Paper Thin Walls
April 5th, 2015
Recently I moved into a new apartment with the very flexible and flap-happy Jake Ayres. It’s a modest 2BR in SE Portland, nestled on the side of Mt. Tabor in a quiet valley of neighborhood pubs and coffeehouses (I understand that describes about 80% of this city). There’s a view, a balcony, and as of this past weekend, three deck chairs. Jake and I have been referring to our new abode as both “Hunky Junction” and “The Jizz Factory.” It’s a nice setup, and I’ve been blaming my blog’s ennui on the newness of all this.
Thing is, I have been writing. Last week I had the bug, churning out mediocre poems at an alarming rate. In faux-squatter fashion I pulled my mattress into the living room and squared it against the wall; desperate scrawlings kept me afloat through the malaise of Spring Break. But last Wednesday I hit the wall. I puttered, incessantly, and stalled. I wrote a crappy poem. I forced myself into bed with promises: tomorrow, everything is getting organized. Everything. I fell asleep, briefly, then stirred awake to discover a significant caveat.
The walls bleed sound.
Some sort of gathering was happening in next unit, just a few feet from the crown of my head: maybe a movie, maybe a board game, definitely a few friends drinking and chatting. They were not that loud. Through the porous plaster, their speech became a pudding. It kept me up. The combined drawls stretched out into a slur of meaningless inflection and crescendo, trailings-off. Certain spans I could make out every word. A pudding with sharp chunks of candied orange.
In my delirium I made a vow. From now on I’m going to curse less. The American male douchebag accent (that doesn’t count) places inordinate stress on one word above all others: fuck. I recall phrases vividly: “dwood, dwou dobally fucking called it!” or “droubble droo, doodle doo– dwiddle, doo doh fucking wayyy!!” or “dowoubly dur doh dohh “doh fawwwwwkkkk.”
Every morning at 7am I show up at my school and have to listen to high schooler’s early morning lobby chatter. Speech is never so hideous. “…fucking shit!” is not uncommon. I can hear everything – very, very ugly words. I just want to walk over to one girl, Maddie, place my palm on her forehead, and whisper “stop.” But they’ll grow out of it. I get it now, Mom, why you take umbrage with some of my Yelp reviews.
Those restless hours last Wednesday conjured fantasies of a simpler, more nuanced existence where nobody needs to speak, and when speech is necessary, it cuts to the bone. A vague pan-Asian vision, with hints of Scandinavia, the speech rhythms of the Baltics. Exotic, but not unfamiliar, the grace of a tacit demeanor is not beyond the American imagination. Some of my favorite screen heroes are quiet types. Ghost Dog. Omar from The Wire. I’ll lie and add Travis Bickle, but I haven’t seen Taxi Driver in years.
Am I rallying for anything? Not really. I’m just trying to curse less – hold me to it, please. I dragged the mattress next to the fridge and let its drone consume me. Then it was morning. I woke up, made an egg, and organized everything.