Strange Encounters with the Neighbors


The way I met my new neighbor Melissa was that she was driving her moving van up to our apartment building and accidentally knocked the side mirror off my car. If this were a romantic comedy and we had met in this fashion, the car would have been my most prized possession, Melissa and I would have hated each other instantly, I would have told her some ridiculous lie about myself, we’d have fallen in love, she’d have learned the truth about my ridiculous lie, we’d have broken up, we’d have missed each other for a few minutes while a sad pop song played on the soundtrack, and then we’d have reconciled after I chased her down at the airport. Since it’s not a romantic comedy, I just had her pay for the new mirror.

The way I met my other new neighbor was somewhat different. I heard a knock at my door the other morning and opened it to find a disheveled, unshaven man of about 30 who reeked of beer. He looked a bit like Colin Farrell and smelled a bit like what I imagine Colin Farrell usually smells like. I didn’t know at this point that the man was my new neighbor. When I saw him on my doorstep in this condition, I assumed he was a homeless person who had come to my apartment to ask if he could live with me. (That’s never happened to me before, but I don’t rule out the possibility.) Then the man began speaking, and I realized his being drunk at 10:30 a.m. and looking like a bum wasn’t because he was homeless but because he was Scottish.

“Sorry to bother ya,” he said. “I just moved in next door, and last night I had some friends over for a few drinks, and we went out back to smoke and I must have left the door open because I just woke up and found that someone had come in and stole my wallet and my laptop and my cell phone.”

He asked if he could use my phone to call the police. I said yes, of course. When a stranger tells you a sob story about his hard luck and then all he wants from you is something easy and free, you thank your lucky stars. Letting him use my phone was the LEAST I could do! And “the least I could do” is exactly what I was in the market for!

He told me his name, Peter, and I told him mine (Eric). His apartment had been vacant for a while but I had noticed just this morning that someone had moved in because when I went out to get the newspaper there was an empty pizza box outside his door. You’d think this was to make it easier to carry it out to the trash later, except that the trash bins are on the other side of the building, close to the back door of Peter’s apartment, not the front. Maybe the burglar had set the pizza box outside in an effort to be helpful. Or maybe in the Scottish village where Peter comes from they have pizzamen, like milkmen, where you leave your empties out on the porch and the pizzaman comes around early in the morning to bring you fresh ones.

At any rate, I sympathized with his plight, i.e., having drunk himself into such a stupor that he failed to wake up when his small, one-bedroom apartment was ransacked. I think we’ve all been there! I heard of a similar situation last month, when I was in Las Vegas for a film festival. All of the festival parties were sponsored by Stella Artois beer and Grey Goose vodka, so liberal amounts of both beverages were freely offered to all party attendees. Grey Goose is apparently a popular brand of vodka in spite of its unappetizing name. Is it supposed to taste like a goose? Is it supposed to make you think of a Christmas goose dinner, except the goose is grey? I don’t think grey is a good color for a goose. The whole thing sounds awful.

The point is, there was a lot of drinking. One afternoon I was chatting with a guy I’ll call Seth, a jovial dude I’d met earlier in the festival who was there to promote a film. I asked him what he’d done the night before and he said he and some of his friends had gone to a strip club, but that eventually he’d gotten so drunk he had to be put in a cab and carted back to his hotel, and he barely remembered anything. I told him that according to my understanding, not being able to move under your own power and subsequently having no memory of an entire evening was the textbook definition of a good night in Vegas. He agreed with this.

Cut to the last night of the festival. There was a party at festival headquarters, and when I arrived Seth was already loudly and gregariously drunk. As I was talking to him and a few of our mutual acquaintances, I noticed the others were acting furtively, like they were up to something. I sidled away from Seth and asked them what was going on, always eager to know the details of a caper or a shenanigan. One of them explained to me that Seth has a tendency to drink so much that he gets outrageously boisterous, over-friendly, and embarrassing, and so for his own good, his friends will slip a couple of Benadryl into his drink to knock him out. That’s why he didn’t remember anything from the night he went to the strip club, and that’s why he was about to not remember anything from this night, because Operation: Benadryl was at this very moment underway. I guess once you’re drunk enough to require drugging, you’re drunk enough not to notice that your beer tastes funny and has pills in it.

Now, talking to Peter on my doorstep, I wondered if maybe his friends had done the same thing to him. And maybe they’d stolen some of his belongings, too, as an object lesson. I didn’t ask Peter whether he thought this was a possibility, though. I’ve learned never to question a Scotsman’s ability to over-drink.

I wasn’t too concerned about the fact that Peter’s apartment had been burglarized, since it had apparently only happened because he’d left his door open, and possibly also because he was in a beer coma. That’s my reasoning: If I don’t leave my door open and don’t drink to the point of unconsciousness, I won’t be burglarized. I go through the same thought process whenever I hear about a crime occurring in my neighborhood.

GIVEN: Somebody got stabbed a few blocks away.
GIVEN: The victim knew the guy who stabbed him.
GIVEN: I don’t know any people who want to stab me.
ERGO: I am safe from being stabbed.

I was a crime victim a couple years ago, when my car stereo was stolen, and in April, when I had to pay my income taxes. (Amirite, folks??) But apart from that, I haven’t been victimized at all in this neighborhood. Well, except for the time some ditzy dame knocked my mirror off with her moving van, but I’m pretty sure that was an accident. Unless it was just an elaborate scheme to meet me.

[ All the names in this column are changed, by the way.
I felt bad for Melissa. Imagine moving to a new apartment and the way you meet your neighbor is by damaging his car. It was lucky for Melissa that I’m nice and understanding, and that the mirror was easily replaced.
2018 note: I remember the incident with “Seth” in Las Vegas but do not remember who he was or what film he was with, or whether I ever encountered him again. Usually I give people fake names that remind me of their real names, but “Seth” isn’t ringing any bells. ]