Well, we knew that was coming. Our crazy old neighbor downstairs tried to light the building on fire. That’s the same guy who scrawled curses such as “your wife is being fucked and you don’t even know it” and “your family is dying and you don’t realize it” after we threw away some corroding medicine boxes and rotten fruits from his mountain of trash in the hallway. The same wretched old man who viciously cursed and snarled at my girlfriend for walking down the hall with a foreigner.
Crazy Neighbor had long displayed an affinity for fire. He would often leave a fire extinguisher at the top of the staircase, with the hose pointed up, or light small fires in the landing. Well, he is in jail now. According to the security guard, they are trying to determine if he’s crazy.
It was a sad situation. Who knows what the man had been through. He probably lived through the worst of the ’50s and ’60s. Our landlord – a doctor – had shrugged off the situation with “oh, he’s crazy – don’t talk to him”. The affable grandma next door warned us not to interact with him. Even the security guard downstairs just cracked one of those nervous laughs, like, “…oh…hehe…not much we can do about him”. Shanghainese people don’t like trouble, though some neighbors eventually organized to remove the trash from the hallways though, as rats began throwing parties in the refuse.
And we just kept saying, “he’s gonna light the god damn building on fire one of these days”.
Most residential buildings in China do not have smoke detectors. Certainly not in the common area. That is very troublesome. Imagine if one went off when someone was sleeping! It might wake someone up. So we equipped our room with smoke and CO2 detectors and avoided dude. He really seemed like the kind of guy that, as his big last move before death, might just strangle someone in the hall.
Upon returning from America last week, the third floor was oddly silent. Usually Crazy Neighbor would leave his TV on full volume 24 hours a day. We’d often return from the club at 4am to a dark staircase, lit by screams from war dramas and Chinese infomercials.
The security guard confirmed our suspicions that dude had been removed from our building, a fine piece of French architecture from 1933, where the American journalist Agnes Smedley once lived. This means no more of Crazy Neighbor’s classic routines, like “Hey It’s 11pm Let’s Slam The Door Fourteen Times In A Row”. Good riddance.
While it’s incredible that dude lasted in our building so long, after hanging out in downtown LA for a few days earlier this month, I can say the mental health situation in America is not much better. More on that later.
Ariel Pink – Picture Me Gone