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Friday, June 1, 2018

The Reluctant Eavesdropper

Lately, I’ve been wondering how come people who live in a country that left its footprint on Mars can’t find a decent apartment surrounded by walls thick enough to block the sounds that their neighbors produce. Because more than once, I’ve found myself hearing activities that I really, really didn’t need to hear. 

My problems started when I was living in San Francisco. One night I woke up to the loud noise of a rowing machine. I couldn’t figure out why my upstairs neighbor had decided to embark on an exercise regime at midnight. Didn’t he have to go to work in the morning? Didn’t he know our walls were paper-thin? Why was he so inconsiderate?

I suffered through the night, plotting revenge on the neighbor. My partner, now my ex, covered his head with a pillow and mumbled curses.

The next night we woke up to the sound of the rowing machine, again. We waited to see how long it would take our dear neighbor to tire, but from the noise, he sounded like an accomplished athlete. The rowing went on for so long, I figured that he could have reached New Zealand by morning.

On the third night, my ex, who was usually a mellow guy, finally lost it. He got a broom from the kitchen and, to my horror, started hitting our bedroom ceiling with the broomstick so hard, that he put a hole in the sheetrock. As pieces of plaster and dust rained on the carpet and the bed, the rowing finally stopped. I applauded my ex and eventually fell asleep.

The next day, my ex told me that he had run into our upstairs neighbor.
“Did he apologize?” I asked.
“He asked what my problem was banging on the walls so hard in the middle of the night.”
Your problem? Did you tell him that his bedroom is not a gym?”
“He said he was having sex.”

I needed a few seconds to let it sink in. Then, I wanted to ask, “With whom?” and, “Who could do this for such a long time?” But why should I care?

I was more than glad that I’d never met that neighbor, and soon afterwards I left San Francisco and moved to Monterey. But my thin-wall troubles did not end.

In Monterey, I learned to speculate about the relationships of my upstairs neighbors based on the noises that came from their bedroom… and… their bathroom. I didn’t want to do it, but they left me no choice.

The first couple who lived above me never had sex. I could hear the man sneeze and cough and snore in his sleep and the toilet flush every morning, but no rowing machines or lusty moans. When the man lost two hundred pounds and moved out, I was not surprised. I knew he was on a mission to find a more accommodating woman.

After the abandoned girlfriend also moved away, a young couple moved in and I found myself spending night after night hearing marathon sessions of silent sex, evident only by the rhythmic creaking noises from my ceiling. This couple did not talk during sex; they did not laugh, squeal, sigh or groan. Nothing. 

After a while, it sounded like work. 

“Don’t you people want to say something to each other?” I wanted to ask. “Can you please shed your inhibitions and let me know that it’s almost over? Please, give me a clue, before I start freaking out that it will never end.”

The worst part was when I could hear someone get out of bed as soon as the creaking stopped and walk to the bathroom. And again, that flushing toilet. 

“Wait,” I wanted to yell from below. “Don’t get up so quickly. Relax. Cuddle. Whisper words of love. Use a towel. It’s all good.” But the people upstairs had their routine, and as soon as the accelerating ceiling squeaks were over, I would hear someone’s feet hit the floor, and my heart would sink in sorrow for the person who was left alone in bed.

When the couple above me finally had a baby and moved out, I decided to move upstairs. Maybe listening to sex and toilet flushing below me would not be as bothersome as when those sounds come from above.

I was very lucky for a while, living above people who did not indulge in sex. Until my downstairs neighbor got a boyfriend, and again, I found myself speculating about other people’s sex lives and relationships.

It is so much better not to know the people who have sex on the other side of your walls. Like when you’re relaxing in a hotel room and suddenly you hear an anonymous couple going ‘ah ah ah’ and the headboard of their bed bangs against your shared wall so loudly that you find yourself thinking more about the risk of concussion than orgasms. 

However, when I lie in my bed, I don’t have that privilege. I know too much about my downstairs neighbor, and a lot more than I want to know about her boyfriend. 

The guy my neighbor is dating is an unattractive, skinny, tattoo-covered waiter slash bartender, which means that sex starts late at night. My neighbor, on the other hand, has a job that starts at 6 am, so you can imagine the hours they become active.

No sooner do I fall asleep than I awake to the sound of groans produced by a skinny man-child approaching climax. I cannot begin to tell you how un-interesting it is to lie in bed, in the dark, and listen to other people having sex. I know how it’s going to end, so I just have to wait for it to be over so I can go back to sleep. But no, now my brain is working overtime as it realizes that the bed is not creaking. 

