Afterthoughts: At Close Range
The cast of characters is half the fun of apartment living.
By Kathryn Drury Wagner, managing editor
Photo: Linny Morris
Actually, having other people in close proximity is, to me, one of the most rewarding and engaging parts of apartment-hood. It’s never lonely. There’s always someone home, baking something yummy, or playing the piano. When I’m lucky, I’ll catch Alan down the hall performing a concerto, but even when he’s just practicing scales, it’s a happy, proficient sound. Or the sweet lady across the hall. Her sisters live in the building, too, and they always seem to be having a riotously good time. I like to think of them as the three singing siblings in the French film The Triplets of Belleville.
Of course, having close neighbors can be challenging, as well. Sometimes the cooking smell isn’t so yummy, but a mysterious, salmon-skin odor. I don’t know who’s eating it for dinner, but the fishy fumes are so vile, it takes fans blowing and incense to keep me from leaping off my la-nai in pursuit of clean air.
Illustration: Jing JING Tsong
It got to the point that I cringed whenever I’d see his door open, inevitably just as I was passing by.
Then a funny thing happened. I saw this as an opportunity to practice compassion. It’s not his intention to insult me. He’s just making small talk, in his own way, based on his culture and era. And if you told him he was offending me, he’d probably be horrified—few of us really want to be on bad terms with our neighbors. So I concentrate hard on the idea of intent, and suddenly, his good qualities—he volunteers at his church, swims every day and is certainly very friendly—come into focus.
Thank goodness I’ve gotten to practice with Mr. M., as I have a new neighbor. One with four legs, a yappy bark and an incessant need for—well, I don’t know what, but the little guy obviously wants something. Listening to the dog yap! yap! yapping! from 4 to 5 a.m., the same hour it’s been barking at for three mornings in a row, I reasoned, Boy, am I going to get to practice some compassion.
It’s probably a new puppy, I thought. It’s not barking to annoy me or wake me up, but to annoy and wake up its owner. Wait, no, compassion … Okay, it’s barking because it doesn’t feel safe. It’s probably scared and lonely. And, lo, my urge to find the dog and hurl it off a ledge subsides.
Compassion may be the secret to living closely with others. That, and a good pair of earplugs.