“That Time I…” posts are true stories that am I retiring from my social repertoire. To honour them, I am committing them to text for the first time. Read stories about abortion, my awesome tattoo, and the infamous Tragic Hand Button.
The first time I noticed the song was playing, I didn’t hear it, I felt it. My bedroom floor began to rumble so I took off my headphones to determine the cause. I didn’t recognize the song blasting from the apartment below me – some aggressively bassy, chugging black metal – so I shrugged and put my headphones back on. I wasn’t phased. After all, it was the middle of the day and my downstairs neighbor hadn’t made a peep since I moved in. He was entitled to some noise-making. An hour later, as I left my room, his music was still going. I thought to myself, ‘Man, this music sucks. It all sounds the same.’
A few hours later I returned to my room, heard the music, and began to consider the possibility that this song didn’t sound the same, it was the same. I sat on my bed and really listened to it for the first time. It was instrumental and nearly structureless as far as I could tell, really just ten minutes of heavy guitar fuzz. It sounded like Metallica scored the elevator music in Hell.
After a while I identified the beginning. The song would end. There would be a pause. And then it would begin again with four ascending chords: Bah, Bah, Bah, BAH!! That’s how I knew it was starting over. And it had been starting over and over again for the last six hours
Usually, the task of asking your neighbor to turn down their music is a sigh-inducing chore. This one scared me. I stood in front of my neighbor’s door imagining what kind of maniac would sit in his apartment with that song on repeat, playing so loudly that it hurt my ears just standing in the hallway. I imagined him sitting in a sparse room, eyes closed and fists clenched, bobbing his head like he was psyching himself up for a big football game that wasn’t coming. It wasn’t the kind of guy I wanted to disturb.
I knocked on the door. I knocked louder on the door. The music continued. No one answered. I walked back upstairs and fumed. An hour later, at one in the morning, the music stopped. I went to bed.
Bah, Bah, Bah, BAH! The song woke me up the next morning at 7:30 AM. Clearly, this was now a thing in my life. I called the landlord but I wasn’t confident he would do much about it. Whenever I had a problem, he would promise to look into it right away. When I called to find out why he had not looked into it he would pretend to not understand English and continue not looking into it. A year after this incident, the Landlord/Tenant Board would force him to pay several thousand dollars because of insufficient heat in the unit, a problem he refused to recognize or solve, one that resulted in me abandoning half of my apartment in the winter months. So that’s this guy. In response to the music, he promised me that he would look into it.
The music continued over the next few days and developed a strict timetable: 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM, 9:00 PM to midnight. I wondered if this strictness made him seem more crazy or less crazy. But to add a little humanness to it, sometimes the song would come on again at 3:00 AM and play a handful of times. I sort of understood. I’ve gone through phases where I was obsessed with a song. I can’t count the number of times is listened to ‘I Can’t Feel My Face’ before I was tired of it. Oh wait, it was twelve.
Soon, my body developed a Pavlovian stress response. The five seconds of silence between plays was nerve wracking because there was always the hope that it wouldn’t repeat. But it did. It always did. Those four opening chords caused my heart to beat faster and my breath to quicken. I had a headache all the time. I was sleeping less because I couldn’t sleep with the music playing and it often came on in the middle of the night. I couldn’t sleep anywhere else in the apartment because I could still hear the song. At this point, it didn’t matter how loud it was, it was the pattern.
Even when I wasn’t in my apartment, I would hear it. Somewhere a telephone would ring or a person would laugh or an entirely different song would play on a radio but if they hit the correct note, my brain filled in the rest: Bah, Bah, Bah, BAH!
I called the police. They said they would look into but the three times they arrived at the building, either the man did not respond to the buzzer or I was not there to let them in or the music was magically not playing when they arrived. “There’s not much more we can do,” said the police receptionist one night. “It’s been playing for days!” I pleaded. “You need to call the landlord,” he said, assuming mine was a compassionate human being.
A week and change into it, the landlord admitted these facts for the first time. 1) The man downstairs (Neighbor Down) is intentionally doing this to disrupt the life of the my neighbor who lives adjacent to me (Neighbor Up); 2) Neighbor Down is doing this because Neighbor Up won’t stop playing his guitar; 3) Neighbor Up claims that he doesn’t play guitar and insists that Neighbor Down is crazy; 4) Neighbor Down promises that the sound torture will continue until Neighbor Up stops playing his guitar; 5) This stalemate has been going on for months; 6) During the day, Neighbor Down turns on the music and leaves his apartment but yes, in the evening he is actually in there; 7) Neighbor Down is an employee of the landlord; 8) There is nothing that the landlord can do. Good luck!
Clearly, I had to go down there again. That night I walked downstairs and knocked on his door. The music continued. I balled my fist and banged. The music stopped. There was one of those pauses where you feel someone looking at you through a peep hole. Then the door opened to reveal the man. He was older, fifty maybe, with short, grey hair and a round belly. He was wearing black track pants and a dirty white undershirt. He was taller than me, probably six foot six, so I had to look up at him. When he opened the door, he didn’t say anything. He just stared at me, eyes blazing. A moment passed. I said, “Hello. I live above you.” “Fuck off!” he yelled and slammed the door. Then…Bah, Bah, Bah, BAH!
After two weeks, I asked a friend if I could stay at her place while she was out of town. She agreed in part because I would be able to look after her two cats. I arrived at her apartment Friday evening to glorious silence although several times my brain would forget where I was, take note that the song was not playing, and freak out because that meant it was about to begin. Even my silence had been corrupted.
That night I slept soundly but at 5:00 AM one of the cats walked across my chest and calmly swatted me in the nose. I awoke and looked up at the cat, three inches from my face. “Feed me!” said his expression. Fine. It was better than the alternative.
On Sunday night, I returned to my apartment. When I walked in, it was quiet. That was odd. I made dinner. I watch television. Hours passed. The song was still not playing. I allowed myself to consider that the situation had been resolved.
I walked to my bedroom and sat on the bed. A bus stopped outside my window. A car honked. Some kid yelled across the street. These were noises that bothered me when I first moved into the apartment at the corner of Bloor and Dufferin. But now, they were really nice. They had life in them. They were unpredictable. I picked up my guitar and begin to lazily strum a tune. Then…Bah, Bah, Bah, BAH!
Wait a second. Neighbor Up won’t stop playing guitar…he says he doesn’t play guitar…I PLAY GUITAR. Oh my God, this torture was meant for me all along.
I immediately felt guilty for being the one responsible. And then I felt glorious because I knew the solution to the problem: stop playing guitar in my bedroom. So I did and that was the last day I head the song. At least it was the last day I heard it real life. For weeks afterward I would wake up to it in my head. It’s been years and I can still hum the first minute.
But why?! Why was this error not identified earlier? It was probably a lay out problem. My unit spanned the whole length of the building, front to back. Most likely, Neighbor Down did not know this and assumed that Neighbor Up had the same size apartment. For some reason, shitty landlord didn’t consider this detail. Probably because he’s shitty. As for Neighbor Up and I, we also didn’t know.
Regardless, this dude did succeed in sound torturing the guy who was bothering him. So, good work. Takes commitment.