29 February 2008

Unpacking My Electric Guitar In Anticipation Of Spring

So, as promised/threatened yesterday, I did in fact dig out the old electric guitar from under the pile of debris that passes for my "office." I was originally going to make this alcove my bedroom so that I'd have a proper living room for the first time in, oh, decades, but then we couldn't get my enormous desk through the last door, so it had to stay here in the alcove, and it turned out just as well, since there a few problems that would have made the alcove a terrible place to try and sleep.

First off, there's a skylight, which means the daylight comes streaming in with the dawn. No big problem in winter, but do I really want to be getting up at 4 or 5 am every day in the summer? I don't think so, especially since it's not uncommon for me to go to sleep not too much before that. Secondly, because of its location at the top of the stairs and the deteriorating state of this 100+ year-old house, noise, smoke, cooking smells, whatever, all drift up from the first three floors and collect under my high "cathedral" ceiling (well, that's what the landlord called it; looks more like an attic ceiling to me, because that's what it is.

Seriously, I can practically hear every word of whatever idiotic TV program the people on the first floor are watching. But at least they usually quit by midnight or so, unlike the aspiring DJ/stoner at the back of the house (I'm inferring about the stoner part, but what else would keep someone up mixing beats till at least 4 am every morning?). Anyway, the good thing about the DJ is that his racket only is audible in the bathroom. I'm assuming it travels up the sewer pipes or something, also from the first floor. Don't know how the girl living on the floor in between puts up with it, but maybe this house's weird acoustics leave her floor in the quiet zone.

She, the one right underneath me, is actually pretty quiet most of the time, though there was a period recently where once or twice a week she'd stumble in (or come crashing in, more like) at somewhere between 2 and 4 am and start "partying." Actually, even that wasn't too unmanageable, at least not with earplugs, but she was bringing some guy with her who - maybe you know the type; you often see/hear them standing about on corners in "ethnic" neighborhoods like, come to think of it, this one - was incapable of speaking in anything lower than a loud "yo, listen to me" bellow.

It was weird. They'd wake me up, often by dropping a load of bottles or somesuch at the bottom of the stairs, come stomping through the house, and then all would go silent or very nearly so for a while. I'd hear her barely murmuring and would start drifting back to sleep only to be rousted back to wakefulness by one of his rafter-shaking guffaws or belches. On a couple occasions when they were really drunk (or something), they decided to put on loud music at about 5:30 am, which is bad enough as it is, but when some of her favorites run to Kim Carnes ("Bette Davis Eyes"), Gordon Lightfoot ("If You Could Read My Mind"), and Bob Dylan ("Knocking On Heaven's Door"), perhaps you can see why I might get a little annoyed, especially when, as happened to be the case, I had to be up at 8 myself.

That was the last time I was tempted to try out my electric guitar, ideally with the amplifier lying face down on the floor over her bedroom, and though I resisted that idea as downright unneighborly and likely to lead only to worse trouble, I did get up bright and early the next morning with the intention of putting on a football broadcast at top volume to see how they, who'd only drifted off to sleep about a half hour before, liked it. But my heart wasn't in it. I just don't seem to be capable of enjoying the same level of obnoxiousness I once used to thrive on. Instead, I just wrote her a nice note, and she wrote one back, and everything was very civilized, and I realized that about 95 or 98% of the time she was very quiet and that considering what many people have to put up with in New York, I was very unfortunate indeed.

In fact, although I know I'll have to start looking for a new apartment sooner or later, I'm holding back at least partly for fear that I'll end up somewhere with much worse/noisier neighbors. I mean, mine are pretty good, all things considered, and if this house wasn't full of cracks and holes and missing insulation, I'd probably almost never hear them at all.

Speaking of cracks/holes/missing insulation, about three or four times this winter we've had a frigid blast of wind from the west that hangs around for a day or two and drags temperatures down into the teens or low 20s. It also blows right through the front wall, along the floorboards and onto the futon where I sleep. Fortunately I've got lots of blankets, but it's a little unsettling to hear the wind whistling inside your house.

