Tuesday, May 06, 2003

My neighbor rode up from the parking garage in the elevator with me. Yes, we have underground parking. It's not really as cool or safe as it sounds, as the gates are always open.

At any rate, my neighbor did in fact ride up from the parking lot to the fourth floor with me. My neighbor that kind of creeps me out because he talks a LOT like Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. I know, that's a terrible thing to say about anyone. How would you like it if you came into a room and everyone stopped talking except one guy, who hadn't noticed you come in and said too loudly, unable to help himself against the onrush of glacial silence, powerless to stop his own voice, "You know. your name here really does sound like that Silence of the Lambs guy." To say the least, you would probably be upset.

But what I'm saying is that my neighbor rode up from the 2nd subterranean level of parking in the disco-door elevator with me. The doors were just normal stainless steel or whatever, and for a year or so had a crudely scratched graffiti item on the surface of the door, reading "F*CK YOU" (of course, the graffiti artist [though I would hesitate to call such an attempt art, even in a really base interpretation of the word] had not seen fit to swap out the offending vowel and replace it with the pleasing and offense-preventing asterisk. That is merely my gift to you, the sensitive public).

A handyman, or janitor or facilities guy, whatever you call the guys that ride around on little golf carts and clean up after the chuckleheaded litterbugs that live here in the hive collective, had gotten a great idea how to remove the offensive graffiti (and this is not unlike the asterisk I employed only a sentence ago): he took his screwdriver or awl or whatever and changed the letters, so instead of reading "F*CK YOU" it read "BOCK YOU" or "BOOK YOO". It was never really clear. BOCK YOU is kind of nice. It sounds like a little outdoor café where they sell dark German beer, or maybe an Asian market where they've made an endearing spelling mistake in an attempt to reference the exemplary leafy green Bok Choy, without which a stirfry just wouldn't cut it. BOOK YOO could be an edgy bookmobile service that brings the latest "it" novel to your door.

But one day, a few weeks ago, someone went in there with a rotary tool of some sort and made all these little round swirled indentations that make you feel like you're inside a disco ball or maybe that you are a Solid Gold dancer on mild hallucinogens. It was a little disorienting for a while, and there are moments even now when I long for the BOCK YOO simplicity of bygone days. That is, of course, neither here nor there.

The point is that I rode up with my neighbor. He talks a lot. He talks about golf and how all of the other denizens of the apartment (except us) are trollish goatlike protohumans who exist only to keep him awake at night. Another foe is the management of the apartment community, who have apparently had it in for him for over ten years. They raise his rent when it's clear that he is not in favor of such an increase. They run gardening equipment at precisely the moment his full attention is required elsewhere. They don't listen to his labyrinthine plans for complex but ultimately beneficial parking systems.

He is a talker.

You walk with him past his apartment door, as yours is the next one along, carrying your shopping in plastic bags that are cutting off the circulation to your metacarpals, because the bagger at the store put all the mineral water in the same bag. He will sense this, you think, and allow you to hurry back to your kitchen, but no! He is like the phone talker who won't allow you to replace the handset in the cradle. You edge away from him in a series of feints and complicated bluffs, but he is wise to you. He begins on a new tangent and peppers his speech with subtle ploys like "Long story short..." and "I know you have to get in but..." and he goes on. And on.

Finally, the complicated dance is ended when you can no longer indulge the plaintive look in his eye, and you interrupt his tirade with "Uh-huhs" and finish him off with an "OK, bye!", leaving him muttering to himself about how he thinks that the garbage chute is not being tended to in the most efficient manner possible and would you like to see a diagram he has drawn of the entire trash system?.

This time, we got to his door, and I was beginning to get desperate when he glanced from side to side, as if we were being watched, possibly by apartment management secret police, and said confidentially "You know the swallows, right?"

"Um." I said, wondering about the relative length of rambling that would result from either a yes or no answer. "The swallows?"

"The swallows. The ones that wake us up every morning."

I have never once been woken by a swallow, in spite of my relative proximity to San Juan Capistrano, which is mere miles down the coast, and which the cartoons teach us all is the place to which the swallows return year after year to crap on tourists in a silent tribute to the indigenous peoples who were roughed up by Junipero Serra. So I said "Oh yeah. The birds you mean?"

"Yes, the birds. They wake me up every morning. I'm a very light sleeper you know. I have to sleep with ear plugs...." I began to tune him out, imagining him with a deep well dug in his breakfast nook, and a senator's daughter held captive, forced to listen to his diatribes. When I came back to my senses he was saying "I've been researching on the internet, since the apartment people don't seem to want to do anything about the swallows."

"On the internet?" I asked. I wondered what my neighbor was researching. Perhaps he wanted to learn some primitive swallow language, so he could ask them politely to keep it down? Maybe he was researching their little nest-huts, which, while impressive, are undeniably built of bird-barf?


What he said was this: "I'm researching something to give them that will make them go to swallow heaven."

I was frankly a little bamboozled by this. My neighbor wants to kill the birds! I said "NO! You can't kill the swallows! I...I'm a Buddhist!"

The fact is that I am not actually a Buddhist, but I take pains not to kill anything unless I can help it, except ants, who cannot be forgiven for their transgressions into the kitchens of our great and free land, and certain people who appear on Radio Shack commercials who shall remain nameless in the interest of the greater good.

But my neighbor latched on to this. "Oh, the Buddha!" and he began to talk about how had briefly flirted with the notion of Buddhism, until I was forced to run for the shelter of my home.

The really important thing here is that my neighbor wants to kill birds. So, maybe, in some way, he is like the Silence of the Lambs guy. And I'm going to have to find a way to stop him.

As long as it doesn't involve actually talking to him.


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