“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, Chapter 1, first line
Our family lived in garden apartments most of the time I was growing up – little 2 or 3 bedroom places on 2 floors, with ivy on the outside walls, trees and grass in the front and back yards that someone else mowed and tended to, and casement windows that leaked like a sieve when winter came. After a bleak 4-year sojourn as homeowners in Cicero, NY, my mother appreciated finding friends among some of the more educated and sophisticated women she met once we were left suburbia and my dad really liked the fact that he didn’t have to rely on his somewhat temperamental jalopies to get to work – he could take the city bus to his office in downtown Albany and in Hartford, he could easily walk to his job from our apartment.
We kids also enjoyed the more cosmopolitan environment and watched with interest as new neighbors moved in from time to time. Dr. Bill and Harriet Miller were next-door neighbors and their daughter Shirley became my best friend until we moved from NY state to Connecticut. At one point Hazel and Roy lived next door – they were a Chinese couple who liked us and even invited us over for a real homemade Chinese dinner once!
Then came Marrrge & Bob – a couple from Scotland who brrrristled whenever we encountered them. We couldn’t figure out what the trouble was until one day Marrrge came over and screamed repeatedly at us that ours was “a house of HATE!” We were so stunned to hear her opinion and couldn’t fathom what would make her think that? We LOVED each other!! Sure, we made a lot of noise bounding up and down the stairs which were directly on the other side of the wall from THEIR stairs – and we hollered and teased each other, like kids will do. We had 2 adults and 4 kids packed into 1000 square feet and we WERE a bit rowdy from time to time. But HATE? Marrrge and Bob moved away shortly thereafter and we just laughed at how mistaken they were about our loving family.
Decades later Mark and I rented a spacious luxury 2 bedroom place on the Gold Coast of Chicago – just the 2 of us, with our dog Dunkel. Each floor had just 2 apartments. The first night at 3 AM we were awakened by yelling, screaming and crockery breaking from the apartment across the hall. When we asked the doorman what was going on, no one seemed to know. Eruptions occurred on a fairly regular basis and poor little Dunkel would just shudder, like he did when thunderstorms rolled in from Lake Michigan.
It wasn’t just fights that woke us; the man would throw the family’s trash down the chute in the middle of the night and more than once I spied him doing so au naturelle. One night he locked his wife, dressed only in her nightgown, outside in the hall and wouldn’t let her back in, no matter how she pleaded and begged. These folks acted like they were the only people on the planet, totally oblivious to the disruption they caused. We later found out that the father was high up in the police force, so domestic disturbance calls never made it past the thin blue line. Apparently most of the other residents had assumed that the noise was coming from OUR apartment, since we were known to be musicians, and we all know how rowdy and disruptive THEY are!!?
We never found out what, if any, mitigating circumstances were in play in that household. I wonder how Marrrge and Bob would have handled being their neighbors!?