Sunday, August 12, 2007

The people under the stairs

Living in New York City requires us to be comfortable living in close proximity to others. There's no way around it. And of course that means that if we live close others we may hear them moving about in their lives from time to time. I am an environmentalist, and I currently rationalize my high rent by noting to myself that I am helping to limit urban sprawl by living in a 400 squ. foot apartment.

My neighbors downstairs, under the stairs, welcomed me to the neighborhood with a note under my door yesterday morning telling me that NYC requires me to have carpets since they live in the basement apartment below me. "We don't want to hear every move you make." I am so glad that in light of all of the quality of life issues that New York City has to take care of, that they have required me to have carpets. (I checked into this and it is absolutely not true. However, my lease does mention putting down carpet.)

I was upset about this letter for several reasons: 1) I just moved in and had furniture delivered. 2) I am not a 300 pound gorilla up here jumping around continuously. 3) If someone chooses to live in a basement apartment, there's going to be noise. 4) I was in my apartment - they couldn't knock on my door, say hello, and talk about it with me in person?

My first instinct was to begin jumping rope to let them know how noisy it really could be. Then I thought I could go pound on their door and explain to them how rude I thought their message was. (I couldn't find the door that lead down to the basement. I actually considered that maybe I was dreaming and this note thing never really happened. Where do these people live?) Then I just decided to breathe and call my friend, Ken, so he could make me laugh with a really sarcastic, witty response. And then I called my friend, Lisa, so she could calm me down and give me some advice on being diplomatic.

The reality is that I may be living above these people for several years and I don't want that bad energy lingering anywhere near me. I was steamed, but showing that anger isn't going to help anyone, least of all me. Because after I show the anger, I'll just feel guilty for having expressed it. Below is my response to their note. The letters in bold are what I actually wrote to them and the remaining ones are the ones I said to myself as I was writing it so I could vent my frustration privately. David Sedaris would be proud that I thought of these remarks, and simultaneously disappointed that I took the high road.

"Dear neighbors,
Thank you so much for your kind welcome note to the neighborhood. I was beginning to wonder what all that noise below me was - and now I know that it's you. I am sure you can understand how hectic it is when moving into a new apartment and working full-time. I just had my furniture delivered yesterday and apologize if setting up my apartment has disturbed you. In my research on the required carpeting you mentioned in your note, I was not able to find any mention of a NYC ordinance to put down carpet so that people who choose to live in a basement have a higher quality of life. How thoughtful of our city's officials! I suppose that horror movie "The People Under the Stairs" really struck a cord with some NYC government worker. If you have a copy of the ordinance, I'd love to see it. I am aware that in my lease I need to put down some carpets (I did read it and signed it after all) - I have put down one already and will get an additional one in the coming days. I will do my best to be a courteous and friendly neighbor and I know you will do the same. Could you install something on your ceiling so that I would not have to hear you clunking around down there? I really don't want to hear every move YOU make. Part of living in New York City, particularly in the basement, is that you are going to hear noise. So learn how to deal. While I recognize that the carpet will help (very little), I will not be able to completely eliminate all noise. You're lucky I only weigh 110 pounds and have a light foot. I hear all of my neighbors from time to time as well as people coming up and down the stairs and using the two front doors so I completely understand your request. Welcome to New York - if you want peace and quiet, please move to the 'burbs. Wishing you a blessed Sunday.

Your thoughtful neighbor,

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