Meet the Neighbors

Part of every move to a new location involves meeting the neighbors. In an apartment building, it’s almost unavoidable.  Almost.

Past History

My last apartment was in a pretty quiet building.  I never officially met any of the neighbors.  Except one.  The mystery lady upstairs.

Last Christmas I hosted a dinner party.  The doorbell rang, and I opened the door expecting to find my friends. A noisy group, you really can’t mistake them for anyone else.  But this time in the midst of them was an older woman.  Okaaaaay I thought, somebody brought their grandma who I’ve never met before.

No, no, my friends introduce her as the neighbor upstairs, who they ran into at the building entrance, and inform me that she had no idea I was living in the building.  A fact which she seemed displeased with.

“Where is Mariam”, she queries suspiciously.  (Mariam is the owner of the apartment)
I respond, “She lives in Moscow now”.

She looks me up and down, peers over my shoulder into the apartment, then announces, “No she’s not“; then turns and walks up the stairs.

So, did she think Mariam was hiding from her?  Or that I had killed Mariam?  I never knew what to make of her response and the mystery was never solved.

I vowed to do a better job with neighborly relations in this new apartment.  After I got settled a bit, I would make an effort to meet people.

Moving Day

While I was fairly consumed with the pain of moving, I reminded myself to stay alert for potential neighbor introductions.  Repeatedly tramping up and down 3 flights of stairs makes a lot of noise, so someone was bound to poke their heads out.  A potential of 6 neighbors to meet on my floor and the ones below.

I put the key in the lock on my front door, gave it the normal clunky loud 360 degree turn, and started to open the door.

My neighbor on the right immediately burst out of his door, shook my hand, introduced his family, and welcomed me to the building.  Dad was the head of the house, plus his son, daughter-in-law, and 2 grand kids.   They introduced themselves in 3 seconds.  They talk fast.  All at the same time.  And I forgot their names instantly.  I know them now as older guy, tall guy, wife, kid one, and kid two.  Cute kids.

I was off to a rocky start with the no-name thing, but I had officially met more neighbors in a few seconds than I had in 14 months.  I retreated into my apartment to avoid any more neighbor contact.  5 people was more than enough for the first day.

After the moving men had finished, and I closed and locked the door, and walked into the bathroom to wash my hands.

Squish. Drop, drop, drop.

What the hell?  I looked down to see that the bathroom rug was completely soaked and looked up to see water dripping from the ceiling, through the light fixture.  I quickly realized that this probably wasn’t a good situation for the light, or me.

I shut off the light and stepped back to assess the situation.  Obviously, my neighbor above had sprung a leak.  I marched upstairs to have a chat.

Knock, knock, knock.

I could see that the apartment was under renovation.  By now, I had “phoned a friend”, who was going to translate the situation for whoever opened the door.  But there was no answer.

Knock on another door“, he suggested.

So I tried the door to the right.  The owner opened right away.  “Yes“, the apartment was under remodel, “No” she didn’t know if they were home.  I met her, the son and the husband.  We’ll call them “blond lady family”.  All names again quickly forgotten.  She closed the door.

Knock on another door“, he suggested.

So I tried the door to the left.  The owner opened right away.  “Yes“, the apartment was under remodel, “No” he didn’t know if they were home.  He introduced himself, but was less chatty than blond lady family. We’ll call him “upstairs neighbor on the left”. Name again quickly forgotten, and now I was already out of nicknames.

Great. I was meeting them, but retaining nothing.

Knock on your neighbor’s door, on your floor“, aka older guy, tall guy, etc. “They always know what’s going on in the building.

I walked back downstairs.  Tall guy opened after one knock.  I think he had prepared to see me, considering all the noise I was making.  Translator/phone a friend explained the situation.  We all went back upstairs, (2 of us physically present, 1 on the phone) and tried knocking on the apartment under remodel/source of the leak.

This time the door opened, as the neighbor recognized tall guy.   It was the grandma of the house.

Yes“, they were remodeling,
Yes“, it was the shower,
No“, they didn’t realize it was leaking.

A spate of apologies followed the last line, with the grandma calling me “Balik jan“, every other word.  Loosely translated it means “dear child”.  Everyone should be called balik jan at least once a day, it puts a smile on your face.

Unless you’re called balik jan by some punk-ass 16-year old grocery bag-boy, who further told me the bag of groceries he was refusing to hand me, was too heavy for me to carry.  He chose poorly.  I don’t care if he was taller than me.  I will hunt him down someday….

Grandma explained that her son was in charge of the construction, but currently at work, and she promised to send him down to my apartment as soon as he came home, and further promised to make sure the shower didn’t get turned on.  And apologized some more.

Satisfied that we had the situation somewhat under control, tall guy and I walked back downstairs.  In a span of roughly 15 minutes I had met neighbors in 4 of the 9 other apartments in the building.  All of whose names I had completely forgotten.

I thanked tall guy for his help, and went back into my apartment to process the day.

As I was strategizing on how to forever avoid all the neighbors, who would expect me to know their names, I decided I needed to get some supplies and take a little walk.  Perhaps some fresh air might jog my memory on names, it was a bit chaotic with the knocking on doors and the traipsing up and down the stairwell.

I finished my walk-about, and as I was entering the main door of the building, a young couple was walking out, carrying a baby.

