Forehead vein bursting from beneath his skin, he inhaled sharply and vindictively proclaimed, “You’re done!” He then paused for effect. His bloodshot eyes bulged from their ancient sockets and darted through my living room as he struggled through belabored, rageful breaths to finish: “With the screamin’!”
These words echoed through my apartment, bouncing off the still and silent faces of my party guests and finally settling into the beer-stained carpet. Roughly 40 blanched faces peered back at him, trying desperately to retain a sense of dignity despite varying degrees of intoxication. I apologized profusely, called him “sir” a lot and slowly closed the door, as he quickly blurted out the remainder of his you-live-near-other-people speech. It was 10:30 p.m. and, despite living next door to him for roughly seven months, it was only the second time I’d ever met old cranky Frank.
The first time we met, a few months earlier, had been very different. It was pouring rain and the courtyard of our building was flooding. He stood outside of his door watching the torrent as some friends and I walked up the stairs, soaked from head to toe.
“It’s really raining out there,” he offered. I nodded, then wrung out my shirt to demonstrate how soaked I was. He chuckled and I bade him good night. It seemed like the start to a beautifully unexpected relationship. We were to become best of friends: me, the young man challenging Frank to reclaim his youth, and he, the elder, imparting years of important wisdom and advice upon my naive soul. For months after that day, I always came home with a small but ever-present hope that he would be sitting outside his door, and something would compel us to make conversation. The future was ours.
His enraged intrusion into my party marked an abrupt end to these lofty goals. It was as if he had no intention of becoming my friend — like Frank didn’t actually want some college student to urge him to reclaim his long-lost energy and passion for life while giving him an outlet to pass on his inevitably brilliant nuggets of wisdom. It seemed like all Frank wanted was some damned peace and quiet, even at 10:30 p.m. on a Friday night.
I suspect Frank moved into apartment number 12 when his mind and body were still capable of enduring early-evening ruckuses and when market value in Berkeley was something that resembled reasonable. Now that Berkeley rent prices have leaped into the ridiculous, he, like many other Berkeley residents who live near students, surely can’t afford to move from his rent-controlled apartment. That, or he is some sort of creature from the deep that feeds off his own anger and so insists on living among disrespectful youths.
In any case, Frank is trapped, doomed to watch a slideshow of shitty college students tramp into the apartment adjacent to his, bang on the walls for a year, never learn his name and then leave.
Sometimes, as dusk turns to night, I hear Frank shout sweet nothings at Stephen Curry, willing him to score that game-winning three-pointer. I consider knocking on his door and asking him if I can watch with him — or if he could please quiet down.
But then I remember that Frank and I really have no business interacting each other. We’ve become enemies: me, the indifferent millennial, loudly slandering him to my friends and expecting the world to warp to my wishes, and him, the embittered senior citizen, muttering insults as he passes my door and barely surviving a world that seems to attack him on all fronts — his anger, no doubt a buildup from countless neighbors like me over the years.
The key to solving conflict is finding common ground. Frank and I could progress from stoic enemies into an apprehensive truce. All it would take is a little bit of open-mindedness from both of us. It could even only require a simple note of apology regarding my apartment’s late-evening antics, sneaking him a pot brownie, or a smile. But it almost doesn’t seem worth it at this point. I’ve already taken to Craigslist and started asking around for my next year’s apartment. Frank and I were only meant to be part of each others lives for a year.
I’ll move out, and Frank will stay, perhaps hoping for an unlikely yet profound relationship with his next neighbors, or maybe just some respect and acknowledgement of his existence — even though all precedent points against it. For the time being, he and I have two options: We can either make the best of it, even though come May it just won’t matter anymore, or passive-aggressively write about it in the school newspaper and actively change nothing. Try to guess which one I chose.
Contact Karim Doumar at [email protected].