Shut Up, Little Man!

Stories and anecdotes : Shut Up, Little Man!

« Back to stories list

In the Spirit of Thanksgiving —

neigbors tape - brunetti
Illustration from the SULM
comic book by Ivan Brunetti

War was declared. After a year of living next door to the forever-shouting Peter and Raymond, Mitchell and I decided to retaliate. We began to make prank calls to harass Pete and Ray. And, one day after four days of ceaseless fighting from nextdoor, Mitchell and I hauled two monster speakers out onto the walkway that joined our apartment to Pete and Ray’s and set them up inches away from their living room window. We then played a tape of the two old drunks screaming at one another and turned it up almost all the way. We assumed that this might embarrass Pete and Ray, diffuse their anger, or at least re-direct their rage away from each other and toward us. Anything to shut them up for a while. Mitchell and I sat on the walkway with the tape blaring, thinking maybe they would come out and confront us. Or at least shut the fuck up! No such luck. We nodded our heads in disbelief, as the real Pete and Ray fought on, their voices rising in volume to exceed their own screaming on the tape.

[On the tape Peter was screaming: "If you want to call the police, then do it!"]

Peter: "Shut up little man! Uh, the neighbors are playing a tape of your screeching!"

Raymond: "Shut yer fuckin’ mouth!" [On the tape Raymond yells: "I want to kill! I am perfectly willing to kill!"]

Peter [referring to Raymond on the tape]: "Do you hear how silly you sound, little man?"

Raymond: "Sheeeit, Peter. At least I don’t sound like a fuckin’ queer cocksucker!"

However, on Thanksgiving we decided to call a temporary cease-fire with Pete and Ray. I wanted to offer a formal gesture of neighborly camaraderie and good cheer. So, I bought two big forty ouncers of Budweiser to take next door, knowing that Ray and Tony liked to drink this watered-down piss.

I knocked on the door. I could hear the white noise of their television through the door. I knocked again and waited. Nothing. I knocked once again. Finally, ever so slowly, Raymond opened the door. He was severely drunk. The drunkest I had ever seen him. And that is saying a lot. His head was sunk down, supported only by his chest. His glasses had slid halfway down the bridge of his red pin-cushion nose. He swayed slightly from side to side, steadying himself with one hand on the door jamb.

I said: "Howdy. Ray? I just wanted to tell you, you know, we’ve had some unkind words, and. . ." "Who are you?" he snorted.

Nervously, and a bit disconcerted, I replied: "Your neighbor." It struck me as odd that I had lived directly next door to Ray in the same building for over a year, I had had at least a dozen verbal altercations with him face to face, and once almost came to blows with him after he woke me up at 4:00 AM, and yet, he didn’t even recognize me! He had no idea who I was! He was farther gone than Mitchell and I had imagined.

I looked at Ray before me. He was a mess. Sometime in the last two days he had puked on himself and had let the vomit dry; big chunks of vomit clung to the front of his shirt. He sort of wove back and forth, attempting to maintain his balance and to not let gravity have its way with him.

I stammered out: "I feel bad, you know, that we have had some harsh words. So, in the spirit of thanksgiving, I thought I would stop by and. . . you wanna have a beer with me? Sit and talk?"

Ray mumbled: "Do we have anything to talk about?"

I had not anticipated Ray asking any questions, and the question he posed was a good one. I guess I thought the offer of some free booze would be all Ray needed to see to grant me an audience. I responded half-heartedly: "Uh, the neighborhood, you know."

He opened the door wider and let me pass. When I got inside the apartment, I was horrified. It was like a scene from Dante in there. At least two of the living room walls featured holes, concavities, craters, and deep indentations from angry fists and shoulders and rumbling bodies [Peter once referred to these commemorative marks on the walls as "wounds"]. The room reeked of rotten fruit, rank socks, and that distinct smell of old men’s bodies. It was dark in there, literally and otherwise.

Ray looked down at the ground where two cockroaches had darted across an old newspaper: "Hey look. I, I, I, I, I, I am not a bad man, and (unintelligible)."

This was going to be more difficult than I thought, when I had the impulsive notion to visit. I said: "I just wanted to say I’m sorry."

Over his puke-splattered shoulder I spied the six-foot stuffed bunny (that Ray called "The Girl") leaning to one side on the sofa. . An empty bottle of wine lay toppled upon the floor. There was an old Herb Alpert record near the hi-fi console, and half-eaten plates of old food dried and congealed on the coffee table.

Now, it is obvious to anyone who has heard the recordings that Ray was not the most gifted conversationalist. And, being confronted with engagement with me, a stranger, was as horrifying to Ray as being in his apartment was becoming to me. He looked at me gravely and said: "Hey, look . . . Hey, I am a cruel person."

"Well, I wouldn’t say cruel," I quickly replied. I was struggling for something to say, I was also sobering up a bit. It was dawning on me that this idea of visiting Pete and Ray was sort of perverse. It made better sense thirty minutes beforehand when I was drinking and laughing with my friends. But, I was still trying to connect to the little man. I held up the 40-ouncers: "Wanna have a beer? A Bud? King of Beers? You know, in the spirit of Thanksgiving and everything? Male-bonding?"

This proved to be too much for Ray, a little man drowned in drink. He stood there at a loss, almost mechanically saying: "I. . . I . . . I . . ."

I decided to give up; I snapped to attention and made for the door: "Take care, Ray. Take care of yourself."

Ray sort of lumbered up behind me, as I passed through the door. Relieved that I was leaving, he quietly wished me: "Happy Thanksgiving." And, closed the door.

An hour or so later I was on my way to O’Looney’s convenience store. I walked by Pete and Ray’s kitchen window and peered in for a second. Ray was mumbling to himself as he fumbled about in the kitchen. He woodenly attempted to open a can of corned beef hash with a manual can-opener. He succeeded. Then, he scooped it out into an iron skillet and warmed the slop up. I watched him stir it around, talking to himself, as it began to steam. A long two-foot streamer of saliva hung down from his livery lips and coiled into the hash-filled skillet. Corned beef hash from a can: a Thanksgiving feast fit for a little man.

No End