“Hello!” said the Dad, “welcome!”, while Mom struggled to get a hat on the baby.  Everybody smiled at me, even the baby.

Well, they’re pretty friendly, so enthusiastic, I thought. What a nice greeting.  I thanked them and smiled in response.

As we were all smiling and passing by each other he further added, “we missed you!”  To which I responded “hah”, which is my normal stalling response when I need time to translate exactly what they’ve said from Armenian to English .  But by time I put together what he had said, they were out the door.

They missed me?  Had I already met them?  How could they have missed me?  And they didn’t even say their names!  What floor are they on?!?

It quickly dawned on me.  I’m living in my friend’s apartment, who moved to the US a few years ago, and who is also height challenged, and also a Diasporan.  And a fellow Princess.  They thought I was her, and were welcoming me on my return.

Now I tried to decide which was worse.  That my response to “we missed you”, was basically a response of agreement, as in: “yes you did”

OR, that I didn’t correct them and explain that we had never met before, and accepted the well-wishes.

There was no win.  I walked back upstairs, and mentally added them to the list of neighbors I would need to avoid.

Oh how I long for the days when I had only one neighbor to hide from, and only because she thought I was possibly a murderer.

Stuff You Find in Boxes

So, I moved again. 3rd time in three years. If you want someone to divulge all their worldly secrets, forget torture, tell them to talk or they must pack up all their belongings and move. During the winter. While it’s snowing.  In later years, I’ll probably say it was a blizzard.

There were several times during this latest process that I contemplated tossing everything out the window, creating a nice pile in the back yard, and lighting the whole thing on fire. I would have sent out invitations of course, one does not have a moving-related-meltdown bonfire without witnesses.

And I definitely thought about that option one too many times. While smiling. It would have been glorious.  I worry about my future self during the next move….

But I didn’t. No pyromania show. I just kept packing.

The hardest part about the process is never the large items. Or the multiples that fit neatly together. It’s the in-between sized one-item only things that you absolutely can’t throw away, yet have no idea what box to put it in or even how to pack it.

An iron. Kind of heavy for a box, but it’s strange to just place it onto the truck bed. Hangers. Do you hook as many as you can on your fingers and hop into a taxi?

I opted to stuff the hangars into a shopping bag. Which I did with a lot of items in the final stages of packing.  It looked like I had gone on a multi-grocery intercontinental store shopping frenzy; SAS, Yerevan City, Target and Walmart.

Another dilemma I had during this move was my ever-expanding liquor collection. I had started with the basics of a simple bar. But over the years, friends kept bringing bottles. “Hey, this would make a fun drink” or “hey, we must have finished that up last time”.

Hey, that’s why I have 4 ½ bottles of gin.

Add to that, one of our inner-circle friends recently moved back to the US and upon his departure, bequeathed me his collection. Which had also grown out of control with gifts from guests.

Welcome to apartment move 2016, with 60+ bottles of booze. I’m not exaggerating.

A friend who works in the wine industry was good enough to bring me 10 cardboard cases to use for transport, AND she was smart enough to know that I needed an intervention. I was running out of steam, and she stopped by with another friend to help pack up my personal pub.

We loaded the cases in no time at all, and as I stared down at the neatly sealed boxes, I wondered aloud what I should say to the movers. “Don’t worry” they declared, “just tell them it’s fragile and be careful”. It sounded reasonable enough. And then we immediately went out to drink beer to celebrate solving the problem.

Cause I had everything but beer.

Moving day came and I had strategically lined up by size all the items to move. The mover/boss/truck driver had brought two helpers, who seemed most pleased with my obsessive need to make things easier for them. Furniture first, then bulky luggage, then big boxes, then the cases and smaller items.

The room was almost empty when one of the movers turned his attention to the cases. He picked one up, and intending to grab a second one, hoisted the first one up on his shoulder.

Now, half empty bottles, especially liquor bottles, really do have a very distinct sound when their liquid sloshes around. And when it’s 6 of them stuffed into a box, the sound is even louder. And in an empty quite room? Louder still.

He paused…., first he displayed a look of confusion, then curiosity, then realization. He glanced down at the other boxes and did a quick count. A knowing smile of approval crept across his face and the eyebrows went up. I looked away, avoiding eye contact.

The innocent “Oh, they’re fragile, be careful” was not working.

He picked up the second box, which I swear made more noise than the first, and now grinning, walked out the door.

He met the second mover in the hallway, and I heard a quick whisper exchange.

Let me explain a bit here. The average Armenian household has a bottle or two of cognac, vodka in the freezer and a bottle of whiskey. That’s about the extent of it. Anything more than that is found at restaurants and bars. But generally, not in someone’s house.  And not 60 bottles.

Mover #2 came in like a proud papa, and carefully picked up 2 more of the cases. Glug, glug. If he had a free hand, I’m sure he would have given me a “thumbs up”.

The rest of the move was uneventful. I mean, what can top that? I swear I heard giggles in the stairwell as they were taking the cases up to the new apartment, but I thought it again best to avoid eye contact.

When the three of them finished, now practically giddy, they heartily congratulated me on the move. “May you have happy sunshiny days in your new house.” Emphasis on the “sunshiny”.

I could just imagine the stories they were going to tell that night, “You’ll never guess what this woman had in boxes.  և ինչ քան շատ!!!… (And how many)”