I’ve lived in this apartment building in Brooklyn, New York my whole life, over six decades. Apartment buildings have a load of strange noises, I’m used to them. Pipes are always rattling, radiators are always banging, someone is always stomping around in the apartment above, babies crying, kids screaming, noises coming from the alleyway, there’s always some kind of noise in an apartment building. I’ve learned to live with it. I don’t really hear the noises anymore. Noise is easy to get accustomed to.
When I was a little girl Mrs. Feldstein lived right next door to me in apartment 513. We shared a wall that separated the two apartments. When my sister and I ran around Mrs. Feldstein would bang on the wall. My father would tell my sister and myself to stop running and that other people lived in the building and we had to respect them.
Mrs. Feldstein died when I was maybe 10 or 11. She was close to 90 then, maybe older. Then a younger woman moved into apartment 513 with her boyfriend. They lived there for a year or so.
Mrs. Wolfe was the next tenant. She lived in apartment 513 until she passed some 30 years later.
After Mrs. Wolfe died a Russian man in his 60’s moved in. He couldn’t speak much English and my Russian is limited to “spasibo” which means, “thank you.” Every time I’d see the man he’d say, “Hello, my neighbor, my friend.” I think that’s all the English he knew. Which is far more than the Russian I knew then or even know now.
After 10 years of so the Russian man died and for the last year the apartment next door to me has had three different sets of tenants. I never saw them but I’d hear them cough, sneeze, talk on the phone. I’d smell what they were cooking for dinner at night. I knew there was someone living there but never met any of them. Living in an apartment building with 90 units can be lonely and you can be isolated.
A few months ago, the apartment next door, apartment 513, became really noisy. A baby crying, kids running up and down the apartment banging on the walls, pulling furniture on the hardwood floors, a man and woman arguing all the time. I just assumed a family moved it. Strange though, I didn’t really remember hearing any furniture being moved into the apartment. But it’s possible that I just ignored hearing it. Who knows?
When Mrs. Wolfe had the apartment it was very quiet and when the Russian man moved in he was pretty quiet too. Well, they were older and only had visitors who were around their age. Very similar to me. I’m older, very quiet, I don’t even watch television. I read a lot. But next door to me now is a family with a baby and a little boy, I think, who’s about five years old. The noise is astonishing. But as my pal Jill said, “They’re kids, they run, they cry.” Okay Jill, I get your point.
The noise starts at 4:45 am. The baby starts to howl. She, I think it’s a she but I don’t really know, howls for a solid ten minutes until mom comes in to quiet her. I feel like screaming, “Your baby is crying, do something!” You have to understand something, the kids sleep in the neighbor’s living room and their living room and my bedroom share a wall. When that baby starts to scream it wakes me up! But okay, like Jill says, “Baby’s cry. That’s their job.”
Then the older brother, I think it’s a five year old boy, starts to cry because baby sis woke him up. Finally mom finds her way to the living room and tries to calm the kids down. “Woo, woo, woo,” mom coos to the baby. She and the little boy sing some songs to calm baby sis down. Most of the time the song is “Happy Birthday.” Mom and son take turns singing. While he sings “Happy Birthday” she “woo, woo, woo’s” the still howling baby girl.
Me, I’m in my bed trying to stop myself from screaming because Jill’s words are echoing in my mind.
The baby cries all day. I asked my friend Janette if babies cry all the time. Janette had three kids of her own so she would know better than me who has no children. “Well,” Janette said, “not usually but maybe the baby has colic or something. When I was taking care of my granddaughter she didn’t cry at all. She was perfect.” Yes, Janette’s granddaughter is perfect. All children are “perfect” where their moms and grandma’s are concerned. Except, Janette’s granddaughter probably is as close to perfection as they come. Ahem.
I spoke to my friend, Cathy, and told her that “I’ve become a grouchy old woman. The kids next door are driving me out of my mind.” “No, no,” Cathy loyally answers. “You’re not grouchy.” Her words say that I’m not a grouch but I’m pretty sure Cathy’s thinking that I really am.
Apartment 513 gets quiet for a short period of time. Peace at last. No crying, no screaming, ahh. But comes 6:00 pm it all start again but worse.
