Our Town downtown
October 30, 2006
The mail room in my 20-story apartment building near Gramercy Park has a bulletin board with various notices on it, like ‘math tutoring available’ and ‘coffee table for sale’ (with an unflattering Polaroid-quality photo of the table, hinting at an overweight cat somewhere just out of range). For months there were more intense messages there; updates about the noise coming from two popular bars across Third Avenue that was driving the street-facing tenants nuts.
I live in the back of the building and heard none of the noise. It bugged me to read the Cindy Sheehan fervor these note-makers were going on about it with. Jesus, I thought, if you don’t want clubs near you, live in Elmira. But then all I had to do was throw my junk mail into the shiny trash receptacle and head up one flight to my silent one-bedroom retreat. I didn’t have to live with it. I knew I was being insensitive, but I just couldn’t feel their pain. To me they were being a pain. I had to stop reading their updates.
Eventually they stopped. The messages, that is. The noise hasn’t, at least nothing is different from the look of things across the street. The two bars draw a crowd. One has even drawn me in occasionally with its Monday mug-of-Bud-for-a-dollar deal (you’ve never seen mugs so small or thick-walled). Here’s what I noticed as I sat on a stool there a few Mondays ago watching the ESPN pre-game in the not-yet-crowded place: The noise almost drove me out. I’ve spent more time than my kids know in such places over the years and I’ve never been so bugged by the noise. Two young ladies catching up on their weekend a few feet away sounded like they were screaming they were so loud. But they weren’t screaming. There was just nothing to absorb the sound of their conversation, which increased in volume as it bounced off bottles and a varnished floor and a tin ceiling, and out the door upward toward the Munch-ish faces trying to keep it together in the front of my building.
I almost put a note on the bulletin board the next day telling what I’d discovered about the bad acoustics. I wanted to let them know it wasn’t the kids’ fault, it wasn’t the smokers at 1:00 in the morning huddled outside; it was simply the lack of curtains on the bar windows and a rug and a ratty couch or two. But I didn’t say anything. Maybe I only half-believed that acoustics were the root cause of their sleeplessness.
I’ve recently had guests. One guy for a week, another guy the next. They both snored—unbearably. I almost didn’t sleep a wink. I wanted to kill. I gained sympathy for the note-makers. I knew I was going to be guest-free soon, but that didn’t help as I tossed and turned my radio on to all-night sports talk to take my mind off the noise. I couldn’t live that way for long.
The people upstairs from me who I don’t know and who must be new or have a new job that brings them home every weeknight at around three a.m. have been waking me up for weeks with their footsteps, shoeless as they are. They also sound like they might be decorating Christmas cookies up there every night; I hear the faint dropping onto the floor of what sounds like the little red hot candies you’d use to make buttons on the snowman cookies. It’s like a payback from the tenants on the Third Avenue side.
-- Bill Gunlocke