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New York, New York

A Wrench the Size of Delaware

Toleration is necessary for living in an apartment building, even if your neighbor isn’t of sound mind and humor. How a neighbor’s problems can swiftly become your own.

It’s 8PM on Saturday. I am visiting a friend in the city. We are lying in bed together watching Ghost World on her new DVD player. I have to leave soon to go out drinking. Suddenly the room is overtaken with the sound of radiator pipes being beaten with something hard. I sit up and look around, scared. My friend’s cat goes nuts, runs to the kitchen, hides under the sink, and looks out in pathetic, bug-eyed terror.

‘The guy in 2L has a wrench the size of Delaware,’ she says, ‘and he just starts hitting the pipes sometimes. He gets upset about noise.’

The hammering stops, starts, stops, starts, 8 times, each one about 30 seconds. The cat remains in hiding. Someone else in the building begins to hit the pipes in anger, a feeble echo of the first man’s blind pipe-banging rage.

‘How brave are you?’ she asks. She’s plenty brave herself but she has a bum leg, so stairs are a drag.

‘I’m brave enough, I guess,’ I say, immediately dreading going downstairs. She repeats the apartment number. The door is patched with wood and has a padlock on the outside. A man from downstairs meets me there.

‘That fucking lunatic,’ he says, and stands behind me. I knock. At first I am going to lie, say my friend is sick upstairs, but then, why should I have to make up a reason for him not to hit the pipes? A short, overweight man opens the door, a good 14 inches shorter than me. It’s a relief. This won’t go anywhere. At first it appears he’s wearing no pants, but I see he’s wearing an old pair of gray boxers. The small swath of apartment is a horror: old lonely man apartment, everything grim and old and peeling.

‘Hey,’ I say, ‘what’s the problem?’

‘No problem,’ he says. ‘If people weren’t moving their furniture above me, making God’s own racket.’

‘That doesn’t mean you have to hit the pipes.’

‘They’re moving furniture,’ he says, ‘I get to eat a shit sandwich, everyone takes a bite,’ and he closes the door. I know by instinct that my point has been made, that he’s done with the pipes. I go back upstairs.

‘I think that’s over for a while,’ I say.

‘He’s been there forever,’ says my friend. ‘He padlocks the place when he leaves. You figure you’re going to move furniture, 8PM on a Saturday is a good time to do it.’

‘He just wanted to make sure we all had a bite of his shit sandwich.’

‘Nice,’ she says, and the cat creeps back into the kitchen.


TMN Contributing Writer Paul Ford is the author of Gary Benchley, Rock Star, a novel that was originally serialized here on TMN. He was formerly an editor at Harper’s Magazine, was an occasional commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered, and is now sole proprietor of (which has a Facebook group). More by Paul Ford