Honk If You Want a Beating

Apartment life can be rough. You’ve got parking issues, strange smells seeping through walls, neighbors having parties and not inviting you (I’m still hurt, Achmed). And noise - I vote “noise” to be the numero uno issue that leads to conflict between the renters of the world. If only we could completely block out the sounds of the neighbors with whom we share walls with, I believe the tension found in apartment buildings would instantly drop down to a dull roar.

But that hasn’t happened yet, and that certainly was not the case back when I lived in my first apartment. Living only ten or so minutes from my workplace at the time, I prided myself on being able to wake up only an hour before I had to be at my desk while still having enough time to shave, shower, get dressed and enjoy some coffee before driving in. So when my luxurious 7:00 a.m. wakeup time started being interrupted at 5:30 by a repeated BEEP-BEEP-BEEEEEEEEPing vehicle parked out front, I was none too pleased.

The first day, I chalked it up as a one-time situation. Maybe one of my neighbors was being picked up by an airport shuttle van. I could forgive that. But it happened again the second day, and I immediately began visualizing a confrontation. Hopefully it was a timid old lady, not even aware that she was leaning on her horn. I peeked out my window in time to see the offending vehicle speed away.

By the third day, I managed to drag my groggy self out of bed before the culprit escaped. It was a large red truck with orange and yellow flames painted on the hood, and wheel extensions that set it far enough off the ground so that my car could safely drive under it without any risk of contact. This beast looked cartoonish as it idled violently in the pre-dawn parking lot. Little old ladies do not drive monster trucks - I knew this. After a minute or so, I caught one of my neighbors jumping into the passenger seat, and again the vehicle careened away. Damn them!

On the fourth morning, I woke up early - thus disturbing my own sleep - but I was determined to stop the beeping situation from progressing. I even took the time to put together a little outfit that I could wear to my confrontation (I chose flannel and ripped jeans, to make me look tough). I turned on the clock radio and waited.

During this stakeout (a very convenient stakeout, since I didn’t have to leave my bed), I hoped many things. I hoped the red truck would not come again that day. I also hoped that if it did come, it would not beep. A third hope I had was that if the truck came, and beeped, maybe I wouldn’t have the fortitude to go out there and confront the driver. Or, if I did, it would be a very meek, mild dude - someone who hides a timid personality behind his vehicle’s customization. If not, though - maybe the neighbors, who were surely bothered by all the racket as well, would come out and back me up. If not, they may have called the police in the past few days. And the final hope I harbored that morning was that if the truck came, and beeped, and I did go through with the confrontation, and the driver was not timid but the kind of guy his truck suggested, and no neighbors or officers of the law appeared at my side, that I would use some slick mental trickery to get him to apologize and stop his behavior. All of this was a lot to keep track of, but the effort involved kept me from drifting back to sleep.

After thinking that he may not have had automatic windows, I did the international “roll-it-down” hand gesture. What could be more clear than that? What I forgot to do was to realize that, even though it was a brisk morning, not everyone keeps their windows up.

You can guess which way all of this went. The truck came and beeped longer than ever before. I’d already donned my battle garb, so I couldn’t back out. I strutted out my front door into the fog-covered parking lot, adding to the dreamlike atmosphere. I saw the driver, a grizzled man wearing a dirty wife-beater and a sweaty red bandana. How do you work up a sweat before 5:00 a.m.?

Adrenaline fueled me... and caused me to make my first misstep. I furrowed my brow and pointed down repeatedly, indicating to the driver to lower his window. The window didn’t move, and the driver looked confused. I pointed again as I approached, moving my finger down with maximum aggression. After thinking that he may not have had automatic windows, I did the “roll-it-down” hand gesture. What could be more clear than that? What I forgot to do was to realize that, even though it was a brisk morning, not everyone keeps their windows up. The truck’s driver leaned out of the open window and said, “It’s already down.” It hadn’t occurred to me that this might be the case. I probably should have looked for a reflection first.

My confidence shaken, I still moved forward toward the guy. I always feel these types of situations must be handled delicately, as the person you have a disagreement with knows where you live, and can easily, say, put a garden hose through your mail slot and flood your apartment (I always feared this). So I put on my best reasonable-but-firm voice and said him:

“Hey, how are you? I just wanted to talk to you about the beeping.” I couldn’t prevent myself from making a horn-beeping motion with my hand. Why did I do that?

“What beeping?” was his reply. He beeped every day, he’s in a car now, but he wasn’t able to understand my beeping reference. This was not going to go smoothly.

“You know, you pull up every morning and you beep on your horn, and then someone gets in your car?” I felt like I was writing a Second Grade essay, but at least I was able to hold myself back from making the horn-beeping gesture this time.

The driver, who dangled a cigarette from his lips, pushed out a thick cloud of smoke then flicked his ashes on the ground. He didn’t seem to shaken by me, despite my assertive attitude and well-worn clothes.

“Oh yeah but man, it’s like, I gotta pick up my friend here in the morning and take him to work. He got a D.U.I. and now he’s afraid to drive so he needs me to pick him up!” He sounded like an innocent child, genuinely trying to make me see things his way.

I returned his volley. “Right, I thought that you might be giving someone a ride to work,” I said. This is a pretty fair assumption when you see a person get into another person’s vehicle in the early morning. They are probably not going to see a movie.

“But,” I continued, “I was talking with some of the other neighbors, and you probably don’t realize it, but we can all hear your beeping in the morning. And some of them are retirees, or parents with sleeping babies, and it’s really started to disturb them.”

Okay, none of that was true. But come on! It may have been true... I just didn’t really know any of my neighbors (besides the ones who stalked me). I just wanted to strengthen my case. This guy knew where I lived... he could have filled my gas tank with sugar. I don’t like when people do that.

I knew I should build him back up after breaking him down so harshly. “We knew... we knew you might not realize that, about the sound, but yeah... it does travel.” I was not good at thinking on my feet.

He came back with, “Really? Oh sorry - I didn’t know.” And the funny thing was, he actually did seem surprised and regretful. I would have thought that anyone who was crankin’ out the beeps before the sun rose, in the center of an apartment complex composed of 400 units, would have had no regard for anyone else, and would have assumed that this person understood the whole thing about sound traveling. But that was not so with this guy. This guy believed that his waiting friend was the lone recipient of his arrival signal.

“Yeah, but it’s cool - it’s cool.” I knew I should build him back up after breaking him down so harshly. “We knew... we knew you might not realize that, about the sound, but yeah... it does travel.” I was not good at thinking on my feet.

I started to back off, not wanting to overstay my welcome, or risk the driver’s attitude changing. Plus, it was pretty chilly out there. I would have worn a coat, but I didn’t want to destroy the illusion that I’d just pulled on my clothes after jumping out of bed, though I was probably giving this guy too much credit.

“Alright I won’t beep no more!” he called out. I’d already been working under the assumption that he wasn’t going to beep again, because of his apology, but he seemed to need some reassurance that I wasn’t mad.

“Okay! Yeah, good!” I said, adding a little chuckle at the end to reinforce my pleasure. I was walking backwards at this point. “Thanks for doing that... no more!” I’d begun confusing myself. Had to get inside.

The driver waved to me just as my neighbor jumped in the passenger seat and shut the door. Actually, he slammed his door and it echoed loudly against the brick apartment buildings, but I decided to leave well enough alone. After that fateful morning, the beeps stopped for good - or I slept through them. Either way, I’d done my part to keep the peace, and managed to avoid violence. If anyone else had noise problem in the future, they could deal with it themselves. I needed sleepy time.