A young friend of mine, a graduate student, (we'll call her J to protect the innocent) finds herself in the unfortunate position of living in rather downscale housing. I've often heard stories about her neighbors, stories I could scarce believe to be honest. Over coffee the other day, she insisted that I see for myself and dragged me to her run-down little building. I should say the building itself actually wasn't all that bad. My parents lived in a place like it when I was in kindergarten. But, as J always hastens to clarify, it's not the building, it's the neighbors.

Having heard about these neighbors, I'd always insisted on my place, but it's increasingly going to seed with the loss of crucial domestic staff, so I figured what the hell. We made our way to the third floor. Everything seemed in order. Stacks of books, spare furnishings, relative quiet. Adequate fare for a graduate student. Then J gestured to me suddenly as if expecting to hear something.

Now, dear reader, I fear words may fail me, as we like to say around here. This is not to say I was overcome by emotion, except maybe astonishment. What issued from the apartment directly below was a sustained, wailing cry in the cinematic tradition of Evil Dead. Its origin, of which I'd heard stories that, again, I scarce believed, was nothing supernatural. Apparently, there was some woman living downstairs with two young men, to whom this scream had belonged.

Now this is midday, when respectable people are at work doing something productive, or at least planning to get back to it shortly. But nevertheless, the wailing continued. Then suddenly, to my surprise, another voice broke in -- this one male. It was a high, whining shriek, but intelligible. Apparently there was some controversy over their rent and utility bills. It was pretty garbled, but the gist of it was that it was the woman's fault and that he had to pay his cell phone bill or something. Her answer was yet another shrill, unearthly shriek mixed with some incomprehensible verbiage. It continued back and forth like this, with them arguing with incredible passion about shockingly trivial amounts of money for about fifteen minutes, when finally the line that encapsulated the entire scene rang out:

Screamed our young buck, "You're the one who spends five hundred dollars a month on food! Maybe you should stop throwing it up!"

J and I looked at each other in horror, not so much out of compassion for the squalor below our feet, but in the knowledge that if we didn't get out of there quick, we'd soon be laughing so loud they'd surely hear us. What sort of enlightened, educated people would we be then?

The reader will be relieved to hear we managed to get down the stairs, out the door, and into the car before that happened. After finally regaining her composure, J jubilantly explained that these neighbors were being evicted and this would probably be the last chance for me to witness such a scene. Apparently, though you may scarcely believe it, these two or three would go at it in the same fashion nearly every night for hours, often into the early morning.

Anyway, we ended up back at my place as usual, but I couldn't help thinking of John Edwards' "Two Americas." It's easy to forget about these people, unless they scream and shriek a lot. That, I suppose, is the tragedy of Edwards. Without a national figure around which to gather and shriek in unison, I just don't see how they'll ever get a break.

Originally posted to Vincenzo Giambatista on Wed Mar 04, 2009 at 05:46 PM PST.


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