Neighborly Support


Czech neighborliness and American neighborliness are radically different entities. Americans involve themselves in their neighbors’ lives from the get go. They are openly friendly, nosy, and welcome with brownies. Czech neighbors prefer to keep to themselves and, after a year or so of seeing the same face, will show their neighborliness by saying dobrý den mostly without a frown.

I don’t talk to them much, but I see them. The first floor guy watches people come and go through a slit in his curtains; the third floor woman gardens at midnight; the couple across the hall do epic Friday afternoon shops evident of weekend parties that I never hear. Though I have never seen their flat, my cat has been over for dinner several times. (She typically dines on the red rose platter, which she then pukes onto my living room floor).

Living in close proximity makes you unwittingly closer to people. I have overheard the couple who lives on the other side of my kitchen wall argue or chitchat over breakfast for eleven years. When it’s an argument, spoons clang angrily against milkless bowls, and cupboard doors don’t exactly slam, but are closed with intent. When I hear an argument, I open my curtains that face their window and encourage the cat to play on the sill, because there’s nothing that cheers up people more than a frolicking cat, especially one they don’t have to deal with in person.

The old woman downstairs has expressed her dissatisfaction with my use of feet to move around the flat. She spent a lot of time banging a broom against her ceiling, which doubles as my floor. I suppose she’d prefer I use a zipline system and a harness. She complained once, which wouldn’t have bothered me so much if it hadn’t come the day after she’d enlisted me to bring out some bags and boxes of trash for her.

Conspicuously, a few weeks later I took up a program of high intensity interval training that requires movement, stepping, and jumping, as well as protohuman shrieking, grunting, and crying into my living room floor. I have been exercising as such five or six times a week for the last four years, not in any real interest to keep fit, but in order to drive her insane. She has not hit my floor (her ceiling) in over a year.

These days, it is mostly the upstairs neighbors that I am aware of on a daily basis. Unlike my across the hall neighbors, I have been in the upstairs neighbors’ flat. One day the B Monster actually succeeded in one of her (literally daily) attempts to escape my flat. When I started chasing her up the steps, we both realized that the upstairs neighbors’ door was ajar. Naturally, trying to escape me, she went in and I had to engage them in horrified Czech as they asked me to get my cat out of their house. Though my blood pressure had risen to the point that my vision was blurry, I do remember a lot of boxes. And a table, and I only remember this because I had to crawl under it to get the B Monster, who’d resigned to capture and was even wearing a face that said I’m sorry, Dad, I didn’t think it would get this far.

Aside from an occasional dobrý den, the upstairs neighbors are a source of music in my life. At all times of day, I am treated to songs from Belinda Carlisle, Cher, Pink Floyd, Madonna, (really, an inordinate amount of) the Spice Girls, ELO, John (Cougar) Mellencamp, and polka. Lots and lots of polka. It’s not just music, but a stomp-based dance routine, hand clapping, and, obviously, Karaoke. Someone who lives up there has recently taken up drums.

I have come to gauge their present mood via the music they choose. A stomp Karaoke version of Kenny Rogers is, while a bit unconventional, a sign of happiness. A Pink Floyd song on repeat is probably introspection, and possibly evidence of mind altering intake. Morrissey means the same in any language and country – call a doctor. Now.

When Alanis Morissette’s peculiar brand of Canadian mezzo-soprano pierced my quiet Sunday morning reading time, I looked at the ceiling with worry. I closed my eyes and thought. What could happen on a Saturday night that would make a person put on Alanis Morissette on a Sunday morning? The answer came: jilted lover. Then a question came: How could I help?

I decided to put on two albums that would offer comfort and inspire revenge. I put on the When Harry Met Sally soundtrack to put them in better spirits. I followed that up with Johnny Cash’s 2/3 aptly-themed Love, God, Murder.

It occurred to me in that zone of perfect caffeination between the bathroom visit and anxiety that perhaps this is how neighbors in this building show support. The downstairs lady got me to start working out with her broom music and complaints. Maybe it wasn’t so unwitting. I let the arguing neighbors see my weird cat. Food for thought. Before I could get too deep, I made the penultimate transition in the caffeination journey from profound to anxious. The last one would come an hour later: the crash.

The upstairs flat was quiet for a while, but when they belted out the Karaoke version of Alanis Morissette’s Thank U, I took it as a sign. I only wish I had the Moana soundtrack so I could play You’re Welcome.

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