“OMG, if someone ever writes a book about me, it should be called A Beautiful Mind,” said a voice still filled with the glory of having uttered some profound cliché.
“I think that’s already a book,” I responded out loud, to nobody. “And a movie.”
“And I’ll write the sequel, A Beautiful Fashion Sense. Fashion is totally my seventh sense. My sixth sense is seeing ghosts wearing last fall’s line,” chirped another voice in keeping with the enthusiasm.
I glared at my ceiling fan, hoping that this wasn’t going to turn into a trilogy. These voices, the voices of the girls who lived above me, had become the Greek chorus of my life. As a guy not new to city life, I expected the intrusions and boundary violations that occur when one lives with only a few inches of wood and stucco between himself and his neighbors. Random footsteps, muffled television programs, maybe even the occasional sentence fragment. But I most definitely did not expect to be the unwilling audience of a twenty-four-hour slumber party between the Winston Churchill and Benjamin Franklin of the 90210 generation.
But let’s back up a bit. To a more innocent time. Before the girls rearranged every idea I’d once had about life and love, and the biggest challenge in my daily routine was walking my dog.
I stood on the freshly cut lawn of my apartment building and looked around to make sure no one was within earshot. There was the girl across the street chatting on her cell phone, but she seemed much too preoccupied by the argument she was having with her boyfriend to notice me. So, I cleared my throat.
“Go pee-pees outside, Marvin. Pee-pees outside,” I said in the most high-pitched voice humanly possible.
These are the words I must say to my dog every morning in order for him to go to the bathroom. Not a day goes by that I don’t regret taking him to that dog trainer. I’m not totally sure, but I think she was legally a “little person” (which I Googled), clocking in at approximately four foot ten, and the pitch of her voice was commensurately high. No wonder dogs listened to her. So, now, any command I give to Marvin, I must deliver with this Mariah Carey screech. Otherwise he’ll just sit there and stare at me as if he has no idea what we’re doing outside. We go through this routine at eight a.m. every single morning. If I wait till eight thirty a.m., I’m screwed; the grass will be damp from the sprinklers and Marvin won’t go near it. Even the smallest drop of water frightens him. I guess that’s one of the drawbacks in rescuing a Hurricane Katrina–survivor dog.
“Good boy, Marvin! Good boy!” Compliments must also come in this piercing frequency. I don’t know how much longer my vocal cords can take this.
“Bro, you shouldn’t talk like that where people can hear you. They might think you’re a homo.” This unsolicited morning advice came courtesy of apartment 4E, the guy who calls himself “the Con-Man” but whose real name is actually Conor. The Jesse James of my apartment building. What kind of person puts “the” in front of his name anyway? I guess the very same guy whose wardrobe appears to be sponsored by Ed Hardy.
“Good morning, the Con-Man. How’s your day going?” I said with complete disinterest.
“Awesome. I’ve already taken a dump and trimmed my pubes this morning,” he blurted out.
“Wow, Conor—I mean, the Con-Man, that’s a lot of information I don’t really wanna know about you,” I said with complete sincerity.
“Stop being such a pussy, bro. It’s science; it’s the human body; it’s education. Learn to love it.”
Why didn’t I rescue a cat? There would have been no reason to converse with him and his freshly trimmed nether area if I were a cat owner. Felines are smart; they go to the bathroom inside, just like humans. They are loyal and don’t whore themselves out the way dogs do. If I had been a cat, I’d have scratched the shit out of the Con-Man by now.
“All right, bro, I’m gonna go annihilate ten egg whites for breakfast. Maybe a splash of POM juice if I’m feeling craaazy,” he said. A real trailblazer. “Remember, bro, keep your voice down low, like this!”
“Yep. Got it. Thanks.” I was thankful—thankful that I was looking at the back of him as I said this. I watched as the Con-Man air-drummed his way over to his hydraulic truck and peeled out of the parking garage, almost running over apartment 6A, Mr. Molever, the on-site landlord. Mr. Molever is another person I can’t bear to talk to. Not because he’s a weasel like the Con-Man, but because I frequently forget to pay my rent on time and he loves to let me know it. I wish I could avoid him forever, but he’s made it impossible. Just last month, he’d implemented a new policy stating that “every check must be hand-delivered to ensure ultimate safety (do not fold check).” Don’t get me wrong, he’s perfectly nice, but boy can that man talk. And when he does speak, it only has to do with the apartment building. Over the last couple of years, I’ve literally become an expert on shingle-removal tools and copper piping, something I had previously hoped to never think about in my entire life.
But maybe Mr. Molever hadn’t seen me yet and I still had the chance to make a smooth getaway. I picked up my dog, who was carrying out my command mid-pee, and I hid behind the nearest tree. Marvin expressed his discomfort by heavily panting. But that’s because he’s unable to breathe through his nose. When you’re browsing at the shelter, they only tell you the positive stuff. They don’t mention how a particular breed is not good for hiding behind trees. I put my hand over Marvin’s mouth, praying that he would at least try to suck air through that little pug nose of his. It worked for three seconds, and then he began wheezing and shaking around. This caught the attention of Mr. Molever.
