close to someone, you become a piece of his or her existence. The perils and triumphs of their life, their history, their innermost secrets; these are all items you become privy to over the course of the association. These items also become important to you personally. It also becomes important to have these items relayed to you.
“How’d it go with that blind date you had?”
“How is your mother? Is she surviving the IRS audit?”
“Where are your pants?”
“Did that cream work out for you?”
(writer’s note – that last one is for Driscoll)
Don’t misunderstand me. Strong meaningful friendships, working relationships, family associations, they're all important to have. Studies have shown that these bonds are even essential for survival. I’m not knocking the idea of really knowing somebody. But a line has to be drawn somewhere.
Suppose I go up and talk to this guy. “Hey buddy. You think you could turn the ringer down on your phone?”
Then suppose he tells me that it is loud because he is hearing impaired. (Great, now I feel like an ass.) But no matter what happens, I’ve now met this guy and he knows who I am. If I see him in the parking lot, I at least have to acknowledge him rather than walking by anonymously. And we may even speak briefly. And he may ask me, “Who is this Sampson?” And now I have to explain the movie Half Baked, perhaps even letting him borrow the video for total understanding. Eventually, he may feel slighted when he hears me watching it one evening and I neglected to invite him. In a show of displeasure, he leaves a flaming bag of poo on my doorstep and runs away after ringing my bell. But I’ll get him soon enough. As God as my witness, he’ll pay for this insurrection!
Well, that may be a little dramatic. The point is that I barely have enough time to handle my own affairs. The people in my life who are close to me are sometimes the victims of my neglect because I don’t have the time when they need me. Even despite a desperate desire to be there. I feel like I’ve taken on enough, and have lost the desire to get involved with even MORE people on any sort of level. It is impossible to really know a lot of people. As the number of “friends” you have grows too large, eventually some of them slip to mere acquaintances.
My plate is already full.
I’m not accepting new applicants at this time.
Then again, maybe I’m just afraid of him. With him being a drug dealer and all, he’s probably got a gun.
A practicing attorney and semi-professional musician, Walker writes for his own amusement, for the sake of opinion, to garner a couple of laughs, and to perhaps provoke a question or two, but otherwise, he doesn't think it'll amount to much.
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3.19.01 @ 11:04a
As an oft-time snorer myself (gotta love sleep apnea), I have a little trouble with your likening something more or less out of his control with you playing bass loudly. While I whole-heartedly endorse "this one goes to eleven" music-making, I feel that equating voluntary and involuntary noise creation to be a bit...wrong. Likewise the telephone calls; when was the last time you had control over who called you when?
3.19.01 @ 11:46a
But you can control the volume of your ringer. Hm, that sounds filthy somehow.
The end of your piece, jeff, reminds me of a line from the classic Charade (maybe not as classic as Half Baked, but it does star Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.)
Her: I'm sorry, I already know a great many people, and unless one of them dies, I can't possibly meet any more.
Him: Well, if any of them goes on the critical list, you let me know.
3.20.01 @ 10:20a
ok... ok... I'm a bad man for bitching about snoring. But the things in the story aren't the only things he does to annoy me. It's sort of like a bad relationship; after you're ticked off, any little thing makes you that much more angry. you know what I mean?