The baby is screaming and the little boy invites his little friend over every evening and they start running up and down the apartment. It sounds like two little elephants running amok. Then they grab furniture and start pulling it against the wall, the wall that their apartment shares with my apartment.
Then I hear a bang, one of the boys fell and then he starts to cry. The crying lasts for two minutes then the two boys are up and running again. I think the boys take turns falling and crying because this goes on for hours. More than anything I want to pound on the wall or ring their doorbell and ask mom to PLEASE control the boys. But she’s still woo, woo, wooing the baby girl who is still crying. But I don’t pound on the wall, I don’t confront mom because I still hear Jill’s words in my head.
This goes on until 10:00 pm. The little boy’s visitor leaves but the son now jumps around all over their living room. He bangs furniture up against the wall, he jumps off the furniture, falls a few times, cries a few times, and mom is still woo, woo, wooing the wailing baby.
I’ve become a child myself trying to figure out what to do. So instead of knocking on their door to talk to mom I turn the radio on, LOUD! Music from the 80’s blasts through my apartment, the walls shake because the volume is up so high. After five minutes of this I turn the radio off. Woo, woo, woo, cry cry, cry, run, run run, bang, bang, bang. It doesn’t stop. Did they even hear my radio blasting? One of my favorite local disc jockeys, Michael Maze, would be insulted that they didn’t pay attention to him.
In desperation I go to my super’s apartment and beg him to speak to this woman about all the noise. Sorry, Jill, I pay rent and I no longer care that a child’s job is to run around making noise. It’s the mom’s job to control her uncontrollable kids.
I bang, bang, bang on Joe, my super’s door. “Joe, you have to talk to that woman next door to me. The kids, especially the boy, stampedes around that apartment shaking my walls and giving me a headache. It goes on all day long, non stop!”
Joe looks at me like I’ve hit the Manischewitz heavy malaga wine a bit too early. “Uh, what woman next door to you?” Joe asks.
“You know, Joe, that woman in apartment 513, with the husband who beats her, and the uncontrollable little boy, and howling baby, that woman!”
“Uh, that apartment is empty. We haven’t rented it out yet.”
“Give me a break, Joe, someone is living there.”
I’ve been a tenant in this building for over 60 years, 30 of which Joe has been the super. I pay my rent on time and keep to myself, in other words, a perfect tenant. Because of this he feels obligated to investigate my complaint. So we both go apartment 513. Joe knocks and no one answers. He takes out the key, opens the door and we both enter. Nothing there. No kids, no furniture, empty except for a stray dust ball or two. We go through the three rooms looking around for something, anything. Nada.
We leave the apartment and Joe asks if I’m feeling okay and if want him to call my cousin Marty to stay with me for awhile, at least until I sober up. “No thanks, Joe, I don’t need cousin Marty.” I then storm into my apartment.
Within five minutes the crying, banging, and woo, woo, wooing start again. I leave my apartment and put my ear to the door of 513. Nothing, not a sound. I go back into my apartment and hear the loud commotion. Now what should I do? There’s nothing.
I’m afraid of ghosts. I don’t even like to read a book about ghosts because they frighten me. And ghost movies terrify me even more. Once, though, I saw the movie, “The Others” starring Nicole Kidman.
Nichole rents a house for her and her two kids but they soon discover there are ghosts living there. SPOILER ALERT, in case you haven’t seen this 2001 movie. Nicole learns that the ghosts are previous tenants of the house who are dead but the ghosts think they’re still alive and visit the home. Something like that. By the time the movie ended I was too afraid to pay much attention but that twist at the end got me wondering. The ghosts making all that noise in apartment 513, are they previous tenants from before Mrs. Feldstein? Could they have lived in that apartment when the building was first built, or, and this is what scares me the most, am I the ghost, not knowing that I died and am now haunting the people who live in apartment 513?
So, it’s 5:30 am now. I’m laying in bed listening to the usual sounds coming from next door. The baby is howling, the boy is singing “Happy Birthday”, and mom is trying to calm down her children preparing them for another day of chaos.