Monday, April 07, 2008
...and speaking of crazy old ladies...
While I was working the three different maid jobs I've mentioned previously, I was living in an absolute rat hole of a place over on the Southside, on 9th and Pine. Don't come swimming across the Atlantic and expect to find it; the place was torn down years ago. And really, I'm shocked it survived upright long enough to meet the wrecking ball; it was in total violation of every health and building code ever devised. Probably several moral ones as well.
Not that it didn't have its own R. Crumb kind of charm. Still, the best thing about the place was that I could afford it. This is the place I moved into when I escaped Meadows family.*
Here is a floor plan:
For the sake of the following, note particularly where it says 'bed alcove' and 'tiny thin wall separating units'. The neighbors' unit was the mirror twin of mine. That means that when we slept at night we were only separated by a barrier 2 inches wide, made of composition board nailed over some lath.
Now I didn't realize this at first. It was summer and I was working hard, and when I wasn't working I was sleeping hard, and anyway the last thing I wanted to do was to get to know anyone in this building. All I wanted to do was money up and get the hell out.
My neighbor, as it turned out, was someone I saw every morning that I took the bus. She was usually rooting through the garbage can next to the bus shelter. She would get right down into the thing, shoulder deep, and work hard, grunting and wrenching. She never took anything out, though.
Now this was Portland, and people were kind; they'd offer her money or their newspaper-but as soon as she looked up they always took a step back, fast.
She must have been in her early sixties. She one of those titanically schizophrenic people who are completely at the mercy of some kind of feral, mindless vigor, like an animal metronomically smashing itself against the bars of its cage. Her hair was burnt a pale canary yellow. Her lipstick was scrubbed on hard in kindergarten stripes all the way across her face, side to side. Rouge made an uneven circle on each cheek, and heavy blue eyeshadow like greasepaint circled each eye. Sometimes she wore false eyelashes. Sometimes they were on her eyelids. I could not tell you what her clothes looked like or anything else about her, because the appearance of her face was so ferociously insane that it eclipsed every other impression. Diane Arbus would have kissed her on the lips.
By the time I realized that she was living next door, though, I'd been in the place for a month. She never made made a peep, and so I never gave her a thought. After all, this was the early 80's so I knew lots of people who wore makeup stranger than hers. Besides, I'd just come from the ninth circle of Hell so I had a whole new scale of 'fucked up behavior' to measure with. So far she hadn't tried to sniff my sheets.
One night, late that fall, I brought home a sleepover guest.
After some drunken, halfhearted fooling around we both gave up, and soon Sleepover Guest was snoring. I was too bombed to sleep, so I laid there and watched the room twirl around and the moon go by.
Some time later I realized that I was hearing something scratching, very lightly, very nearby. I slept right over the cellar stairs and God knows what kind of messed up mutated shit was living down there. I assumed that was the source of the noise.
I slowly realized that the sound was coming from right next to my head. And now it was louder.
OK, I thought, so there's some kind of rodent in the wall. Fine. Old buildings have problems.
When it started a cadence, I became a little concerned.
*Scritchscritch, scritchscritch. Scritchscritch, scritchscritch.*
OK, that's kind of ooky.
I laid there and listened to it for awhile.
*Scritchscritch, scritchscritch. Scritchscritch, scritchscritch.*
It got louder.
Was it louder?
Yeah, it was definitely louder.
That was when I heard the first....noise.
I froze for a second, then I relaxed. Oh hell, the neighbors snoring. For shits' sake. Get a grip.
....Well, OK, the neighbor's having a nightmare.
I sat straight up in bed and banged my head off the bottom of the staircase. Sonofabitch!
RRRREEEEEEEEEEEERR! RRRRRRRRRAGHRAGH! RAGHRAGH!WWWWAAAA! AAUUUUUGHEEEEEEEE! EEEEERRRRRRAAAUGH!
I found myself standing in the middle of the room staring in horror at the wall. I'd cleared Sleepover Guest like a low hurdle in a steeplechase. He was still dead to the world.
RRRREEEEEEEEEEEERR! RRRRRRRRRAGHRAGH! RAGHRA
Meanwhile Asmodeus Lord of Hell was still giving voice like a puma. I could hear fingernails dragging heavily down the wall on the other side in long measured passes.
My red ass was comprehensively FREAKED. I had no idea what to do. What on earth do you do? Nobody prepares you for this! 'Your New Apartment: What to do when your neighbor becomes a channel for malign entities at 3:am and tries to claw a hole through the wall'... I totally missed that issue of Cosmopolitan! So hugging myself and bouncing and saying "Oh Jesus" over and over again in a tiny little voice with my eyes bugging out was going to have to do.
And let us not forget, I'm still flying three sheets to the wind.
That might be why, when I got the bright idea of banging on the wall with a broom handle, it seemed like a really good idea. As I staggered back in from the kitchen with the broom in my grasp I dimly recall thinking that if the person on the other side truly was having a nightmare then maybe the shit would stop if I woke them up.
I guess I don't need to say that this was a really bad idea.
On the one hand, it did seem to shake something loose next door, because the snarling ceased.
It was replaced with pounding and inarticulate grunting.
*WHAM! WHAMWHAM!* GHAHAGH! HAGNN! MWARR WAUGHWAH RRRAUGH!
*THUMP THUMP THUMP* HAGN NAHFARH! HUH! HUH!
*THUMP WHAM WHAMWHAM WHAM THUMP* RAGHNAGHNAGHAHGHNA!
Well that's just great.
I stood there for awhile. Then I put the broom back beside the refrigerator. I got a candle and a book, sat down, wrapped myself up in a couple of coats and a blanket, and lit a smoke.
After awhile, I kind of got used to it.
So used to it, in fact, that one hour later, when all the plumbing froze solid, shattered and burst, and began falling, and came racketing and banging and clattering down between the walls, and emptied by sections straight into the basement where it clanged and bonged and rebounded off the cement floor, I hardly blinked an eye.
Yep, yep yep.
*Not familiar with the name 'Meadows' ? Visit my sidebar and go by the numbers. You'll be so glad you did!