Sunday, March 07, 2010

Sleepless in Chicago

Imagine working a 12 hour double shift at a retail job after not getting a wink of sleep the night before.

That's the position in which I currently find myself. I went to bed at midnight, which should have been early enough for me to get about 6 hours worth of sleep or so, under normal circumstances.

Unfortunately, I live in the Lawson House YMCA, on a floor where two of my closest neighbors just happen to be psychotic, unemployed individuals whose idea of fun is to talk loudly to themselves in-between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. Since they're unemployed, they apparently think that everyone else on the floor is always as free to sleep until noon as they are.

I've been unemployed on a number of occasions during the past decade, but unlike the aforementioned individuals, I know that the entire world doesn't revolve around me, and I know that those particular hours are primarily designated for sleeping, or at the very least, for showing respect for one's neighbors by being reasonably quiet so that others can sleep.

One of those neighbors, in Room 1213, is known as "Poochie" (which ought to tell you something about him right there, since it seems to me that no self-respecting adult male would want to go by such an infantile nickname, though I've never said that to him). His real name is Alan.

The contents of Poochie's late night rants are at least somewhat benign. He claims to be a Christian, so he frequently likes to preach longwinded sermons to no one in particular when he's talking to himself. Sometimes he actually has valid things to say during those rants, but he could be reciting the Bible word for word and I would still find it to be obnoxious and inconsiderate behavior at that time of the day, unless he could find a nice soundproofed room where he wouldn't disturb anyone's sleep.

Poochie also has a propensity for occasional bouts of maniacal laughter, which get louder and louder as it gets later and later. Sometimes the laughter appears to be in response to funny things he's watching on TV, but often, it appears that he just laughs because he enjoys the experience of laughing, not because he's responding to anything particularly funny at all. When I've complained to him (and occasionally when I've reported the excess noise to the building's security guards), he's disingenuously responded by arguing that laughter is the best medicine, and by falsely implying that my complaints therefore mean that I begrudge him the right to take his "medicine". Of course, he's missing the point entirely. The issue isn't whether he's laughing, talking loudly, belching, singing or making loud grunting noises associated with the martial arts. He's done all of those things for hours on end, on occasions when I was trying to sleep, and I found them all equally annoying for roughly the same reason. There's a time and place for everything. A comedy club, for instance, is a good and appropriate place for bust-a-gut uncontrolled laughter, as is a theater where the movie being shown is a comedy. A funeral, on the other hand, is not an appropriate place for such laughter, nor is a public library, nor is a residential facility where other people are trying to sleep. (NOTE: They'd throw him out of the Harold Washington Library in a heartbeat if he tried that sort of thing there.) The idea that the appropriateness of his laughter is determined by the context in which it occurs seems to elude his understanding. Or at least he pretends that that's the case. He seems to be quite unfamiliar with (or indifferent to) concepts such as "courtesy" and "self-control".

A substantial part of the problem is that the walls at the Lawson House YMCA are fairly thin, so they don't keep sounds out very well at all. On top of that, the placement of Poochie's bed in relation to mine on the other side of the wall means that his head is literally just a few inches away from mine, separated only by that thin wall, when we're both lying in bed. I'd relocate my bed in my own room in order to increase that distance, but it would not be an optimal arrangement of the furniture there in other respects, and I doubt that it would make a huge difference, inasmuch as I can still hear Poochie ranting to himself  at the other end of the hall when I'm walking to and from the dorm-style bathroom late at night.

I've been dealing with the aforementioned behavior for quite some time. It's gotten worse as time has gone by, and I've periodically tried reporting it to the security guards in the building. Usually they dutifully respond to my complaints in some manner, but I sometimes get the impression that they're just going through the motions; and in any event, it seldom makes much of a difference. Sometimes when they visit Poochie's room, he pretends that he's going to lower the noise, but he then continues to ignore that request the minute they've gone back downstairs. Sometimes he makes various excuses, including attempts to change the focus to me in order to make it look as if he's justified in violating my right to a good night's sleep. (Such excuses include blatantly false statements, such as the claim he once made to the effect that I'd called him the "n word".) And sometimes he makes truly bizarre and utterly irrelevant statements. This morning, for instance, he responded to my complaint by telling the security guard that he was turning off his room light, as if there was some kind of relationship, known only to him, between the fact that his light was on and the fact that he'd been making a racket. Apparently, the devil didn't make him disturb the peace; his ceiling light made him disturb the peace! (Naughty, naughty ceiling light!) It seems clear to me from the fact that he's often made such statements that something in his head isn't "wired" quite right.

He also claimed this morning that I'd been banging on his walls. I hadn't, although I'd done so in the past in response to the incessant noise emanating from his room on those occasions. But it wouldn't surprise me to learn that someone else had banged on his walls this morning, because those noises he makes can probably be heard in the apartments above and below him, too.

