I haven’t yet completely lost it living in an apartment next to a family of ten. I’ve gotten as far as once slamming an adjoining wall with a rubber mallet and throwing a half-deflated basketball against that same surface a couple of times. This, not my normal strategy for neighborly peace. Toilet seat covers clang, flushes swoosh by the dozen, plastic jugs bounce in an empty tub. There’s screaming, stomping, and nose-blowing. I can only guess that being loud is essential to staking a claim in a large family…even when it comes to heaving vomit to dispense any c’mon-get-outta-there, I-gotta-go demands. I had no such challenge as an only-child. Self-amusement trumped having to fight for territory.
That wall…that wall. It stands in front of me day and night, an opaque veil of mystery, separating a traffic jam from a lone parked car. Sounds I’ve never heard before: construct, break down, lather, rinse, and repeat. Knocks, flops, crashing thuds in the middle of the night. I hear that song by Tom Waits in my head, “What’s he building in there…what the hell is he building in there? We have a right to know.”
In the spring and fall, before and after the air conditioner is running, I keep the door open at times to let in a fresh cross-breeze from the first-floor windows. Along with the wind, a complementary clamor stirs from the next-door neighbor’s active clan. Action! It’s time to do the Cuban slide, the push and shove, the drag and wheel of unsolicited materials, the scrunching of plastics destined for the elevator. It’s tah, tah, tah, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap until the elevator arrives…or the button gives up.
The hallway serves as an indoor track for sprint practice. Only this event calls for bare feet in flip-flops smacking hard against a tiled floor or sneakers squeaking intentionally like a Driver’s Ed student doing the hokey pokey with the brakes. On most nights, the entire family rumbles back in from a stint in the park forgetting to turn the volume down. Someone shushes when they realize there’s an open door. A parakeet’s cawing from another apartment doesn’t even faze me. It’s the least annoying creature in the zoo.
With the eldest daughter married with child and moved down the hall, there’s habitual commerce between the two familial subsets. Strollers, diapers, high-chairs…it’s like the receiving dock at K-Mart. On any night of any week, maybe around 11pm, things might get quiet. But just the same, the peace is short-lived; the midnight creepers reemerge and restart the parade. More items are transported from room to room, keys jangle, stuff and more stuff must be taken from or shoved in a utility closet; tools drop, floors mopped, faucets run, shower nozzles reverberate…banter, bicker, ballyhoo, balderdash, shish, boom, bah! Ahh!
It’s another spring in Silver Lake. While young girls yell out halted commands in two languages and mutter low-tone growls, a mother’s high-pitched pleas punctuate the hallway in-between the chaos. A father resigns his day work to the evening where he and future kings of castles reign as magistrates of the mania.
But despite the antics, when they’re not in the hall, or behind the wall, I like them. They are a unique species of family, the type rarely found with most long-assimilated ethnic groups. They function as a body of busy bees sometimes fighting but always fiercely protective of one another. Culturally bound to eagerly propagate the family line, uncle and aunt-hood can begin at ten. To this end, there is no shortage of ethnocentrism in the neighborly circle of crows.