Horton Street’s new Gladys Kravitz or Norman Bates?

Knowledge I have acquired about my upstairs neighbor includes the following: his name is Harold, he maintains a companionship with approximately two cats, and he did not give me permission to use his real name in this post. In fact, I did not ask. I also know that when Harold walks from room to room, his feet beat so heavily on the floor that I am afraid he will crush through our barrier and I’ll find half a human leg poking out from the ceiling. Harold also enjoys spending time in bathtubs—with water, of course. I know this because a) I hear the faucet frequently spew bath water and, b) unnervingly, my ears also catch sounds of him squishing his manbody inside the tub as water periodically splashes. During Harold’s residency as my neighbor, I have also learned to infer that he was not born into a family in which people wash their hands after using the bathroom.

(Side note to Harold: basic hygiene, man. It’s one thing to take six baths a day and allow your body to mingle with its own grime, but to not wash your hands after furiously urinating for several minutes? (Yes, I went there. I am not holding back. I am not holding back anything.)  Germs exist, and as much as I would rather not know where your hands have been and what they have touched, I can’t help but painfully imagine. If there comes a day I must choose between shaking your hand or shredding my arm in a large meat grinder, I choose the latter. It’s not entirely my fault, either. See, I come from a family obsessed with annihilating bad germs and quadruple-checking to make sure the house has been thoroughly sanitized. Plus, I am your downstairs neighbor. I hear things, okay. I hear everything. So go—go wash your filthy hands or I will leave post-it note reminders on your door.)

More than anything, however—beyond multiple baths a day, poor hygiene, and heavy feet—I have learned that Harold is not only the neighborhood’s Gladys Kravitz, but a general weirdo who thinks neighbors should follow his every wish so that he can have the perfect living environment suited to his needs. In short: rather than accepting neighbors as they are, he expects neighbors to adjust to him and for him. Harold is better off living in some remote cottage in the middle of a grassy field, because unlike Harold believes, most neighbors learn to put up with each other. It’s how neighbors co-exist. But Harold? No. He can’t co-exist with others; others must co-exist with him.

I first encountered Harold outside on a chilly spring night. He was sporting shorts, a white t-shirt, socks that stretched halfway up his calves, and a balding head. Prior to that, he’d been abusing our front door, knocking so loudly with frightening persistence that I turned to my mother and mouthed, “CALL THE POLICE.” It was nearing midnight, so who in their right mind would open that door? If I had opened that door I could have been greeted with an ax to the head and no hope of a tomorrow. Guided by the light of our back porch (thanks, Mom), Harold crept around a corner and finally greeted his downstairs neighbors. As it turns out, Harold locked himself outside and was desperate to find a way back in. Using my $5 Starbucks gift card, he somehow slid the lock back and the chilly spring night lost its hold. First impression: new in town (as per his statement that there were no friends or family he could call) and a little too chatty for my liking but a decent guy. He even dropped by the following day to say thanks and handed over two $5 Starbucks gift cards. Nice guy, right?

A few nights later as my mother smoked her nightly cigarette on the porch, a snobbish voice flooded out his living room window: “Excuse me. Excuuuuse me. Your cigarette smoke wafts through my window…” Keep in mind that 1)my mother is not the only neighbor who smokes and 2)if she were to smoke out front as opposed to the back, the smoke would only drift into his bedroom. I imagine he was expecting a response similar to “I’m terribly sorry!” followed by “I will make sure to walk a block down so that my smoke can bother someone else instead” or “There’s nothing like calling a bad habit quits when your neighbor points it out, thanks!” So when she instead responded with a flat-toned “Sorry,” he grumbled back: “It stinks up my entire place!” before slamming his window shut.

From that night on, whenever he smelled cigarette smoke—whether it came from my mom or not—his windows slammed shut with such force that I felt 9.0 earthquake vibrations. And it’s not as though I don’t share his irritation. Cigarette smoke doesn’t smell like a rose garden, but until cigarettes are illegal… Well, tough luck. My impression after the first impression: passive-aggressive jerk.

After the cigarette tiff and window-slamming (which lasted until fall winds arrived) I made it a point to avoid Harold. The likelihood of me feigning a polite smile in his presence had zero chance probability, and there’s nothing like making oneself look like the #1 Neighborhood Asshat by shooting dirty looks and snarling. My avoid-Harold-streak soon ended, however, when I awoke to the sound of running water upstairs in his bathroom.

Since the water had been running for over an hour, I concluded that my dear neighbor Harold drowned to death in the very bathtub he loved all too much. A great way to way to go for someone intent on bathing in his own body filth if you ask me. But then, slightly to my dismay (as I am not keen on idea of living in or near places where people have died), I realized his car was out of sight. Thirty minutes after I had reported to the condo association, “I think my upstairs neighbor left a faucet running,” he zipped home—not bothering to turn off his engine—pounded up the stairs to his door, rushed inside and the sound of running water was no more. Five minutes later I found him knocking at my front door: “I think we should exchange numbers in case of emergencies. We can call each other directly.”

According to Harold, the association told his work, “Water is wrecking havoc at Harold’s place. Hope he enjoys a flooded bathroom.”

