The house I grew up in made a variety of sounds. They were the natural creaks, and groans, expansions and contractions, flexes and bends that a house makes. I got pretty good at knowing which step would make a squeak, or how far I could open a door before it would make a noise.
Living in a house with three other people you also get used to the noises they make. Which sneeze belongs to whom, who lumbers up the stairs versus who runs, and tons of other inconsequential other sounds that you never really pay attention to.
All of that stuff pretty much left the forefront of my mind as soon as I moved into my own place. My new apartment was a host of new sounds. I had a really squeaky floor before I got any furniture. My heating hissed at me like a disapproving audience. And every door had its own signature alert when opened or closed.
But shortly after moving in I was lying in bed not yet asleep when somebody in the apartment next to me or below me coughed loud enough that I could hear it.
My first thought was:
Oh Dad must still be awake.
But then I realized that wasn’t my dad coughing, it was just… a stranger. It threw me for a second. It was a surreal moment. I didn't know any of the people who would be making sounds around me.
I quickly learned the people to the right of me really like explosiony action movies. The woman to the left of me really liked vacuuming… a lot. She also liked Barry White. And sometimes she liked vacuuming TO Barry White.
Not too long ago I came home and noticed my neighbor had the “Ab Rocket” delivered to her.
For those of you who may not know, the Ab Rocket is NOT a piece of combustible military weaponry. The Ab Rocket actually combines what you love about rocking chairs with what you hate about crunches to create the ultimate ab toning experience.
I didn’t think too much of it, merely happiness that my neighbor was making a commitment to fitness. I myself had just purchased the Iron Gym, which is a combination pushup/pull-up bar that you can secure into your door frame without any hardware. You can then do as many pull-ups as you’d like until the 24-dollar thing falls apart and you fall and break your ass.
But that hasn’t happened yet (I also haven’t used it in 6 months) so I won’t worry about it.
One day I was in the bathroom… well, ya know, being there, when I heard a very rapid squeaking sound.
It didn’t stop, it just repeated itself over and over again. I strained my ears to see if I could tell what it was. Was my building moving? Was somebody doing construction? Was somebody slowly cutting a hole into my apartment through the bathroom wall? I chalked it up to one or all.
But then I heard it the next day, and the next. Every day at the same time. Always first thing in the morning. And it sounded like it was coming from just the other side of my bathroom wall.
And then it hit me; it must be the Ab Rocket. My neighbor was Ab Rocketing first thing in the morning every morning. I was relieved at my revelation. At least nobody was burrowing into my apartment.
Discovering new activities from my neighbors around me was part of the experience. The new sounds kind of plateaued after a while as I settled in as a permanent resident of my building.
Until one specific night.
I was lying in bed reading when I heard it from the apartment below me:
It sounded like a howl, or somebody celebrating. It happened several times and the look on my face was that of “What the…”
I sat up straight in my bed with my brow furrowed as I tried to figure out the sound. But I could do no such thing.
A couple of weeks later I heard it again. It was definitely a man. Was he celebrating a sports team? Couldn’t be, it was too late in the evening. It happened, several times. It still sounded like a shout of joy like maybe he was celebrating… something else…
The beginning of it almost sounded like a slap… like somebody was slapping him and he was screaming. Was he being hazed? Did I live above a private fraternity? Was I just making shit up now?
Every so often I would hear it again. The shouts coming in twos, fives, and more. Over and over again I would hear this sound for a short while. Every time I would stop what I was doing and try to use my crap powers of deduction to understand what was going on.
A couple of weeks ago I heard it again. This time there were more shouts than ever. There had to be at least 15 of them. If I wasn’t so terrified of life I might have gone downstairs to knock on his door and ask him if he was OK. But I didn’t because
A. I rarely speak to people in my building
B. I was not really sure I wanted an answer.
But I heard it again last week. And I was sick of it! What the hell was going on? Was it spanking? Because really that’s what I thought it was, and I couldn’t think of anything that made more sense. I lived above a guy who was getting spanked in rapid succession at random times throughout the year almost always before bedtime.
I jumped out of my bed and squatted closer to the floor. The sound was closer and seemed more familiar.
I then sprawled out completely flat and put my ear on the floor. I was shocked at how clear the sound became. It was almost like I was in the apartment with the stranger below me.
And that’s how I figured out:
He was sneezing.
Frigging SNEEZING! All this time and all my conspiracy theories and all it turns out to be is a sneeze. I actually was relieved, if only for the fact that I no longer had to expend brainpower to figure this out. The knowledge was mine.
However, it was also at that point when lying flat on the floor with my ear pressed up against the wooden panels that I realized:
I need to dust under my bed.