Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Aroma of Longing

Recently in the combox, some of us have been discussing longing. When I asserted that longing is the post-Romantic condition, Mrs. T corrected me: it is the human condition.

We live on one side of an old two-family house from the 1930s, and when we moved in, I had perhaps irrationally high hopes that our other-side neighbors, a young-ish married couple with no children, would become great friends of mine. But it was not to be. Soon after we arrived, they complained about our noise: our son, whose third birthday was nearing, is a very rambunctious boy, and my husband and I would talk in our bedroom, which abutted theirs, apparently past our neighbors' bedtime. We have tried to be sensitive -- I don't consider us a loud family (except for when I practice, when my husband plays the piano or his accordion, when my son is screaming, when I am yelling ... hmmm) -- but sometimes we forget. My husband was vacuuming the living room the other night when the wife called and said she had just gone to bed and could we please stop; it was, um, 8:30.

So this great friendship was not to be. But I have a kind of olfactory voyeurism into my neighbors' lives. The house has two separate basements, one for each side, with built-in chutes on the first and second floors to throw dirty clothes down to the laundry room. Whenever I open one of the chutes, I can smell what my neighbors are cooking. It always smells so good that I feel disappointed by what I'm cooking on my own side of the house (which is usually also quite good) and seized with longing for what they're having for dinner. They make a lot of popcorn, which is not something we have over on this side. And this morning, as I was throwing last night's pajamas down to the basement, I caught the aroma of their coffee. It was wonderful - cinnamony, inviting, seemingly nothing at all like the coffee I was brewing back home. I imagined what life must be like on the other side of the house: bathed in warm colors, with attractive, artsy knick-knacks strewn about. But my own coffee was good too, and the husband of the couple is getting his doctorate in something called post-subculture studies, so maybe it's just as well we didn't become friends.


Mrs. T said...

Great post. I'd be doing and thinking exactly the same things.

8:30? Good grief. Your story reminds me a lot of that phase of the comic strip "For Better or Worse," when Michael and Deanna live in a duplex upstairs from a childless couple, and their lives become a nightmare of trying to tiptoe around these brittle people who can't stand tricycles in the hall and so forth.

We lived with first two, then three children in a building in Cambridge with childless couples above and below us, and while they were wonderful neighbors and beyond kind to our children, we often wondered what they thought about all the shrieking that went on on our floor. And with the exception of young French couple who stayed only briefly, but were very dear, none of them wanted to spend much time with us -- the art historians upstairs always looked a little alarmed by us, whenever we ran into them. (and they LOVED it when our guinea pigs got loose in the garden and ran wild for a week . . . they're probably still telling stories about us. But their flat looked SHARP, and their food smelled wonderful, too).

Pentimento said...

I have the lingering fear that this young couple might be desperate to move out now. A couple with a toddler lived here before us, but 1) the child was only 18 months; 2) the child was, um, a girl; and 3) the parents went to bed at 8:30, so they had a synchronized bedtime with our neighbors. . .

Having rented in NYC for so long, being a singer, and for many years having lived in a building full of other singers and musicians, I know a bit about New York State rental noise codes, and basically you can make as much noise as you have to in a rental unit, including practicing an instrument, until 9 PM. But, hey, I don't want to be a bad neighbor, so I can respect the 8:30 bedtime.

Now, what really threw me for a loop was when my neighbor explained that she wakes up at 5:30. Eight-thirty to 5:30? That means she gets . . . nine hours of sleep a night. . . that is what truly boggles the mind.

Anonymous said...

I've been in both situations - being the noisy nieghbour and having the noisy neighbour - and applied the same palliative in both cases - Pre-emptive Cake Attacks.

If you have to arrive on someone's doorstep armed with a request for less noise, or an apology for having created a disturbance, the mollifying effect of cake is considerable.

Meh - give your neighbours another try - at the very least, they might invite you in for coffee.


Pentimento said...

Welcome back, Otepoti!

Honestly, I think we've ruined their lives, and I'm not sure if cake will be palliative, but it's worth a try.

dreshny said...

Oh, our downstairs neighbors used to bang on our floors from below with a broomstick handle. At one point last winter, they left us a note on our door last year that said something to the effect of "We understand that toddlers make noise, but what kind of parents are you that your child is making noise long past 9:00 PM, when most children should be asleep?" They had an infant at the time, so my husband wrote back, "Just wait until you have a toddler." They moved out over the summer, so no complaints since.

Pentimento said...

I'm sure my neighbors wonder what kind of mother I am, too. The wife said to me recently about my son, "He has quite the voice on him," and I don't think she quite believes that I have very little control over that . . .

As for what people *should* be doing, well, I'm wondering about that 8:30 bedtime.