Monday, April 07, 2008

Cheap rent

...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.

...another diagram! lucky you!

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.


Very soft.


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!


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.


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.


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!


  1. i had to read this twice, sugar! jaysus, you crack me the fuck up! xox

  2. HA Ha Ha .Good post. I once had a dreaful studio 'apartment' next to the main heavy freight line out of london.When thetrains used to rumble past at 3 ocklock in the morning , all my furniture (including my bed) used to move about the flat from the vibration. I got so used to it , I never used to wake up .So I used to get up to a different furniture arrangement every morning :-)

  3. lemme get this straight: an insanse, schizoid woman with joker makeup tried to claw through the wall into your room with her bare nails? while growling???

    fuck man, i thought i had shitty neighbors.

    ps. "Sometimes she wore false eyelashes. Sometimes they were on her eyelids." This is one of those wonderful lines that is truly brilliant and no one else but you (and maybe Raymond Carver) could write. Lines like that are what make you brilliant. I had a creative writing teacher (who was a published novelist with several awards to her name) at college who used to do "ear training" with us. The idea was to learn to identify good writing by the way it sounded. She'd read to out loud and now and again stop and tell us "that's good. I can't tell you why it's good, I just know it is." Your writing is like that. I can't tell you why it's good. I just know it is.

  4. You had me going there. I thought for sure the old lady was coming through the wall with one of those bigass augers or something. That would have been pretty trippy.

  5. i really hate to do this in a post...i just don't have your email and had to make my site private...i will add you if you like but if not i will continue to visit you here...:)

  6. Beast's bed hasn't shaken since.

  7. omg...this was a riot...i had one place where this couple kept yelling at their kid for running up and kicking the wall...the wall that my bed was up night i had enough and yelled at the kid myself...i told him to stop that shit or I was coming over...he never did it again and his parents always smiled at me as they passed me after that...i will have to write a post about living above the gay dirty book store was a hoot!

  8. Uber Creepy! When I moved into my first apartment in a new town I lived next door to a young couple who went at it like Hamsters every single night...and several times a day on weekends..((gawd))

    Much to my astonishment, I actually became complacent about it...even though she was a screamer with a trill nasally voice ((chalkboard scratch)) who had obviously lifted lines from cheap pornos.

    I heartily second Chaucer's Bitch. You have the magic touch with wordplay.

  9. God, and I thought the sounds of late night flatmates discussing WoW was the worst I had to contend with.
    Mind you, it is some what of a distraction when you're um... Preoccupied with a gentleman caller and someone is talking loudly about cheese outside the door.
    Only the cat tries to claw through the walls (well, the door) in our place.
    I keep telling people to come in, then freaking when the knocking keeps on going in a B grade horror movie way...

  10. are you sure it wasnt the gimp locked in the box next door that was making all the racket!?!

    we used to have to light fires on the ground out side to keep the pipes to the house from freezing... bbbrrrr... i remember those days... no thanks.

  11. " a book and a candle..."
    Y'see, you should have had a bell, too!

    Funny and familiar.In England, "apartments" like that are called bed-sits, or bed-sitting-room.

  12. Anonymous5:48 PM

    well, that beats all of my apartment horrors.

    strangely enough, in my last apartment, the bathroom was arranged exactly like that. the sink and toilet were in one room, the shower in another, the one closet in yet another room.

  13. David Lynch has bought the rights to your life story.

  14. hendrix4:03 AM

    genius...just pure genius

  15. damn frobisher i thought i was in a david lynch film or screenplay or something...this can't be real life...right?

  16. I had to check if I commented...gonna stop in read yer archives. You be yourself and I will catch up everything else. I keep telling Rocky we have to come up and meet you guys.

  17. savannah: well thankew! *blush*

    beast: isn't it strange how you eventually get used to it?

  18. ....YEEK!
    Cb: geeze, thank you. geeze. aw geeze. what in the hell do i say to that? thank you! (i guess is what I say, huh.)

    xul: are you insinuating that it wasn't trippy ENOUGH? it was PLENTY DAMN TRIPPY, YO!:)

    daisy: done.

    mj: thats what i hear. how long have you had him chained to the St. Andrews cross in your basement?

    daisy: well get crackalackin, shug!

    senor coppens: oh geeze. thank you. I've had that neighbor. hell, ive BEEN that neighbor!

    noshit:cats will mess with you bad. I had one that used to bring me baked potatoes out of the dumpster.

    voices:up in the sur? dang i had no idea.

    dinah: yeah, no kidding! and a whip and a chair! and a TAZER!

    pink: oh bizzare. what the hecks up with that? i still say it was to keep them from getting in fights.

    frobi: david lynch is SCARED of my life story!

    hendrix: *pulls bag over head*

    daisy: dave thought it was 'too unbelievable' and turned it down.

    gale: well, you're welcome! plan it now; we have a busy summer coming up. email me! we can go have dinner someplace!!