“Charlie?” He stared at me with a silly smile on his face, one that only he could muster so early in the morning. “Do you realize you’re the only tenant who noticed the trees were trimmed this morning?”
“Yeah, and it’s not even Christmas,” I said. Hopefully this brilliant turn of phrase would serve to distract Mr. Molever from remembering I was late on my rent payment.
“Oh! You’ve done it! Now, that, sir, was funny.” He laughed hysterically in a way that walked a fine line between being the nicest guy in the world and being a serial killer who wasn’t afraid to target women and children.
“Well, time for me to get my coffee on. Have a good day, Mr. Molever,” I said politely.
I put Marvin on the ground just in time for him to take a much-needed breath of life and swiftly made my way toward the entrance of the building. I was almost at the front door, free from any more neighborly interactions, when Mr. Molever defied the laws of physics and suddenly appeared in front of me. His demeanor had shifted and he was not laughing anymore. Now it was my turn to pee.
“Slow down there, Mr. Usain Bolt. Now, if my calculations are correctamundo, and let me tell you, they always are, then you are one day and eight hours late on your financing agreement with this building.”
I summoned my theatrical genes and showed him how sincerely shocked I was. “Wow, I can’t believe I let that slip my mind. I will go write you a check and slide it under your door right away, Mr. Molever,” I said.
He leaned in toward me like an enemy entering a no-fly zone and whispered, “Now, please don’t tell me you’re forgetting policy number seven? ‘Every check must be hand-delivered to—’ ”
“ ‘Ensure ultimate safety.’ Yes, I know.” I couldn’t let him finish that goddamned sentence without my head exploding.
“Well, good. I’ll be seeing you in, let’s say, thirty-five minutes. I can fill you in on last week’s mandatory tenant meeting, since you were too sunburned to make it.”
My sunburn sounded like a bullshit excuse when Mr. Molever said it out loud. And in this particular case, it was. Because who besides a deranged maniac would want to sit through a routine meeting of complaining neighbors anyway? All they ever do is look for things to criticize about the building. Like, seriously, who gives a shit? I don’t have a problem with the “color of the trim in the courtyard” because I’ve never even noticed the trim before. And I hope I never do.
BULLSHIT EXCUSES I’VE USED TO GET OUT OF TENANT MEETINGS
My grandmother died.
It’s my grandmother’s birthday (my other grandmother).
My other grandmother died.
My grandfather is getting remarried.
My stepgrandmother died.
I tugged on Marvin’s leash, trying to pull him inside. He held his ground, staring up at me with his bulging eyes, as if to say, “Oh hells no, I still gotta take a shiiiiit.” For whatever reason, I picture Marvin’s human voice to be that of a middle-aged African-American woman from the South. I probably should’ve mentioned that earlier. And it’s not racist, because he’s a dog.
I stood there and actually debated whether or not it would be worth Marvin’s crapping in my apartment to just go inside already. Saner minds prevailed, but by probably too narrow a margin.
“Poo-poos outside. Come on, poo-poos outside!” Sadly, that’s not one of the commands that dog trainer taught him. If I’m going to pay someone a large sum of money to train my dog, at the very least, I expect him to know how to crap on command. Lucky for me he really needed to go. Or maybe Marvin was able to poop on command. Either way, I was in the clear.
As I pulled Marvin along, leaving his feces for the flies to argue over, a frantic voice screamed out from the heavens, “You can’t do that! I know for a fact! I know! I know! I know!” This was Sally, apartment 3A, an elderly agoraphobic woman, who ought to leave her eyes to science since she lives on the third floor and was able to see Marvin’s minute poo. Supposedly she hasn’t left her apartment in more than fifteen years. Mr. Molever, as much as I can’t stand him, is kind enough to drop off food, supplies, dry cleaning, or anything else she might need. I’m not quite sure why she would even need to get her clothes dry-cleaned, considering she doesn’t interact with the outside world, but I can only assume that even hermits like to look nice. Just, by themselves, sometimes. Actually, Sally is kind of my hero. I can only hope to one day grow up to be a man who never leaves his own personal space and has some guy drop stuff off for him outside his door. She’s a genius if you ask me.
“Apologies, Sally,” I yelled up to her. “It won’t happen again.” I waited for a few moments but didn’t get a response. I assumed that she was too delighted by the fact that I had paid attention to her to care anymore about the excrement dotting the lawn. Besides, let’s be honest, what was she going to do, chase after me?
Excerpted from Dear Girls Above Me by Charles McDowell. Copyright © 2013 by Charles McDowell. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.