Monday, August 07, 2006

My Crazy Neighbor -- I thought I was in a unique situation until I read an article in the New York Times on the different smells that apartment dwellers have to contend with. While most complaints relate to second-hand smoke, or pets, a small handful every year relate to cooking odors.

My Crazy Neighbor -- Episode I -- The Origin (The Most Ridiculous Story Ever Told):

A few years ago, my crazy neighbor (lives above me) started complaining about cooking odors. I indulged him for a while. He wanted to have my oven and overhead fan cleaned. I gave him free reign. He's asked me to open a window when I cook. I do that almost every time. But here's where the story takes a turn for the bizarre...

My crazy neighbor picked up some big turbo-fans that he uses to blow the smell out of his apartment. I suppose the fans could be more effective than simply allowing it to air out. But, my place airs out very quickly -- and he will run these fans for hours. Late one night, I heated up some cold McDonald's French fries in my toaster oven for a couple of minutes. He turned on his fans, including the one in his bedroom, which ran until he woke up at about 5:30 in the morning (I was awake when he did this -- I can tell when his fans are on, because I can hear and the ceiling vibrates).

My crazy neighbor turned this into a truly ugly affair, after Thanksgiving, a couple of years ago. He was not at home, so I thought I'd take advantage and turn the leftovers into turkey croquettes. He came home around the time I was finishing, and he went berserk. He started throwing things and slamming his furniture down on the floor. My whole apartment shook. I wondered if I should call the police -- not to report him, but because he might need help.

After I went out, my crazy neighbor left me a phone message, threatening to make sure I knew every time that the smell bothered him -- as if I didn't already know each and every time. Each time, he smelled food, he started slamming things on the floor and stomping around so violently that I feared the ceiling might fall.

One Saturday afternoon, my crazy neighbor was stomping so hard, I was afraid to be in the apartment, because I feared imminent collapse. I called the police that time, as it was going on -- it was so violent and loud that I screamed to be heard on the phone and told the 911 operator to just listen. Though his behavior did mellow, I noticed, some months later, cracks above the kitchen doorway, but I can't prove that he was the cause and not subsidence.

After that, my crazy neighbor calmed down -- sort of. His stomping became less pronounced. He still made sure I would know he was upset. He would stomp-walk all about the apartment, as if he wanted to be sure he was stomping over my head. More recently, he started banging on his floor with something (I should add that he has hardwood floors -- something my condo association has prohibited because of noise issues). -- but he would bang around with this object--tapping away really, but loud enough to be hopeful that he was bothering me.

I have complained to the condo management about my crazy neighbor, but they have passed the buck. I have not been more aggressive in pursuing the matter because, frankly, my crazy neighbor has not been my primary concern. My girlfriend has been ill for years, though she could not get a reasonable diagnosis. Only in the last year, she was diagnosed with brain tumors, and the treatment so far has been ineffective in combating them. There are other medical conditions that complicate her treatment.

I said my crazy neighbor wasn't my primary concern, In fact, I tried to ignore the lunacy taking place above me, so that I could be there for my girlfriend, who was unstable herself, and required a great deal of attention. I avoided bringing the whole matter of my crazy neighbor's behavior to the condo's board of directors, because I just couldn't handle facing the escalation that was sure to come.

This past Spring, I was shoveling out after a major snowstorm, so that I could get her to the hospital for a scheduled radiation treatment. I tried to speak to my crazy neighbor for a moment to tell him (1) that the smell he had reacted to a few night's earlier came from another apartment, and that the smell the previous night was from a soup I heated up in the microwave (my crazy neighbor had previously pleaded with me to use the microwave like everybody else -- if everyone else just used the microwave, Williams-Sonoma would be in big trouble). Anyway, my crazy neighbor dismissed me and said that he had put up with a lot from me. A stunning statement, since I have done nothing but try to live my life. My crazy neighbor, on the other hand, has made it his personal crusade to try and harass me and make my living conditions intolerable.

All of which brings me to this past weekend. On Thursday, I cooked a veal chop, marinated in a lovely red wine-mustard and herb sauce...and I had steamed corn. No problem, as my crazy neighbor did not come home until after I had cleaned up. Friday night, my crazy neighbor came home while I was marinating some chopped ostrich meat (Don't cringe, try it) in a similar sauce, before I made a burger out of it. Anyway, I broiled the burger and steamed more corn and I plated the food.

Before I ate, I had to run out to this cool bakery before they closed. When I returned, my crazy neighbor, who was running his fans, started rolling some heavy object (a dumbbell perhaps) across the floor -- occasionally dropping it to punctuate his efforts. This went on for nearly two hours. When it continued after the clock struck eleven, I figured my crazy neighbor wanted me to call the police, so I obliged him.

Since then, my crazy neighbor has been very emphatic about stomping around-- he'll go from one end of the apartment to the other and right back again. He has also tried waking me up in the morning with a crashing noise from above. Saturday morning, he did wake me up. Sunday, I was already up.

I'm prepared to take this to the condo board this week, but I'm open to helpful suggestions to the crazy neighbor dilemma. Violence, and similar self-help remedies, while they would be immensely emotionally satisfying, are out of the question. It's a karma thing. I understand that other people in apartment situations do find cooking odors to be a problem. The question is what can I do, if anything, to appease the lunatic upstairs? Any solutions (they could legal or mechanical, in nature) would be welcomed.

Email me, as ever, at

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