I live in an apartment building in Hollywood that has 52 units – mostly large studios and one bedrooms. I have a neighbor across the hall who I had never seen in my few months there until this weekend. I always knew that my neighbor was a man from hearing his throat clearings after he’d open his door. He had piled dozens of records outside of his door for a little while – all kinds of music from Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, to classical music. After a week the piles were gone. I assume that he didn’t get rid of them but maybe put them in the hall in an attempt to clean his place and then brought them back in? He left his door open one day and his place looked like what I guess the inside of a pizza box must look like, from the pizza’s perspective – dark, with a single stream of light when the door opens, grease stains on the ceiling and wall and crumbs, crusts of things that might once have been tables or shelves. And like a college student his sheets were makeshift curtains, his bed was being used as a closet.
I decided that my neighbor is a creep. Sometimes when I’m jingling my keys at my door and as I’m entering my pad and before the door closes – I hear him quickly whip open his door – hold – and then he shuts it. I assume he’s curious to see who lives across the hall – or see my décor.
Even creepier is that I hear strains of classical music (on vinyl) coming out of his apartment at all hours of the day, loudly. The kind of loud where you can’t possibly be writing or using it as background music – you are enveloped, escaping or covering up the sound of your saw which cuts the bones of your latest victim. I knew that I was living across the hall from America’s Most Wanted, America’s Next Top Son of Sam and I had to get a glimpse of him so that I could create a police sketch in my brain.
It wasn’t that difficult to see my neighbor. I played his game of swinging my door open as he jingled his keys outside of his door. I saw an elderly man, with a stiff walk and a slightly hunched posture entering into the suspected serial killer’s studio. Finding out that my neighbor was not a sociopath and just an old man broke my heart. I can understand if you are a sociopath why you have an apartment that you’ve given up on, that you shuffle records in and out of as a way of ‘cleaning.’ You can’t afford your meds, you’ve alienated all of your friends and family with your constant vices and you’re on your own. But an old man? Is he somebody’s grandfather or father? Is that all he has in life, some beat up records and a loud record player? Where is he going in his mind when he plays these albums? Does he play the song he first danced to with his former wife? Does he play classical music and wish that he was slow dancing with a woman?
Who was this old man? Was he just released from prison and his family is dead? Did he molest his children and they no longer speak to him? Did he leave the priesthood? Was he a war veteran who never came back the same? Was he ever married? Did he ever have children? Did he ever have his own house? Does he have tons of money and just decides to live like an eccentric pauper? Was he trying to catch a glimpse of me because he erratically is leaving his will to whoever lives in apartment 316 and he wanted to see if I looked deserving?
I did run into him in the hall again and he sped up his pace and lowered his head, letting himself into his apartment; hardly opening his door. This man has shame.
I barely knew either of my grandfathers – one of them died years before I was born. My grandmother Jeanette refers to that time as, “When her life began.” Every Thanksgiving she gets bored of the conversation and leans in to me, “Freddie cheated on me for years.”
Like a brat, I always run to my mom and say, “Nana said your dad was a womanizer.” And my mom says, “Oh she’s old. She makes things up.” My grandmother is 96 yes but she has been telling me these stories for 15 years. She is not senile in the least. When my grandmother’s friend from church offered to take her on a date to McDonald’s she denied him saying that she had already wasted the first part of her life on a man.
So, I guess just because someone is old doesn’t mean that they are this innocent, helpless creature. The only way I’m not going to feel horrible about my neighbor is to imagine that I’m living across the hall from a man who abandoned his family for a stripper – the stripper took his money and he started exposing himself in a trench coat to children in parks – his daughters disowned him saying, “It’s just been too many things dad. I’m sorry.” This scenario gives me piece of mind – I can sleep at night.