Wherever I hang my hat
by Gregor Stronach
I live on the middle floor of a block of fifteen units, one of three blocks within an apartment complex which, when it was built in the late 1960s, would have been a monument to progressive town planning and architecture. I can imagine the kinds of people that lived here back then - young couples with their first child, older couples whose children had already flown the coop, pairs of students or nurses sharing the rent and domestic responsibilities, with the occasional 'swinging bachelor' type thrown in for good measure.
But now it's 2003, and I live here alone, in a two-bedroom apartment that suits my needs ideally. It's large enough to have people come and visit, and small enough to run the Hoover around in just under ten minutes. I have a great little study, which is where I am sitting right now, the window of which affords me a nice leafy view that is infrequently punctuated by the scampering of domestic animals that have escaped their cruel masters for a fleeting moment of freedom.
I figure that there are roughly 40 people living in my building. Living in such close proximity to a large number of strangers does weird things to a person at the best of times. However, living in such close proximity to what has turned out to be a motley collection of misfits and malcontents has me rattled. I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce you to my neighbours.
Immediately next door in number six is a nice Iranian man. I don't know his name, but I do know that he possesses an astonishing degree of body odour. If I leave my apartment within ten minutes of him leaving his, I can still smell him as I descend the stairs to where my car is parked. But his stench isn't his most outstanding asset - it's his late night sexual liaisons that have me in awe.
He has a charming Chinese girlfriend, who - sadly - is extremely vocal during sex. This wouldn't be such a problem, except my Iranian neighbour is a bone fide sexual machine. Their average encounter lasts about ninety minutes. Each thrust of his middle eastern pelvis results in their bed head banging against the adjoining wall between my bedroom and his. It's a weird, syncopated waltz rhythm, with his grunts, the bed's bang and her outlandish moans echoing throughout the building ... gruntTHUMPmoooan, gruntTHUMPmoooan, gruntTHUMPmoooan. The man who lives directly upstairs from them (whose other great passion in life is to sing along to Avril Lavigne CDs) enjoys hanging out his window and spurring them on whenever they start. After their lovemaking has built to a crescendo in the wee hours of the morning, it's not uncommon to hear at least six or seven people clapping politely, marking the end of the performance.
My noisiest neighbour is also my newest neighbour. He lives downstairs and one flat over from me, and he's diabolically loud. I don't know what it is about people whose musical tastes are clearly in the shittiest end of the popular spectrum, but without exception they like to live in close quarters with others and play their crap tunes at a minimum of 140 decibels. It's almost as if he knows he likes shit music, and figures that a problem shared is a problem halved. It's just a shame that they could probably hear his gangsta rap three suburbs over on a still night. The pounding of the bass and the sounds of pre-recorded gunshots reverberate through the walls, rattling my ornamental decorations from their shelves and disturbing my sleep.
Immediately downstairs from me is a large Tongan man whose Saturday afternoon sport is to beat his wife. He should probably try spending time with the homosexual couple who live upstairs. Their weekend sport is to cruise the local pubs picking up drunk men, whom they proceed to fuck, beat, rob and leave in the stairwell. Most of their victims are too embarrassed to go to the police, preferring instead to slink off into the night clutching what's left of their possessions to their chests. I sometimes pass them on the stairs on the way home of an evening, the haunted look of fear in their eyes serving as a warning not to get involved.
Across the hall from me is probably the largest collection of Pakistani men ever to live in a two-bedroom apartment. At last count there were nine of them in there, but thankfully we only ever hear from them when the cricket's on. The only other evidence of their occupancy is a permanent smell of spice and curry in the stairwell. They live next door to Daniel, a strange little gnome of a man whose life revolves around his outstanding collection of consumer electronics. He occasionally uses his giant sound system to blast hour-long bursts of white noise at staggering volumes to upset the noisy guy downstairs.
The man in the one-bedroom flat next to mine is an interesting chap. He says he's a maintenance man, but I believe his hobby of amateur taxidermy is linked to his thousand-yard stare and a spate of animal disappearances around the neighbourhood.
Directly upstairs from me are two men I've never met. They've pulled the carpet up in their apartment, so every single footstep they take echoes down into my place. They like to tap dance at three in the morning, and when one of them manages to bring a woman-friend home for the evening, the other will most likely be found loitering in the stairwell until 'the deed' is done. It's a polite, if slightly inconvenient way to deal with the embarrassing problem of paper-thin walls.
In flat number two there are a couple of drug-munching stoners. They frequently argue over whose packet of sedatives has been tampered with. Slurred cries of 'They're my fucking Mogadons' are often heard in the dead of night, as they skate perilously close to total central nervous system shutdown, on a diet of cheap cask wine and over the counter cough medicine. But at least they're doing it together, and that's what friendship is all about.
So on the Wednesday morning in question, I'd had very little sleep. I wasn't even remotely surprised when I went downstairs to my car, only to find that the police had cordoned off a section of the car park, and were walking around gingerly, dressed in white coveralls, taking photos of the asphalt and shooing away curious onlookers.
As I drove up the long driveway to head to work, I couldn't help but wonder why it was that I don't move house. I guess I'm just afraid that if my life was to become dull, then so would I.
Gregor Stronach sees shadows at the back of his mind.