Saturday, March 24, 2007

Extempore: Sweet Dreams, Neighbor

Sometimes I feel as though I am constantly on the defense against creeping paternalism.

Three years ago, when I moved in, I tended to smoke out my bathroom window. It didn’t smell up the rest of the house, and worked very well for me. Until I heard a knock on my door.

It was the guy upstairs, who objected to my using the bathroom window. Being a good little Midwesterner I said, “Oh, sorry, I’ll smoke inside,” thinking that would be the end of it. Grievously, tragically, unfortunately, not.

Somewhat later, I had my girlfriend over and we were preparing for errr “bed” and I had turned on some music so my neighbors didn’t have to listen to other sounds I assumed we’d be making shortly. There was a knock on the door.

“Can you turn it down,” opined the same guy from upstairs. So I made sure he had something to listen to once I turned the music down. It was close to ten o’clock, the city-ordained time at which noise ordinances come into effect, so I chalked it up to that and let it go.

Then, early last summer, I was showering at about 10:00am, and had turned the stereo up so I could hear it in the shower. There is no noise ordinance during the day, and since most normal people are at work, I figured nobody would care.

Wrong again. This time I didn’t hear him knock, so he tried the knob, which was unlocked. Apparently he assumed that he could just walk into my house whenever he wanted and adjust my stereo to his liking. The bathroom door was open, so I saw him as he stuck his head in the door and I inquired “Is there something with which you need help?”

He turned very red and apologized for his illegal entry (for which the statute of limitations has yet to run out, now that I think of it) and went away. End of story? Not by a long shot.

Realize, that for over a year this person’s car alarm went off every time a pillbug so much as farted near his car, usually deep in the night. Every trash truck, street cleaner, fire engine and ambulance, and there are a LOT of each going by every week, would set his alarm off until he woke up and could get to the window with his key fob. A couple hours of quiet and invariably, something else would set it off again.

I did not complain, having had a car alarm myself, and knowing how troublesome they can sometimes be to their owners. However, it was annoying as hell.

Then, he tried to evict the landlady’s grandson by falsely accusing him of being a heroin dealer. That was laughed out of court.

Recently, I’ve been going through some deep emotional shit, and have been smoking a lot. But not out my bathroom window, oh no, at my computer, which was allegedly an “okay” place, according to him. Not anymore, because Friday evening he knocks on my door again, talking about “Come up to my apartment and we can discuss a deal.”

‘Scuse me? A “deal”? His previous deals have gone like so, “Here’s how I want you to behave in your apartment to benefit me, while I offer nothing at all to benefit you.” Doesn’t sound like a “deal” to me, sounds like someone who is not my landlord attempting to dictate new terms to my lease.

It also sounds like the guy who has been stomping around on my head for the last three years not even offering to lose 50 lbs so I am less bothered by the noise he generates. That would be more of a “deal”.

I was slightly intrigued as to what else he might offer such as: use of his car once a week, disabling his car alarm on weeknights or, if I promise to smoke outside, he’ll promise to buy some earplugs and shut the fark up about any noise complaints he might have. However, I’m also very clear that people who accept “invitations” like that from people with whom 99% of their interactions have been negative, are often found in Ziplocs in Dumpsters scattered around Oakland. I didn’t go upstairs.

Apparently, when I’m home, I’m supposed to cower in my house in fear of making any sound over 20 decibels, and cannot smoke tobacco within my own ZIP code.

I have this belief that we as a nation fought not only an outright shooting war, but a Civil Rights struggle over my ability to rent where I want, and do what I want within my own home, as long as I’m not violating city, state, or federal laws. Where could I have gotten such a silly idea?

Yet this guy thinks that his prerogatives as a white man include telling me what I can do, and when and where I can do it, for no other reason than his putative comfort. Is it 1807 again and nobody told me?

We actually have a city in the Bay Area, Belmont, which restricts tobacco smoking to only single family homes or private cars. Does he live there? No, he doesn’t.

Did he bother to think, “Hey, an increase in smoking often points to some stress on the part of the smoker, perhaps I’ll ask her if she’s okay?” Since he didn’t make any such query, he must assume that everything I do is for his benefit or detriment, thus making him the central person in my life. You go ahead and believe that, Sparky.

I was recently in New Orleans for a week. When I returned, did he come down and say, “Wow, what a peaceful week, thanks so much for not smoking or playing loud NPR for the last seven days”? No, he did not.

Yes, we’re both gay people; but you know, that only goes so far. If I felt that because we’re both black, I could go next door and tell Cockroach-Breeding Drunk Chick to clean her farking kitchen, I would, but I am quite aware of just how far (or not far, as the case may be) superficial commonalities of that sort will get me.

So, here’s the “deal” I’m offering. If he doesn’t like the laws of the city, state, or nation in which he lives, he is welcome to vote/lobby to change them. If he would like to affect the terms of his lease, he is welcome to do so. If he would like to rent my apartment and sublease it to someone who agrees to his needs, he can certainly do so when I move out, pursuant to any deal he can work out with the management company. He can even appeal to the landlord to make this building a no-smoking residence, for his personal comfort.

But there will be no informal “deals” , no more concessions on my part, no discussions about how I can restrict my use of my property for his personal benefit.

Later on, the night he asked me to come up and “deal,” he was tromping loudly around on his floor/my ceiling. I took it as his only way of communicating his displeasure. Did I go whine at him to stop? Did I call the cops because he was violating the noise ordinance? No. Like an adult, I simply put in my earplugs and went to sleep.Ñ

Sweet dreams.