23 March, 2010


It is pretty much inevitable that, once you move away from home, you will be forced to interact with those randomly selected people whom you happen to live by: your neighbors. If you're lucky, you might end up with a wacky Seinfeldian type or one of the cast from Friends. You could move in next door to a totally cool couple, your future ex-girlfriend, entirely too-nosy neighbors, or even bird collectors. The world is a crazy, dangerous place.

Technically my first "neighbor" was my twin sister. Growing up with her gave me a lifetime of neighborly experience. When I was trying to study she felt the time was right to start singing show-tunes. When I wanted to nap she moved onto power ballads. When it was time to sleep she started singing pop tunes, slow, bluesy, and ironically. Life is all about learning and taking the small lessons offered to you by others to better yourself. Thus, I learned to completely tune out any and all surrounding environments. It was, and remains, a life skill. By the time I graduated high school, I felt that this learned adaptation of 'tuning out to tune in', as my mom calls it, would give me an almost unfair advantage in the loud, crazy, sex-ridden dorms of college.

But I was wrong. There are some things that you have to be physically deaf to avoid hearing. And you can't un-hear them once you do.

Though I escaped my freshman year of college virtually unscathed, aurally or otherwise, I moved into my upper-class dorm on the 28th of August, next door to a boy whom I'll call "Guillermo." Guillermo, it seems, had a zest about life. Guillermo was a lover of the ladies. As it is only natural when you live in close proximity to another, you almost subconsciously start to discern your neighbor's unique habits, routines, and musical preference. From my perspective, Guillermo napped. Guillermo, at his leisure, attended a class or two. Guillermo enjoyed mo-town. But most interesting was the fact that Guillermo had a consistent and inexhaustible slew of women who desired to share his bed. It was college, after all. These things happen. While I had anticipated this scenario once upon a time back in high school, I felt that my ability to block sounds was not only strong, secure, but virtually impenetrable. I scoffed, unconcerned, those first couple of weeks of my sophomore year, confident that this living situation would prove to be but a blip on my radar.

And I would be very wrong.

Though Guillermo and I rarely exchanged anything besides the passing pleasantry, we did acknowledge each others' existence in the quiet moments of the co-ed bathroom, brushing our respective teeth. I knew we weren't going to be besties, mainly because our friendship was precluded by the fact that my bed was against our shared wall. Between that, there existed not an iota of soundproofing between the plaster, Guillermo, and I. So Guillermo and I felt close, very close... too close. My room was not palatial and the bed could only fit against that one Guillermo-y wall. (It was college, after all.) I heard everything. (Everything.) Thus, I spent many a night in the common room, tossing and turning on top of the high-backed "post-modern" "couches", viewing Lifetime original movies late into the night through tired eyes, and trying to hum loud enough to block out the sounds drifting in from down the hall. In some parts of the world, this treatment might be considered torture. In America, it's just another night in higher ed.

When the year ended, Guillermo and I went our separate ways. I thought I came out with a great story about terrible roommates ("The sex-obsessed college boy! So rare! So terrible!"). I said aloud (to myself) that I could now put my most interesting roommate experience behind me.

But I soon discovered: I could not. One year later...

It started with the house pick senior year; my friends and I chose to live in a cool, old, retired fraternity house. Big lofted ceilings, dark wooden fixtures, a fireplace, a marble kitchen, a double-wide winding staircase, a guy to girl ratio of 22:7; the house was perfect. This year my new roommates were my friend, recently back from abroad, and a new dorm-mate, "Horatio." Horatio and I had opposite schedules, and we would sometimes pass each other in the hall as he was leaving and I was entering. But the one thing we did share in common was our late-night activities: we both listened to Horatio sing, deep from his very soul. One was voluntary, one- not so much. Horatio would start singing some gospel, then maybe sample some R&B. Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye might even make an appearance. I have to admit even now that he had a great voice, but there are some times of the night when blessed angels on high could be singing the gospel and I wouldn't exactly be in the most benevolent frame of mind to appreciate it.

Now that I'm living in an apartment building I'm discovering much the same interactions and frustrations that come with living near other people, but these are in entirely new and way more boring ways. Instead of being woken up by gospel singing in the middle of the night, I am now woken up by early Sunday morning floor waxing.

I understand that people celebrate Sundays through their own special rituals. Mine is catching up on sleep. Jesus understands that; we're cool. For others, there are different ways of celebrating the Lord's day, aside from attending church and participating in silent prayer. For example, have you ever considered marathon floor-waxing? I know a few people who can give you some pointers: the people above me. They have thusly earned the moniker "the Serial Waxers." (Which would also as double as a great indie rock band name). As is standard in most 19th century urban building construction, my neighbor's floor is my ceiling with entirely no soundproofing between. It sounds like they are in my apartment waxing, which would be a terribly frightening way to wake up, really. (Who are you? How did you get in?! You missed a spot!)  In reality, I just lose the sleep without gaining the benefit of a good floor waxing. But one day I hope to be invited up to their apartment, just to touch their floor; there is no way that it doesn't shine like St. Peter's gate.

To be fair, three colorful neighborly experiences are not something to go crying over. They are even fun tales to tell, and something I might just add to my resumé. I'll put it under the heading "Life Experience," for they have given me "interpersonal skills,""character," "compassion," and most importantly,"sleep deprivation." You know, life experience.