There is often a contentious, unspoken relationship between upstairs and downstairs neighbors. Our other neighbors were loud and obnoxious at early morning and afternoon hours, but were mostly reasonable when we voiced our displeasure. But not our upstairs neighbors. They never knew how we felt about them because we never saw them once in two years.
At this point, I had two roommates. Balthazar, a friend I had known since third grade, had been living with me after returning from a year abroad. The other was Janelle, a friend from high school who had needed a place to stay in Santa Cruz. I didn’t hesitate to rent her our closet and couch for $100 a month. (This may seem strange to renters in larger communities, but I have it on good authority that the same closet now rents for $650 and doesn’t include utilities).
Looking back, this is something that made me realize Santa Cruz was the right place for me. People help each other out here. There’s a true sense of community. (Couch surfing blog to come).
Balthazar and I were juggling student life, part-time work and newfound freedom and never considered how the addition of Janelle might affect our living situation. Here was the basic effect: she fit in seamlessly and things got much cleaner and more organized. We probably should have been paying her instead of charging her anything. Her closet was the cleanest thing in the apartment.
Balthazar, Janelle and I became close as we began to taste life for the first time. I’m still not sure how the routine began, but when the last of the three of us got home for the night, we would play Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” and dance around.
One of my favorite memories is walking in the door after a long day of work. Balthazar was crouched down at the CD player–he had 100 disc changer which fueled our parties for years–and he hit play right as I walked in. I loosened my tie and all three of us immediately went into an elbow-swinging, circular do-se-do to “On the Road Again”.
It was a moment that signified our work day being over, a relatively new concept to all of us. It became our song. To this day, I guarantee that all three of us think of those times whenever that song comes on at a grocery store, coffee shop, TV commercial or the radio. It happened to me just the other day.
Our upstairs neighbors also had a song.
It was the UB40 hit, “Red, Red Wine” (written by the great Neil Diamond, by the way). To be honest, we liked it almost as much and would sometimes play it ourselves. They never played “On the Road Again”.
What was disturbing was the behavior that accompanied their song. I can only describe it, as both roommates have attested to, as a gorilla moving heavy furniture with one hand and vacuuming with the other, all while dancing to the music.
It was like clockwork. Every single night. A mystique began to build around our neighbors with their elusive nature, attention to cleanliness, ability to move couches and love of reggae pop.
Then one night, the mystique disappeared.
I awoke to the sound of people running up the stairs that led to their apartment. The guests were in a hurry, stomped loudly and there were a lot of them. My brain fired into emergency mode as I woke up midway into a full sprint down the hallway. As I started to get my bearings, I realized I was running down the hallway of a small apartment and unsure of where I was going.
Our curtains were showered in flickering red from police lights–there were no sirens–and I slammed to a halt on our carpet. I heard toilets from upstairs flushing rapidly, pounding on doors, voices yelling. Standing in place I looked around our apartment for something the police might be there to bust us for, as though they were at my own door. The only thing I could come up with was our cat, [name redacted for decency purposes], who was expressly forbidden in the terms of the rental agreement.
Our neighbor’s toilet continued to flush as the pounding on the door got louder. I peeked out the blinds to see several cop cars with lights flashing parked in front of our four-apartment complex. I heard the police enter upstairs, but it was not terribly loud. The whole incident was rather calm and over quickly once they got inside, something I cannot say for the UB40 ritual.
After that, we never heard anything from the upstairs apartment. Although a plumber was spending a lot of time there over the next few days. The writing was on the wall and in the sewage system: it was time to look for a new place.