Until fairly recently, the guy living across the hall in Room 1209 was a tiny little Mexican American named Joe. Joe virtually never bathed, from what I could tell from his appearance and from the fact that I never saw him down in the shower room even though he had no bathroom of his own. (He also had a dent in his forehead in the shape of a small inverted bowl. One resident told me he thought that Joe had been shot in the head once. It might help to explain his behavior.) He sometimes played his music too loudly at inappropriate times, and he sometimes uttered strange shouts (including occasional profanities) and groans late at night. Even so, I'd take Joe any day over the new guy who recently took over that room after Joe left. The new guy is named Darnell. He's almost the same as Poochie in many respects, except that he isn't a Christian, and his rants are often filled with profanities (particularly the "f word" and the similar but longer word which refers to a person who commits maternal incest), along with angry, hateful words referring to killing and other forms of violence. Frequently he makes statements which display outright racism and paranoia on his part. One day when returning to my room from the men's room, I heard him proclaiming to no one in particular that he was certain that white people would love to invade his room and kill him. This worried me a bit, because paranoid people can react violently to imagined threats.

Of course, if some white folks (and folks of other races as well) want to kill Darnell, he might want to consider the possibility that there's a link between that fact (in the unlikely event that it's a fact) and his own obnoxious behavior! Not all forms of antipathy are related to race.

A subsequent and relatively recent incident was even more memorable, since it seemed to confirm that Darnell had a latent capacity for unjustified violence. Again, I was returning to my room from the men's room. As I started to unlike my own door, I heard him loudly open his door. I turned to find that Darnell was standing just inches away from me, glaring at me as if he wanted to kill me, and as if he was going to force his way into my room (since I was already inside that room). I said, "Excuse me, do you have some kind of issue?" His expletive-filled response made it very plain that he did, although it didn't seem to have anything to do with anything I'd said or done to him. In fact, prior to that incident, I'd scarcely even talked to him at all.

Later, he apologized to me after calming down, telling me that he'd just had a very, very bad day, which he'd taken out on a lot of people, among whom I was one. But even the apology demonstrated a lack of social awareness, inasmuch as he chose to do so out in the hallway, in loud tones which awoke another resident there, very early in the morning.

Actually, the first time he tried to apologize, he didn't even tell me why he wanted to speak with me, nor did he even identify himself when he knocked on my door. I did recognize his voice, however. I thought I was in for more threats from him, so I didn't open the door for him when he knocked. He then told me that he wanted to apologize. I told him that I accepted the apology, but I still didn't open the door, because he'd waked me up, and I wanted to go back to sleep, not to get embroiled in a long and needless discussion out in the hallway. The second time he apologized, I stayed to talk with him for a few minutes (since I was already out in the hall anyway), but I cut things short when another resident complained that our voices had prevented him from sleeping. Darnell just kept right on talking to himself, of course, even after I'd shut my own door and gone back to bed.

A somewhat similar pattern repeated itself this morning, except that he was considerably less threatening this time around. It may have had something to do with the fact that I'd made an effort, in the interim, to cultivate a relationship with him (during a discussion in the residents' lounge one day) in spite of his previous rudeness and hostility.

What made this morning especially noteworthy was the fact that another resident called security to report the noise Darnell was making in the hallway. The guard spoke with him about it, but as soon as the guard had gone backstairs, Darnell started up again. Eventually, he shut up (at about 5:15 a.m.), whereupon Poochie then began his own tirade! I felt as if I was being attacked by a "tag team" of sorts, as if they were united in a conspiracy to deprive me of my sleep! I'm not a big fan of conspiracy theories, so I say that partly in jest, but only partly. Eventually, I reported the issue with Poochie to the security guard downstairs (forcing me to get dressed for that purpose, because the charge on my cell phone had run down). But doing so was ineffective, and it was getting so close to the time I normally would have gotten up that I just decided to try to make it through the work day today without any sleep at all. And that's where things stand at this moment.

I try to treat folks in accordance with the Golden Rule, especially when it's clear to me that they're suffering from issues such as retardation or mental illness (both of which seem to be factors in this situation). Nevertheless, there are limits to my willingness and ability to tolerate antisocial behavior which threatens my very livelihood by putting me into situations where I'm forced to go to work without adequate rest. So I plan to send a link to this article today to Yvonne Banks, the Lawson House YMCA staff person who is responsible for dealing with situations such as this.

Hopefully, that will work, but if it doesn't, I will do what it takes in order to insure that my right to a good sleep is respected, even if it means calling the police and charging the offender (or offenders) with the crime of disturbing the peace, since calling security doesn't seem to do much good.

One thing's for sure: I can't keep going through this kind of thing. I can't afford to lose this job on account of jokers like Poochie and Darnell.

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