I don’t intend to snoop into the personal lives of my neighbors by going through their mail. But sometimes the packages they get leave little to the imagination about what’s inside, and as I leave the foyer of our shared building, it’s not my fault that now I know the name of the person who gets underwear delivered to her by mail every month. I found out that my downstairs neighbor was moving out after seeing his name and unit number on a stack of UHaul moving boxes one day.
It’s sentimental to think about one of the residents of our shared brownstone leaving. In the near-year I’ve been in my own apartment, I’d had some fun shared experiences with him that have made me feel closer to the person living right beneath me.
But there is a silver lining to his leaving, and that is that he hates me and my roommate very deeply. Sentimentalism aside, in the event of my sudden disappearance, please use this essay as evidence in court against him.
My downstairs neighbor is very receptive to sound. That was actually what brought on our first encounter in person. As in any unfurnished college apartment, items from IKEA need to be assembled. It was a Saturday and I was sitting on my floor hammering together a bookshelf in the early afternoon. Out of all of the times I could be assembling a bookshelf, 2pm on a weekend is probably the most considerate time to do it. Or so I thought, until my neighbor knocked on my door and asked me to please not do that for an hour or so, and then left curtly.
In the few moments he was at my door, I sized him up. He was a thirty-something yuppie dressed in sensible greys and blacks, neutral tones I would see him in pretty consistently when I saw him in the laundry room or if we chanced to be by the front entrance at the same. He was someone who bought into the delusion of “minimalist chic.” It did little to mask the redness in his face. I thought it was rosacea, but it was the first of many blushes of rage at the noise we made in the apartment above his. I thought about this as I waited an hour, like he asked, to finish building my furniture.
Our following interactions were much less congenial, or even face-to-face. I’m guessing that one of his resolutions for 2021 was “stop being so soft on those little monsters living above me” since starting in January, he started to scream through our ceiling, weekly. This might be a shock, but I was actually not trying to provoke my scary neighbor below me in any way, yet still “Shut the fuck up, you asshole cocksuckers!” was something I became accustomed to hearing.
Before I go into what we did that set him off, I want to touch on his choice of words to ask us to keep it down. “Shut the fuck up” is pretty classic, but because it’s such a big part of the American vernacular, it doesn’t carry enough weight to guarantee that the person being spoken to will be quiet. That’s where “asshole cocksuckers” is so effective. At this point, the word cocksucker is so outdated that it’s more of a shock to hear someone say that word in earnest than actually being called one. And, to get into technicalities, since I’m gay and my roommate is a lesbian, there’s only one cocksucker in the unit above him. He should be using the singular form.
I started to track what was setting him off because if he wasn’t going to meet me halfway by not screaming at me over nothing… maybe I could meet him by trying not to do things that would set him off? Well, that’s easier said than done.
In late January, my neighbor screamed at my friends for walking down the stairs too loudly. They took the back exit.
That same night, some people were moving broken furniture out of the unit next to him too loudly and he screamed at them each time the front door closed a little too loudly as a broken cabinet or bed frame was being moved.
The chair I got from a thrift store broke when my friend sat down in it too hard. He screamed.
My friend dropped a plastic cup. It bounced on the floor as I held my breath, waiting for the contents of its insides to spill onto my living room rug. It was empty, thank god, but my neighbor still heard it and screamed.
My roommate dropped a Wii remote after we spent an afternoon playing Mario Kart. He was mad that we didn’t invite him, so he screamed at us. FOMO, I guess.
Since we live in a very old building, our climate control is a network of radiators to heat up our apartments in the winter, and ceiling fans to cool us in the summer. Our radiators make a lot of noise as a product of so much steam racing through the ancient metal pipes. My downstairs neighbor wasn’t thrilled about the loud radiators in my unit, despite the fact that our landlord controls the heat in all of the apartments of this building and he has the same thing as us.
Despite the fact that you might see these things as normal, human mistakes that anyone with sweaty palms could make, my downstairs neighbor seems to think that we are doing this in an effort to target him. I know this because he has graduated from just asking us to be quiet to asserting his needs (communication win!) by saying “Stop slamming shit against the floor you cocksuckers (he’s really married to “cocksuckers,” I guess)” Clearly he’s constructed an image of his upstairs neighbors based on the sounds he hears coming from our apartment. He thinks that I am a petty gremlin that enjoys being noisy for the sake of spiting the poor ingenue living below him.
I fear he might be preparing to kill me. The first time I tried to listen in to his personal business,I heard the loud scraping of a knife against his ceiling, as if trying to send a message to me that the knife scraping my floorboards would be used to cut my throat someday. That could have just been my paranoia speaking, until I heard what sounded like shotgun loading drills above his living room. Maybe he hunts? Last I heard, he was ordering Lyme over the phone and “enough car air fresheners to cover Casey Anthony’s ass.” Maybe the things he hunts need to be dissolved in his bathtub?
Now, all of these things could be written off as me just being paranoid after hearing him yell at me one too many times. Until I noticed that he was spending more time in his living room playing first person shooter games on his gigantic TV, saying “die Robert Vetter, die at my hand.” Just like I found his name from his packages, and subsequently his Instagram, Twitter, and personal website, he had found out my identity. And that concerns me.
I’ve considered leaving him a note, kindly asking him to stop yelling, maybe begging for his mercy, but I’m afraid that might set him off to actually acting on these murderous impulses. Until he fully moves out, I have a limited supply of kitchen knives to protect myself. Based on what I’ve heard, that might not be enough. So I reiterate: in the event that I suddenly disappear, bring this to the nearest authorities against my downstairs neighbor. And if he isn’t responsible, bring him in anyway for being rude.