“What kind of bed does she have down there?” My brain is wondering. “What kind of sex are they having if the bed is not banging against the wall?” And then I’m like, “No, no, no, no, no. I don’t know and I don’t want to know. It’s none of my business. Maybe they are not even on the bed.”

Then another thought creeps in, “Why is she so quiet? Is it because she knows I can hear her? Or is he one of those selfish guys who doesn’t give a damn about how she’s doing so long as he gets his?”

If I didn’t know my neighbor, I wouldn’t be worried about her, but I know how hard she works, and how busy she is caring for her kids, and how happy she must be for at last having a boyfriend. So I want to know that she is happy and having good sex, not this quiet exercise in self-control.

I tell myself, “Go back to sleep. You have to get up in a few hours.” But I have to wait until he finishes. When silence falls on our duplex, I congratulate him and start counting sheep.

Four hours later, I am up again. 

Really? Five o’clock in the morning? You didn’t get enough? You think I sleep that deep that I can’t hear you mister waiter/bartender when you start groaning all over again, competing with the birds? And what kind of bed do you guys sleep on?
I want one of those, too. 

And so it goes, another night, another early morning, for weeks we are all awake whether we want to be or not. Until she breaks up with him and I can go back to my habit of sleeping a full night without worrying whether that guy knows what he’s doing and whether she’s selling herself short because she is so desperate to share her bed with someone.

Some people say women make more noise than men during sex, pretending they are having fun to boost their fragile egos. I say: What Ever. It’s a lottery. You never know what you’re getting into when you move into an apartment. You can only hope that when it’s your turn to be heard, no one will pass judgment and you’ll be able to pretend that you are all alone in the world having the best time of your life.

Until then, I am waiting for America to colonize Mars. Maybe there, I will find some peace.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Dog Reflections - Dog Love 9

I live with a friendly woman near the ocean. Sometimes, she comes home from work and I can tell that she had a stressful day. She collapses on the couch and mumbles things I can’t make out. I wait for my treat and she barely notices me. That’s when I know that I have to take her for a walk on the beach. I stand by the door and make little whimpering sounds until she changes into her exercise clothes and calls me to join her, as if it was her idea to go out. 

When we get to the beach, she likes to throw a ball in the air for me to catch. I don’t know where she got the idea that I like to do this. I couldn’t care less about her ball, but she seems happy when I find it, drop it at her feet, and pretend that I want her to throw it again. Even when I am completely out of breath and totally not into chasing it anymore. 

I do it only to make her happy, but the truth is that I can’t stand this stupid game. I’d rather bark at squirrels or roll in coyote poop than run in the sand and get wet. I'm a hunter, not a ball catcher. When we walk in the park, I sometimes find stuff to chew on, which freaks her out, and sometimes I lift my leg and pee on a tree or a rock. But on the beach, there are no trees to pee on, no squirrels to terrorize, and no poop. Only little birds that fly away the second I bark at them, and a saliva-smothered tennis ball that smells of perspiration. 

Luckily she uses a yellow ball, which I can see if it falls close enough, because my eyesight is not as good as my sense of smell. And yellow is the color that I can see. But still, when she throws that ball too far, I am lost. It lands somewhere on the sand and I can’t see it because from a distance, everything looks the same. But she persists, “Go get it, go on,” and I resent that. I have to look for the ball all over the place, and by the time I find it hiding under a pile of seaweed, I am exhausted and demoralized. 

And she goes, “Yeepeetee-yeepeetee-something-something, good dog good dog.” I don’t understand everything she says but the tone of her voice tells me that she is happy that I’ve found her ball. Maybe she’ll give me a treat because I’m such a wonderful dog who can find yellow balls in the sand, who knows.

But the game of throwing things is not just about tennis balls.

The worst is when she brings her non-yellow Frisbee. Whatever color humans call it, I can’t see it, because I only see blue and green, some yellow and shades of gray. All the other colors are wasted on me. But she thinks it’s cute to have me chase a plastic plate that disappears as soon as it lands on the sand and doesn’t smell like anything. I try to tell her, “Get a toy that is the same color as that tennis ball. Something I can see against the sky, so I don’t have to embarrass myself running in circles and finding nothing.” But my lady doesn’t speak dog very well, and again I have to deal with her annoying toy, instead of chasing that cute Maltese that has just showed up on the beach.

She throws the plastic disc and I have to pretend that I am soooo excited. I bolt out and head toward a large log that was swept onto the beach during the last storm. Maybe I can catch my breath behind it before she notices that I am gone. Maybe that Maltese will join me there and make this outing worthwhile.

But wait! What’s that? The ocean has left me a gift. Behind the log, near some chewed up balls that were lost on other dogs, lies the magnificent aged carcass of a sea lion. It emits a nuanced aroma I have sniffed only in my wildest fantasies, complex and multilayered and full of promise. A unique offering for the true connoisseur that I am. 

