Monday, May 30, 2011


When did other people’s marital problems become mine?

As I await word from the bank and park on whether I am worthy enough, I marvel at the fact that I have been able put up with just about anything from my neighbors for longer than most people … until.

For 26 years I have lived with people next to, above, or below me at any given time, usually two of the three, as I have either lived on the bottom floor or top with neighbors on both sides.

My first experience was a townhouse in Dutch Village, Newport News, Virginia. I managed to rent a home with a lesbian couple next door and a gay couple next door to them. Every morning, I would hear “Honey, what do you want for breakfast?” “Just oatmeal, Dear!” loud and clear through the paper-thin walls. They never fought, and I am still friends with one of them to this day (they broke up in the 1990s). Unfortunately, the guys whom I also befriended and enjoyed having as neighbors died of AIDS as many of my friends did during the height of the epidemic. They are all missed.

On the other side was an obsessive cleaner who I swear would pick up her furniture with one hand, vacuum under it then drop it from a height of three feet. She vacuumed night and day. But she was pleasant. Also, she had the greenest apartment I ever saw, and I am not talking about environmentally. Lime green shag carpet, green wallpaper, green sofa, green drapes. Green is my favorite color, but even I wouldn’t go that far.

I also had a long-haired dachshund, Yorkshire terrier mix named Daisy. My neighbors loved her, and she liked it there.

The experience of living in Dutch Village was a pleasant one until I decided to move into a smaller apartment when my brother moved out and my car was stolen – the two events are not related. I then had people above me. The couple was pleasant enough, but I swear they had a pet elephant, who used to run back and forth in their apartment night and day. The stairs to their apartment were next to mine, so I heard their comings and goings all the time. This also is the apartment that was robbed while I was at work. The manager’s son was pulling up to apartments with a moving truck and using the master key to rob people. Long after I moved from there they caught him. We don’t know what took them so long because all of us suspected him.

However, all that did not deter me from renting my next apartment in what was called a ‘luxury complex’ in Hampton, Virginia. This time I was on the top floor. The couple below me screamed at each other and threw things all the time, and the couple next door? Oh my God. They would beat each other up daily. The irony is they were the last people you would expect to exhibit such behavior. They were a young, attractive, well-to-do couple who were always holding hands and friendly when you ran into them on the landing (all entrances were outside), yet once the door was closed. Take cover!

I could never figure out if they were having rough sex or just trying to kill each other. I would have called the police, but what do you do when the battering is equal opportunity, and from the sounds of it, you had an inkling this was something they enjoyed? I’ll never forget the morning I greeted them, and they both had ‘shiners.’ Neither of them batted an eye (pardon the pun) as they said good morning.

This is the time that I began to realize when you live in an apartment, other people’s marital problems become yours whether you like it or not, no matter if you lived in a dump or a luxury complex.

Nana, my mother’s mother, lived below Aunt Anita and Uncle Walter during the 1950s. She used to tell us how they would fight every night, so she would grab a cigarette, sit in the dark and listen until she got bored. Then she would bang a broom handle on the ceiling for them to shut up. When you only get one TV station in town, entertainment is listening to your relatives argue about money. Anita and Walter stayed married till death did them part. They were two of the nicest people I ever knew, but their marital problems became Nana’s without her requesting permission to take ownership.

If you read On Tuesdays, They Played Mah Jongg and Michael’s Secrets, there are two characters based on Anita and Walter, and one in the first book based on Nana (shameless plug

What followed was my five-year stint in Florida. First, I rented a cottage in Lake Worth that was attached to a house. What I soon learned was the house was a brothel. My friends and family are learning of this for the first time here. Halloween was always interesting – think about it.

If you think couples arguing is annoying, you should live attached to a brothel. I cannot begin to describe what I heard at all hours of the night and day. And why is it that hookers in real life are nowhere near as pretty as the ones in movies? This place had the market cornered in skank.

After a year living with a narcissistic, drunk, youth obsessed, toupee wearing … never mind, I then rented a converted butler’s quarters built in the 1920s (my favorite decade of the twentieth century) that sat above a matching studio apartment that was once the nanny’s quarters in Flamingo Park, West Palm Beach, Florida. Of all my apartments, this was my favorite and ironically, the smallest. It had one 10 x 18 living room/bedroom and the other 10 x 18 half was divided into a kitchen and bathroom with a half wall dividing them. For once, I had windows all around (apartments usually have windows on one, or if you are lucky, two walls). It was just a 20 x 18 square, but what a great location and neighborhood.

My downstairs neighbor was a Muslim drag queen, who was also a drama queen. We were located behind a large home, so there were motion lights that came on when you walked down the driveway to get to our apartments. He used to complain that when I got up in the morning, I set off the motion lights and woke him up, so I was asked to walk on the other side of the house. The newspaper I had delivered would also disturb him, so I was asked to have it delivered in the front yard. If I came in late at night, I was to walk on the dark side as well. However, he never abided by these rules.

One night, he and his boyfriend were having a fight, and the motion lights kept going on and off, as each threatened to leave the other, and they were going back and forth at 2:00 am. So, I got up, walked downstairs, knocked on their door and said, “If you are going to practice your high drama to make a point, do it on the other side of the house, so the lights don’t wake me up.”

That drama drag queen had the nerve to complain to the landlord the next morning that I had embarrassed him, and they were having a problem and could not help setting the lights on and off because he was afraid to walk on the other side of the house since he thought he saw a snake. She tried to get angry with me, but I soon shut her up with how I had put up with his demands that I not set off the lights and how I had a wet paper every morning because I was not allowed to have it delivered to my own door and how I had to walk on the dark side of the house so as not to disturb him.

Again, someone’s marital problems became mine. And this was the time I realized I will put up with just about anything for longer than most people will.

Stay tuned for Mount Pleasant is neither a mount nor pleasant, discuss …

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