We’re Not So Different

It is day #124. Rodeo wakes me up at 9am. His morning bark is as piercing as a car alarm. It is panic inducing. I wake up under the impression the house is on fire. I throw my winter jacket over my sweatpants, slip into my rubber boots, and take Rodeo outside.  On the way out, my downstairs neighbor opens his door just wide enough to give me the finger. I can’t see his face, or his body. Just an arm – long, pale, and cruel – and a finger to match.

It’s freezing out. By my guess, minus 40 degrees, but Rodeo doesn’t seem to mind. We got him from a shelter and he might be part polar bear. He looks it when he rolls around in the snow. As we walk, we run into the man with the red beard who roams the street in a long, khaki trench coat. I can see his bare knees whenever he takes a stride. It grosses me out, until I think about what – or what’s not – under my own coat.

I see my upstairs neighbor doing her morning rounds. She wears the same thing each day: jeans ripped at the knees, a leather coat, black mittens, and a gray skullcap to match her hair. And every morning, she exits the building from the back entrance and slowly mounts the short stack of stairs to check her mail. She walks so slowly, like she’s got invisible, million-pound shackles on.  It takes her about half an hour to walk up and then down the stairs. I know this because when Rodeo was a puppy, and I had to take him out every 10 minutes, he’d sometimes have to pee three times before she had fetched the mail. After she collects the mail, she continues to walk absurdly slowly around the park across the street from our building. “Park” would be generous. It is the lawn/parking lot of a public school that was shut down last year. Or “turned around,” as they say here. That walk takes her about an hour. Then, I’ve learned, she walks to the Jewel Osco around the corner – she walks more briskly at this point – where she buys a large chocolate chip cookie, which she eats en route back to the building. My new years resolution was to create more of a routine in my life, until I saw this. I find myself counting the number of years between us. In decades.

On the way back into the building, the downstairs neighbor keeps his door shut. He hates me, he explained, because I am constantly coming and going. I am creating a draft. I try to explain that puppies have small bladders – it is the circle of life – and that it’s not my fault that I’m always getting packages. That’s what happens when you get married: you get stuff. Two nights after we got Rodeo, when he was still yelping all night, our downstairs neighbor called the cops. Two members of the Chicago Police knocked on our door, to “inquire about any dogs within.” And when I showed them 4-pound Rodeo, one of them said, “does he think being cute is illegal?”

“Ha! Ha!” I said, too loudly, or so I thought. But in fact, the downstairs neighbor thinks they put us in our place. “I had to call the cops before you could get that dog to shut up,” he told me once, during a stern talking-to about how I was Coming In and Out of The Building Too Frequently. He was wearing a neck-brace, but I never asked him what had happened to him. In 124 days, I have only seen him leave the building twice.

I apply for jobs. I watch movie trailers. I go on Facebook. I dip baby carrots in many different condiments in lieu of a sit-down lunch. I have an assignment for “Soak,” a blog entirely dedicated to “hot water healing,” about the newest in hot-tub technology.  They pay $25 a post.

At 1:30, when I take Rodeo out again, there is no one out on the street. They are at work. Or they are hiding. I wonder how my neighbor in the gray skullcap spends her afternoons.

Rodeo and I play fetch on the snow-covered parking lot/lawn. As we head back into the apartment, I see that my downstairs neighbor has a piece of mail from Columbia Journalism Review.  The only people who receive Columbia Journalism Review are 1. Journalists and 2. Their mothers, which means that the downstairs neighbor may have also spent his morning writing 100 words on hot water healing! To think!

The afternoon slides by. I write a post about  R.E.S.T. – Reduced Environmental Stimulus Therapy. The newest in hot water healing!  And finally, at 5:30, Jack comes home, and we make dinner and we sit down and eat it. It is my favorite, my most normal part of the day. We’ll watch a movie, maybe. We discuss what happened at work and the newest in hot water therapy regimens.

The guy who lives on our floor comes home very late night – 3 or 4 in the morning. I’m guessing by his schedule that he regional pilot, and that the women who sometimes come home with him are his stewardesses. My neighbor is a very precise communicator when he speaks to his stewardesses. He says things like, “Would you like to sit on the couch or the floor?” or “Do you want a coca-cola, beer, or glass of water?” “Would you like to watch a movie or see what’s on television?”  It is so easy, then, to picture what is happening, as they sit on the couch, drinking coca-cola, and flipping television channels. I can hear them when they kiss and when the couch starts to rattle against our shared wall. Some nights are louder than others. Sometimes it’s too loud to go back to bed, so Jack and I just have sex, too.  That’s the way the world works. I’m sure my downstairs neighbor and the woman with the gray skullcap will have their own puppies by springtime.

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Jessica Weisberg recently moved to Chicago from Brooklyn. Her articles have been published in n+1, The Nation, and The American Prospect, among others.