An unspoken code of conduct is crucial when living in an apartment complex. Most folks abide by it, but a few seem entirely unaware of its existence or that they’re living in a shared space, which tends to throw off the rhythm of life for all others. For example, the washer and dryer in the laundry room of the building are for everyone’s use. Sadly, you don’t own those appliances. They weren’t a housewarming gift from the landlord and will need to be shared with the rest of the payers of rent.
To be fair, this can be confusing and perhaps should be clarified in the lease so that everyone understands it upfront, and then, no one is tempted to pour a bottle of bleach into your load of colors or drop a red sock in with your whites. That said, putting clothes in either one of these machines and then leaving the property for an extended period isn’t part of the code.
My next-door neighbor, Jane, does this weekly. We share the same day off, and I have learned to get up as early as a night owl writer possibly can so that I can do my two loads before she can take her twenty- four loads down and then leave on vacation for the day. But, sometimes, I’m not fast enough and then have to spend my afternoon watching and waiting for her to come home, like I’m a woman from the 18th century on a widow’s walk, wringing my hands while anxiously awaiting my husband’s return from the sea.
She always says the same thing when she finally gets back and sees me, “Oh, sorry. I ran to the store and thought it would only take 40 minutes.” We live in Los Angeles, California, where nothing takes only 40 minutes. Ever. Even when carrying the trash out to the dumpster, you need to plan for delays in case of traffic on the 405. If you haven’t figured this out by now, perhaps consider moving to a town with one blinking stoplight so that the rest of us can get our underpants laundered in a timely manner.
Jane is a lovely person and a good mother. She once bought her six-year-old daughter, whose bedroom is next to mine, a karaoke machine for Christmas. Her daughter loves to scream, and screaming into a microphone amplifying screaming fills her heart with joy. Jane may have also gotten her 4-year-old son a drum set that year, or maybe he was kicking the wall to keep the beat with his sisters screaming. I’m not sure, but he, too, seemed quite joyful. And a happy holiday was had by almost everyone.
On the other hand, my neighbor Cathy absolutely understands how apartment life works. She’s lived here for 35 years, which I know because she leads with that every time we speak. She’s clean and quiet, has a lovely garden, and has the ability to know everything that goes on in the building while appearing to mind her own business.
I once watched the LA county coroner remove an elderly neighbor from his apartment in a body bag. They rolled him all the way around the top level and then carried him down the stairs next to where Cathy just happened to be sitting on her stoop, repotting daisies, and she never looked up. Not even a side-eye. And I watched her the entire time. I don’t know how long it took, but I guarantee it wasn’t only 40 minutes.