I bark at the turkey vultures who stand nearby and think they can scare me, I sniff the decaying mound of flesh, and rub my neck against the bloated creature. Ahhhh, the pleasure of frolicking in the juices of a rotting sea lion cadaver is unbeatable. I sink my shoulders and my back into a dark cavity…   

And then I hear her scream. “Shlumperrrrrr!”

Halleluiah! No more chasing balls.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Sports Gene

Since I heard that progressives have a special gene that makes them think the way they do, I've been hoping that scientists will soon start looking for the sports gene, because although I am quite sure I possess the liberal-progressive gene, I know for a fact that I lack the gene responsible for anything that has to do with sports. And this, I'm afraid, jeopardizes my place in American society.

The reason I started to worry has to do with the Giants. You see, in 2014 the Giants won the World Series. My San Francisco-born daughter posted something about the team on Facebook, which should have alerted me to the event. But I had no clue what she was talking about. She might as well have written it in Korean.

And so, a day after I saw her post I tried to strike up a friendly conversation with a colleague at work. I asked him when the Giants were going to play the final game of the World Series. Was it going to be in November, December or January?

The expression on the guy's face made me feel like he might need a defibrillator. He stared at me in stunned silence and after a few seconds, the words fell out of his mouth. "The Giant have already won the World Series."


I didn't dare ask if the Giants played football or baseball. That would have finished him off completely and I didn't wish him any harm. As they like to say in this country: "It's not personal."
So you see? I am hopeless when it comes to sports.

I once rented a room from a woman who was the accountant for the 49ers. Shortly before I moved in, the team won the Super Bowl and my landlady, I found out, partied with them after the game. Now, how do I know that the 49ers play football, you may ask. The only reason I know that fact is because I saw autographed footballs enclosed in a glass case in her living room. She also had a bunch of signed photographs hanging on the wall next to the glass case.

I am sorry to say, though, that all the football memorabilia left me unmoved. My total ignorance prevented me from prostrating myself in sheer awe before her football altar. Or how can I put it more clearly? My inner Moses failed to recognize the deity in the burning bush.

But don't get me wrong. I am not a hater of sports. I am just not that into them. Because I lack the sports gene. It's a DNA malfunction.

For the benefit of the doubt, and to preserve my citizenship, let me tell you that there was a time that curiosity got the better of me and drove me to watch some unmemorable matches in very famous stadiums.

For example, I once saw a game at Yankee Stadium between the Yankees and the Red Sox. I was told that Reggie Jackson would be in that game – not that I knew who he was. Like any dumb foreigner, I knew nothing about the game and all I could think was: "What the hell is an inning? IN what?" I sat on the hard bench among screaming adults and tried to figure out why it was such a big deal to watch overweight guys in pajamas spitting on the ground and rearranging their privates. There was also lukewarm beer and hot dogs and lots of American cars in the enormous parking lot that created a traffic jam from hell after the game finally ended in the sixteenth inning or whatever. I think the Yankees won the game but don't quote me on that. I just checked another item off my to-do list and went home to brag about it.

A year or so later, I found myself watching a soccer game in Maracana in Rio de Janeiro. This was when I learned to chant "Um dos trĂªs, quatro cinco mil, eu quero que Flamengo vai pra puta que pariu." The chant translates to "One, two, three, four, five thousand, I want Flamengo to go to hell (literally, ‘go to the whore who gave birth to you’). Definitely good material for learning authentic language use. In Portuguese, it rhymes nicely when 100,000 grownups yell it in tandem and blow giant horns accompanied by incessant drumming. No hot dogs though. The only thing worth noting is that the team I was supposed to root for won. Which probably saved my life and the life of those who took me to the game.

The last time I was in a stadium was at the U.S. Open. I am quite sure one of the tennis players was John McEnroe because there was lots of cursing and tantrums on the court. I used to think it was Jimmy Connors who I saw playing, but when I described the tantrums years later I was told it was McEnroe not Connors. Maybe I saw them playing against one another. Not so sure about it. My memory betrays me when it comes to these details.

So you see, that's how it is with me when it comes to sports: McEnroe, Connors, Giants, 49ers, Dodgers, Lakers, Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox, Dream Team, whatever. It's all just names to me. And don't get me started on boxing, please. Watching men punch each other in the face to unconsciousness is not what I consider "entertainment."

People try to explain to me why watching a good game is fun. Why being a fan of a sports team is fun. I listen with all the open-mindedness I can muster and try really hard to understand. But I can't.

So one day, when they find the sports gene, I will consider gene therapy. It might make me a better citizen.