For some reason today, if I play a CD, I blow a fuse. I have no idea why. It wasn’t this way yesterday…I think. I put on Oasis real quiet because I know my neighbour’s home, and I listen for a minute or so, not long, before—kablooey. Pitch fuckin’ black. Lucky for me they’re breakers instead of real fuses, or I’d be wandering into the Korean store five times today.
“Again? ” he’d say.
“Yup,” I’d say.
“Why don’t you learn? I mean, listen…” he’d start reasoning with me, like he has a number of times before—I think it’s his fallback position, to act like he’s reasoning with a kid. He’d say, “You already spent two dollars and fourteen cents times three. That’s what—six, seven bucks? ”
“I know. But I can’t see why a CD should cause me to blow a fuse.”
This gets him. He didn’t know all I was trying to do was listen to a little music.
“You, what, play music? And this blows a fuse? ”
“You got it,” I say.
“Well, that shouldn’t happen.” He looks at the floor. “Are you sure you don’t have the stove on? ”
“A heater? ”
“Whatever,” he says and hands me another little package from the perforated pressboard behind him. “That’ll be two-fourteen.”
Anyway, that didn’t happen.
I’m down in the basement with a flashlight. Superstalker. Night killer. I’m crouching for no reason. It’s not like the ceiling is really low, but it seems like people should crouch in basements. There might be cobwebs or electrical wires dangling down to touch my face. Fuse box, with one little switch showing orange. I snap it back on and my whole apartment lights up, I can see the light flooding down the back stairs. When I run back up, the stereo is spinning up to play the CD again. The little servo motor is whirring, and then the L.E.D. display counts up the number of tracks. I stamp across the floor to turn it off before it starts playing again. But I hit the volume button by mistake, slide the little plastic bar way up, and I hear a kind of sigh from the huge crowd before the first track totally detonates.
I mean, if you hate Oasis, fine—substitute something else. I understand. If you like Mclusky, bully for you. Close your eyes, pretend you’re me, and imagine an infinitely bright dot in the form of Mclusky. That’s what it was like. The roof basically shook, which shows that I was smart when I decided to buy those speakers. Snowy the white cat can’t get under the couch fast enough. He’s like a little luge car at the end of its run, shooting in banked arcs across the living room rug and under the couch. A spectacular vanishing act. And I’d appreciate it if I wasn’t in mortal pain, watching a throbbing tunnel of sound burning a hole through me. I wrench the sound off. It just keeps ripping the air. I’m completely helpless, grimacing, the apartment is bouncing.
It reminds me of something my father used to say: “Fuck the neighbours.” Anyway, I’m kind of wishing my father was around, with his heavy forearms and his Kirk Douglas chest, when my neighbour knocks on my door, knocks on the door, scurries round to peek through the front window and wave at me. Darren. He makes this “What are you thinking? ” gesture, like a peevish old man, because that’s the kind of guy he is. You do the slightest thing wrong, he huffs, he shrugs, he rolls his eyes. I’ve wondered about him. I mean he’s none too manly, to be honest.
Anyway, I wave back, I’m on my hands and knees now, waving to him to come and help me because I can’t turn the friggin’ thing off. I’m pushing the button over and over. It goes in and out. On. Off. The music keeps on roaring, loosening plaster, jingling plates in the cupboard. Darren is beside me. We have our palms over our ears. I look into his white, angry face. “Help!” my mouth says. Darren’s expression changes completely.
We’re out on the porch sipping beer. The CD’s on infinite rotation. It’s early evening. By now, we should have figured out some solution. That’s clear enough, because everyone on the street has come out onto their porch, everyone who walks past on the sidewalk gawks at us with a look of disbelief. Their faces say, “Why hasn’t anyone called the cops? ” If I were my father, which I am not, I would say, “Got a problem? You wanna talk to me? ” And the skinny man in overalls on his way to the night shift would say, “I didn’t say anything.” Which is true, without question. But my dad’s never been one to let social graces get in the way.
“My music too loud for you? ”
“Ha ha. Want me to turn it up? ”
“Not my business, man.”
“Is that right? ” my dad says.
“Your house, your life.” The skinny fellow hurries on, his head down. “Fuck,” Dad says, watching him go, “every cocksucker’s got an opinion. How tiresome is that? ” And he looks tired, too. He shakes his head. “Maybe we should flip that breaker off.”
Like me, maybe you forgot about the breakers…then again, maybe not.
I discover that the breaker in question controls practically my whole apartment: stove, fridge, living room light, bedroom light. When we snap it off, the place goes black, the CD chokes and passes out, and the only thing unaffected seems to be the bathroom. Darren and I wander the suddenly peaceful apartment, drawn toward the light of the bathroom. Darren pokes around in the cabinet; he plugs the hair dryer into the outlet and turns it on. It whines to life. So, the outlet works too. He snaps it off and raises his eyebrows at me.
“What? ” I say.
“You blow-dry your hair? ”
“Yes I do.”
“I’m not saying anything. I’m not.”
It’s midnight. We have the TV and VCR sitting on the toilet lid, plugged into the bathroom outlet, and we’re watching The Thing. The hall is dark, the bedroom is dark, the living room is dark, the kitchen is dark, and the fridge is peeing on the floor. All my food is spoiling. We’ve dragged two chairs into the hall and we’re sitting there. Snowy is on Darren’s lap, purring and being coy.
Darren says, “Got any treats for this guy? ” Snowy has always had wicked radar for the sucker in the room.
“Is he mean to you? ” Darren whispers to the cat. “Is he? ” Snowy is ecstatic.
“Will you two watch the friggin’ film!” I say.
We agree that Kurt Russell is pretty macho, but possibly he’s too macho. Maybe he’s the Thing itself. Maybe soon a bunch of hissing red whips will come out of him and he’ll burst open. Latex Kurt Russell. That’s what I’m hoping for. Darren, who has seen the movie already, says the text supports that interpretation. See, this is exactly what I mean about Darren. He says things like that, and frankly, it gets you wondering about him.
“I have some Jim Beam somewhere,” Darren says, putting the cat down, and I swear to God, he does this amazing vaudeville thing, walking backwards over his chair so it ends up flat on its back, and he just keeps going down the dark hallway, Snowy scooting after him.
I’m sitting there, watching the screen on pause; Kurt’s tough, bearded face is in the foreground and behind him it’s all snow and ice and blackness. Kurt’s in a lonely world in there.
I can hear Darren upstairs, the soft movement of his feet on the thick carpets and rugs he puts down for quiet. Maybe I should put rugs down. Up till now, I’ve been a very quiet neighbour. Things change every day.
I wonder how much a rug or two would cost. You can’t put things off for too long in this life. It’s like my dad used to say, “You gotta go your own way, kid. Live your own life. So fuck Darren. Let’s go. Press Play.”