My apartment is strange. It’s a mix of residential and commercial tenants all packed in one.
If I want my nails done, or a bag of chips at 4am, all I have to do is open my door. It’s so convenient that it’s inconvenient, but the only spot that seems to get any traffic is the alleyway between the buildings; the un-designated smokers section. Despite all the signs slapped on the outside of the building, which specifically instruct people not to, it has more smoke there than what’s up Trump’s ass.
It isn’t that they don’t try with the signs, they actually go all out. Next to the Korean characters for no smoking, which is phonetically pronounced geom-yun, they’re decorated with cartoons of shrivelled lungs and damaged sperm cells, all the way to children crying, and dicks that can’t get hard. I bet some of ‘em even enjoy the crying children, it’s the Korean way, but being an elementary teacher, I understand that sentiment, especially when my kids are being little shitheads.
Still, no one gives a shit, it’s how addiction goes.
Point is, I live in a ghost town of an apartment. Legit, it’s the Hotel California. Just me, the spirits and the wailing drunks that hangout in the park by my window Thursday through Sunday night.
To boot, I have a weird schedule. It isn’t like I’d just happen to run into people.
I don’t work until 1pm and I don’t get home until 9pm. The only thing to greet me when I come back is the intense aroma of cigarette ash in the hallway, which I don’t mind, so long as my place smells fine. I just know it has to be someone immediately next to me. On which side, I couldn’t tell you. Considering I’m sandwiched in-between the normal hours people are coming or going, I couldn’t even tell you what they look like. It’s one of the sad realities of city life. Everyone is so exhausted from being around each other that they hole up in their apartments till tomorrow, so I haven’t met anyone on my floor.
But I like it that way, I don’t mind it, and before last night, I really thought I had the second floor entirely to myself.
In keeping with my weird hours, and seeing as no one else lives by me, I tend to do my daily chores whenever the hell I fancy, which is usually around midnight, after I go to Dallas Gym. Before you ask me why, let me ask you something. Does it really matter anyway?
The other night, in proper night owl form, I was cracking some eggs on my frying pan. Loud clunks of egg meeting pan broke up the rumbling of my washing machine. It was a symphony of annoyance, everyone was invited, and the show kicked off at twelve thirty in the morning. The potatoes had been simmering in some oil for a few minutes now and there was plenty of smoke billowing up the kitchen vent. Drawers were opening and closing. Utensils were slung around the kitchen without hesitation, but for a split second, I thought about the smoke alarm going off, not all the noise I’d been making.
You know those moments, where your thoughts bend reality, as if you’re the ultimate designer, it was one of those feelings. Low and behold, not even a few seconds after having the thought, it went off.
Wang! Wang! Wang! Wang!
I remember thinking, “Fuck, I hope this doesn’t wake anyone.”
Turns out though, it wasn’t a smoke alarm, it was the seven trumpets of the apocalypse. That is to say, it was my doorbell, which comes complete with a camera and video monitor. I felt like my apartment was some sort of panic room, all the walls sealed off save my glowing little screen connecting me to the outside world.
It was the first time anyone’s used it and the guy on the other side looked pissed. I was half tempted to open the door immediately, but I’ve developed the habit of getting completely naked before cooking with oil. I like the thrill of it, it’s the most dangerous game and it keeps my nights interesting without anyone to talk to.
Instead, I fumbled around, threw on a pair of shorts and half buttoned my shirt. If I was going to play the part of the foreigner, I was going to do it right. I just wish I had a gold chain and a blanket of cashmere chest hair to really pull off the look.
I opened the door with one parts excitement, one parts bracing for impact. I knew I annoyed the hell out of him, but deep down, I was so pumped to see this guy’s face. I bet he was sitting in his room, rolling around in his bed, formulating exactly what he’d say to me. Then BAM! White guy that doesn’t speak Korean, it’s the perfect crime, a plot twist to end all plot twists, because it’s only fun telling someone off if the recipient understands you. It’s just a waste of breath otherwise.
When I opened the door, a blast of stale cigarette stained clothing hit me, he was the one. He was the neighbor stinking up the hallway, but I figured we were tit for tat at this point. I don’t know if he even bothered to look at me, because without hesitation, a full-on rush of angry Korean jettisoned from his mouth. I kept nodding, as if I understood, and waited till the frustrated expression painted across his face went away. It didn’t and I started staring through him, cataloging what noise had been the culprit: the eggs, the drawers, the washing machine?
Trying to telepathically get across that I had no clue what the hell he was saying, waiting for him to realize Korean isn’t an international language, I held up a finger. Motioning for him to wait in the hallway, I went inside to grab my phone. It’s the lifeline to any uncomfortable moment, but he took it as an invitation to come into my apartment, the stinking glob of cigarette ash that he was.
With one meaty finger, he pointed at the washing machine and threw up an x that he made with his arms. I smiled, nodded and typed into my phone’s translator that I was sorry. We stood there together, in a moment of silence, awkwardly staring at each other, waiting for something to happen. Defeated, he then turned around and walked out of my apartment knowing full well that he was going to have to wait out the last fifteen minutes of spin cycle.
Alex one - chain smoking neighbor zero.