July 30, 2004


This has been a tough week.

On Monday, about five minutes after I got my brand new PowerBook (woo!), I got a phone call. From a woman representing the very old and very deaf Russian woman who lives in the single apartment right across from Damian’s bedroom. The one whose airplane-takeoff-level TV listening impelled us to buy soundproof windows for the north side of the house. The one we bought a $200 wireless headset for, then got a translator and helped set it up to use while watching her TV. The one we’ve told the landlord about, a landlord who said, “You shouldn’t have to deal with that!” and gave us the old lady’s daughter’s phone number (she speaks English) so we could complain when necessary. The one who impelled me to the library to check out noise ordinances (I discovered we can buy a meter to measure the decibel level and if it reaches the volume I expect, we can take legal action – and time of day of the noise is irrelevant). That one.

I’d called her daughter on Sunday for the first time in several weeks. The old lady had her TV on at her usual thundering level starting early in the morning and finally at 1 pm after five plus hours of this, I made the call and blessed silence descended.

Monday, not so blessed. Monday, a woman from the adult day care center called. She told me the old lady was crying because of me. Thus this woman (who represented herself as a social worker but turned out not to be) berated me for my unkindness. At great length. I tried to stay calm. I tried to be nice. But I ended up in tears myself because she was so absolutely convinced of my evilness in wanting a modicum of peace in my own house and had no interest whatsoever in finding any kind of middle ground. She told me I should live with the noise or I should move. (I said, “We own our house! You try to find a place in this market!” and besides, we’d just be leaving a horrid legacy for the next owners.) Then she accused me of harassment because I call at all, not because I call too much –I’ve been very polite, discreet, and patient about it and I think I’ve called no more than three times total in the past four months. Harrassment. When she said that, I screamed at her and hung up.

I’m not proud of this. I can’t believe I yelled at a total stranger. I hate losing control like that. I hate letting someone get to me like that. I usually have more of a handle, more perspective, more empathy. But jesus on a pogo stick, we’ve gone out of our way to be nice. And now the old lady’s surrogate is telling me I have no rights here, that she has every right to terrorize us with her noise? I finally broke.

Then, of course, I felt wretched. Because I didn’t feel heard but also because I do hate this situation. Because I do feel for the old lady, all alone in her dismal room, her daughter visiting maybe once every week or two. No friends that I’ve seen. No life that I’ve seen. A sad existence. And I hate making this lady feel even worse. But hell. I have rights too. And she’s violating mine. And so I feel mad and bad and conflicted and I want to cry.

So that was my Monday. Which also involved taking apart Damian’s room and putting everything into the living room in preparation for floor sanding hell on Wednesday. Dan finished the dismantling Tuesday. Not fun.

Then came Wednesday. The floor sanding guy? Didn’t show up. Didn’t call. Our living quarters are upside down and inside out. Damian’s bed is upended next to my bed, making it almost impossible for me to get in and out. The dining table is shoved to the side of the dining room and under a tarp, to boot. Unusable. Living room? You can reach the couch through the piles of toys, but only just.

You get the picture. And then to have this guy not show up? To not know how long we’ll have to live like this? And me already in a black mood?

Not a great week. I was a bit, shall we say, emotional. I may have said and done a few things I regret. It’s sort of like PMS on steroids. The kind of emotional rollercoaster that makes you bawl and want to slug someone and then bawl again.

The aftermath isn’t bad, though. We got another guy in here this morning, a yoga instructor slash wood refinisher slash floor sander. More loud noise today, mostly a steady sort of hum, along with the deliciously clean smell of fresh sawdust. He’s not done with the varnishing part but he’s happy to use Safecoat, a much less toxic version. The floors in Damian’s room and my office look stunning already. And the guy who stood us up called apologizing profusely. He had an explanation or two, of course, neither of which preclude him making a simple phone call saying “I can’t come today, sorry,” which of course he hadn't done. Communication in these things – as in all things – is crucial. Prevents a ton of misunderstanding and hurt.

Best of all, though, I think the old lady finally got the message. Maybe it was okay after all that I cried and yelled. Maybe it finally told her what she had never understood: this hurts us. Her noise level is not just an annoyance, it’s deeply painful. Since Monday she’s started actually using the $200 headset. I know because I was in Damian’s room priming his closet yesterday and I heard the TV sound go on. Then it went off again, less than a minute later. I knew she’d been in there for a while (I saw her toes through the open door). She was changing the battery on the headset. Thus the sudden noise and quick cessation. I don’t know how long this compassion will last, when she’ll decide it’s too much bother after all. But right now I’m feeling bad about being overemotional but also relieved. Sometimes you have to show someone how you feel. Sometimes it’s vastly inappropriate to do so. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, because you can’t control your reactions and you just hope it’ll all come out okay.

Maybe the lesson here – if there is one – is that you can’t always control yourself perfectly. Can’t always be a grownup. But sometimes, if you’re lucky enough, it ends well anyway.

Posted by Tamar at July 30, 2004 10:12 PM

I totally understand...I've been having a horrible time with a neighbor. My dog doesn't like his dog. This is not the worst thing, but the neighbor is a total jerk about it...constantly making comments about how out of control my dog is, snide remarks from across the street, etc. This has basically driven me to keep a bark collar on my dog, the front window shade closed at all time and I walk the dog in another neighborhood...

But one day we ran into them. I tried to talk to the neighbor, he said he couldn't hear me because my "dog was barking too loud"...and then I gave him the finger. Awful. And of course he was an ass and patronized me...both then and when I apologized later. I was embarassed for losing my temper, letting him antagonize me, but you know...we're all human. Good luck with the neighbor.

Posted by: Rachel at July 31, 2004 12:54 PM

Thanks! And you too. There's something about these things being so close to home, and I mean literally physically close, that makes them feel worse, I think. Our homes are supposed to be our havens. I'm sorry you have to deal with that snotty pr -- uh, neighbor.

Posted by: Tamar at August 1, 2004 12:02 AM

I think the proximity to our "safe" space is the hardest part. This is the first home I've owned and it's such an icky feeling to not feel totally comfortable in my space. Hopefully it will work out for both of us!

Posted by: Rachel at August 1, 2004 06:15 AM

congrats mate! fine job and fine site!

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