When Jeffrey and I first lived in this apartment we were very good friends with David, Muni and Dalia who lived behind us. We shared the same back landing so our kitchen doors were always open and there was constant traffic between the units. When they moved out, the landlord’s cousin moved in. The Chins occupied four of the seven units and the back doors were always locked.
Above me was an older grumpy guy who went fishing early in the mornings. He could never manage more than a harumph for a hello. The other unit upstairs was a 60-year-old leather queen. Our relationship started off nice enough but then he started yelling at us for playing our music too loud. Things were tense after that.
As for loud music, the real culprit was the landlord’s brother who lived below us. When he got drunk, which could be any day at any hour, it would be nonstop “Get Down! Boogie Oogie Oogie!” Constantly repeated, it was so loud they could hear it in Milpitas. Sometimes it would be playing faintly then he’d suddenly crank it for “Boogie oogie oogie” before turning it down again.
When the Chins sold in the late 80’s only leather guy and me remained. New tenants occupied the other five units and there started to be turnover. By the mid-nineties the line-up had pretty much solidified and units rarely switched hands.
Everyone in the building was nice and we were all friendly but I started to pull back. I was getting sucked into the miasma of the corporate world and my few hours at home were my only refuge.
Then Biff moved in, he was so young and so cute. If it had been 20 years before I would have tried to pounce but all I could think was “leave the poor kid alone. Don’t shit where you eat.” The last thing I wanted was to create an uncomfortable situation for him, constantly avoiding the lecherous old neighbor whose drool was spotting the lobby carpet.
I kept my distance. I was polite and friendly but we never said much more than hello, hows it going. The more steely my reserve became the deeper I dug the hole. It might have been perceived as rudeness or arrogance.
It didn’t help that one Sunday when I was reading in bed his shades were cracked and I could see various moving parts of TWO naked young ‘uns jostling about. It made my defenses even stronger. (I now wonder what the neighbors saw of me all those years in the window wells.)
All of us respected each other’s privacy so it was easy to go a couple of months without seeing one another. When I’d run into Biff after an absence we appeared to be following many of the same trends. He would have bleached hair and I would have bleached hair. He’d grown a beard, I had grown a beard. He had a zero crop, I had one too. We were on the same path independently of each other, kindred spirits.
Last fall when we had inklings the building was about to be sold the privacy mechanisms came tumbling down. All the tenants were talking to one another. We got together a few times to strategize and commiserate over cocktails. Biff and his partner were so warm and open. It felt comfortable to hang with them. Even their dog liked me.
We sat around laughing like we’d known each other for years. Which we had except we hadn’t. I felt like such a fool for squandering the opportunity to make a friend.