Point taken; my number was relinquished. Little did I know that “any bothersome noise sounding off in ‘early’ morning hours” is an emergency. Last Friday morning he called:

“There’s a rumbling through the floor. Do you have a machine going? It sounds like a machine. Well, if could turn it off… because it’s 7:30. It’s really early in the morning, thanks. If it’s not you then I am sorry to disturb you.”

Well I am sorry that the sound of my morning shower disturbs you, Harold. Really. I’ll make sure that I never take on a job that calls for morning shifts, and I will drop my morning class pronto so that you may get extra hours of shut-eye, even though it’s a weekday and most people are up early on weekday mornings. Because, you know, people have jobs, places to go, people to see, etc. Some people just enjoy getting up early—imagine that. Regardless, I’m certain that a shower does not cause floors to rumble. Out and squeaky-clean by 7:40, I heard nothing—absolutely nothing—but shushed silence.

This is not the first time he has called about a troublesome noise. Last month he called at 8:00 am: “I’ve been hearing a very loud banging sound four several hours now. Do you hear it, too? It’s very loud.” Note: I am not a morning person. No one should ever speak to me in the morning until I have had coffee; otherwise, I will greet an unknowing victim with slurred words muffling profanities as if said person is the cause of my morning distress. Besides, I had been in and out of restless sleep since 6 AM that morning, though groggy and very tired, and had heard nothing but his loud footsteps booming through the ceiling. I was far too exhausted to recognize what a “Harold” was doing on my phone, anyway. Why would I want to discuss imaginary sounds at 8 AM? Because I don’t, not ever.

But I can easily tolerate his voice messages about odd morning sounds (which no one but him seems to hear). Above everything else—his expectations that neighbors abide by his requests, that he stomps more heavily than any elephant herd, that I can hear a hackgagcough emit from his mouth with a sound so disgusting that an involuntary urge to hurl takes control—it’s his old-fashioned window-spying that ranks at number one on my list of “Things I Dislike About Harold.”

Mid-January, snow hit our region and I was unprepared. Needless to say that I had neglected snow tires and remained inside for one entire week. On the second day of our almost-snowmageddon, I made the poor choice of venturing out beyond my little community. With a pinch of trouble backing out, I successfully drove my way out to the main roads, anxiety in full-gear. Two hours later as I attempted to park, snow trapped my front tires and nothing but the roar of the car’s engine and spinning tires would budge. And that’s when I saw him: the bedroom’s light pinned his silhouette to the blinds, a section pried open by his fingers. Harold’s eyes stared down from his window as he watched, watched, and watched me struggle for ten whole minutes. Under normal circumstances, I might have thought he was merely concerned about my car tearing into his car. But this was not a normal circumstance, because this was not the first time I had caught him spying.

I had almost forgiven him for his window-peeking earlier in the day when he offered me his ice scraper. Golly gee, how nice, I thought. (I had also neglected to buy an ice scraper and thought a dust pan would suffice. I was wrong.) But seeing his eyes bulge out from his open blinds as I kicked snow from under my tires, I realized: he didn’t exit his home by happenstance just to shovel snow off a car he didn’t plan on driving for another five days. Oh, no. He knew I needed that ice scraper because he’d been spying through the obvious crack in his blinds.

It is official: I feel irked. I feel like I need to search every crevice of my bathroom and bedroom to make sure there are no spy-holes, like in Psycho.

But as it so happens, I am also a Gladys Kravitz, though I possess much more stealthy neighbor-spying tactics. For one, a person should never press their body against a curtain-covered window with the lights on. Lights cast shadow; it’s common sense. Secondly, what does Harold think the tiny holes in blinds are for? They’re multifunctional. Not only do they serve as space for string to lace through, but they are essentially a window’s many peep-holes. If someone shoves half  of his or her face between parted blinds, that person has completely blown the Kravitz cover. Besides, my Kravitz habits barely touch on or even border the line that crosses from curiosity to “I am a semi-stalker and total freak.” I am a paranoid individual, so I have legitimate excuses for some of my odd behavior. The only times I make use of window-peeping is when I hear odd sounds outside my window or when someone is beating up my front door, because a) I am positive it’s a serial killer and b) therefore briefly morph into Gladys, ready a knife and prepare to dial 9-1-1, and then sit on the couch for two hours until I’m sure the could-be-killer is gone. But Harold? What is this? What are you doing, Harold? If I were to barge into his place, I half-expect to find the rotting corpse of his dead mother in the second bedroom. This is creepy. Almost Norman-Bates-creepy.

Harold is creepy. Harold is a creepy, passive-aggressive jerk who hears imaginary sounds, and I firmly believe these are the reasons he remains alone in life. He will remain alone for all of time. I bet my next five coffee canisters that even his beloved cats will leave him.

And if Harold ever happens to stumble across this odd post, what will he do about it? It is one hell of an awkward conversation I would love to have.

Edit: In light of witnessing Harold exit his home with who I am most certain is his man-lover, perhaps he is not so alone as I originally thought. Maybe the only rotten corpse one can find in his home is that of a dying apple. Regardless, I am still just as paranoid as he is a creepy, passive-aggressive jerk who hears imaginary sounds and makes for an annoying neighbor.

Edit 2: Never mind. I do not want that awkward conversation.

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