What also happens on those rare frigid days (there really have only been a few this winter) is that the radiators go into overdrive. These are the old-fashioned kind of radiators, that can't do their job silently, but in fact go through such a rigmarole of hissing, squeaking, banging and fizzing that it can really be quite alarming. I mean, if your tea kettle was making sounds even remotely that menacing, you'd get the hell out of the kitchen and perhaps out of the house altogether.

But so far, so good. The radiators haven't exploded, the apartment has stayed relatively warm and quiet, and winter, at least according to the calendar, shows signs of being on its way out of town. And even if it isn't, I will be, having planned a short excursion down to Florida in the third week of March. It's only for five days, but while I'm away the vernal equinox will have come and gone, so I anticipate returning to a New York in the full thrall of springtime. Well, not really, though I note that the snowdrops, primroses and daffodils were in full bloom over in London as of a couple weeks ago. No such sign of anything like that here. In fact as of about two minutes ago, the local temperature was a bracing 19 (-7C) degrees.

Never mind, though, spring will come, and be all the more cherished for the difference it will make to our lives. My bicycle sits outside the front door looking reproachfully at me as I pass by on my way to the subway, but soon there'll come a day when I'll saddle the old steed up once more and the golden road to all the five boroughs will open up before us. In the meantime, oh yes, I was talking about my electric guitar: well, it had gone a bit out of tune in the couple or three years since I'd played it, and one of the toggle switches had disappeared, and, surprisingly, I hadn't gotten any more musically adept at playing it.

But it still made a joyful (well, to me; perhaps not to the neighbors) noise, and I even had an idea for a new pop-punk song that I ripped off from the bass line I heard emanating from some basement on Metropolitan Avenue the other day. Who knows what, if anything will come of it, but I do know that tonight I heard an advance copy of the new Guts album on Rally Records and it is smoking hot. As if it weren't great enough by itself, it also includes a guest appearance by Ben Weasel, who, you may recall the Guts backed up at last summer's Baltimore Fest. It's about ten times harder and hotter than anything I've heard from the Guts before, not that they were any too shabby before. Don't know the release date, but I imagine it'll be sometime before summer, probably in time for this year's Fest, at any rate.

And that's all the news from here, for now, on a chilly but hopeful New York night. Hope you're all tucked up safe and warm and happy wherever you are.


Psmith said...

Skylights suck so much. In the summer it's too bright and I had to put a car windshield screen over it, and in the winter moisture collects on the inside and drips down. Stupid skylight.

Ted said...

The worst parts of living in American apartments are the inconsiderate and abusive “neighbors.” It sucked to have to wear those neon orange earplugs in attempting to sleep (work in the morning) and hush out the hours-long inane cell phone conversations and arguments of the toxic drunk lady broadcasting every night from the balcony above. I don’t mind the screaming babies or the weeknight poker games, because those sounds are natural, but when you have to hear unremitting narcissism… Another guy looked like Archie Bunker, talked like Rocky, wore the proverbial white tank-top and displayed American flag lawn chairs on his porch. He would physically throw his “wife” out of the apartment—through the front door or over the stucco porch. The neighbors shared the duties of calling the cops, but we were all worried about retaliation as this guy appeared to embrace his Second Amendment "rights." The worst apartment incident occurred probably 10 years ago when some unknown thug spray-painted “fag” on my apartment door. I stood my ground and stayed there, but it was scary for a time.

Only two good neighbors come to mind. One was a retired senior citizen gentle lady who was a light walker (anti-dinosaur) and somehow managed to keep all the cigarette smoke contained to her apartment. I helped her move to senior housing when her time came to leave after living 20 years along Livernois in Rochester Hills, MI. The other was a full-time piano teacher in Southern California who had her studio in the apartment. I liked to hear the stop/start melodies of the piano waft through walls. It sure beat the sounds of bass and the incessantly sliding of the sliding-glass door of the “neighbors” above tending some sort of horticulture every five minutes and smoking so much it would penetrate through the floorboards.

We basically moved out because of the cell-phone lady above. Thankfully, for now, we found a place where people pretty much keep to themselves and the walls are thick enough. I love coming “home” from work now and also knowing my wife and I can read, sleep, live, etc. without disruption or earplugs. The springtime birds outside the windows are also nice to hear this sunny morning.