Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Lunkhead Dossiers, Chapter 1 (And, I Hope, Last)

So the landlord came over the other day, unsurprisingly, and we had a little chat, at the end of which he asked me to write a letter to him about the downstairs neighbors, the ones I've been calling les Lunkheads here. So, for those of you who think life in France is all rosé wine and croissants, I'm reprinting what he got in his in-box this afternoon.

(For the utterly French-deficient, "pub" is short for publicité, or ads, in this case the advertising flyers which get stuck in our mailboxes nearly every day, and "Ils ne sont pas méchants" means "They're not bad."

* * *

Dear M. Valmier:

As requested, a few notes about the downstairs neighbors. You indicated that English would be acceptable, and since I can give the narrative better that way, I choose to use it. 

When the neighbors downstairs moved in, I was relieved that the last occupants, who seemed to favor videos of women being tortured, played at high volume late at night, were gone. The new tenants had a raucous moving-in party, and of course I forgave them that; I might well have done the same in the circumstances. 

A few nights later, they had another party, during the course of which they took over the courtyard, leaving bottles and cigarette butts everywhere. This lasted until about 4 in the morning. Again, trash was everywhere. Eventually, I think the violin-makers, whose property the courtyard is, had a talk with them, because until last night, they haven't used it again. 

Within a few weeks, a pattern set in: loud gatherings, featuring loud music, happened several times a week. Some nights, they started at about 3 in the morning and lasted until around 7. Every Thursday, there seemed to be a meeting there starting at 20h, and lasting well into the night. They ignored requests to quiet down, from myself and from numerous neighbors shouting out  of their windows. 

It also became evident that they saw themselves as "anarchists," posting political posters about consumerism and advertising in the hallway, and reacting to the "pub" in their mailboxes by tossing it down the stairs. 

Their presence took a turn for the sinister in December. One day, I was leaving the apartment and found my way blocked by two large dogs who'd been tethered to the railing on the stairway. One was looking me in the eye and growling. I've been around dogs all my life, and know exactly what that means. I knocked on their door, and it was opened a very little bit by a young woman. I asked her whose dogs those were, and she said "My friend's." A man, whom I couldn't see, said "Ils ne sont pas méchants," and she slammed the door. I tried to pass them again with the same results. I knocked on the door again and again the same woman answered. She was very annoyed, but I said I couldn't pass the dogs, and her friend should do something. At that point, the door opened wider and a man I'd never seen came out, also annoyed, and yelled at the dogs, allowing me to pass. I turned to thank them and noticed that each of them had one sleeve rolled up. This isn't conclusive proof of what I assume was going on there, but it was suggestive of activities including needles. 

One night, as I sat reading, I heard someone come up the stairs, mutter a few words, and go silent. Looking through the spyhole in my front door, I saw a man lying down on the stairs to the third floor, a can of beer at his feet, getting ready to go to sleep. It was the same man with the dogs, and I believe the dogs were tied up outside my door. He was there for several nights afterwards. One night, the neighbors upstairs had a party, and he came in  and arranged himself in his usual place. Some of the party-goers came downstairs to talk to him, and I couldn't understand what he said (he was very intoxicated), except that he kept shouting the word "respect." Eventually, one of the kids brought him some beer. 

He disappeared when the weather got better, but I started seeing used alcohol pads, needle sterilizers, and orange plastic needle caps just inside the entryway. Given the chip system for entering the house, I can only assume someone had given him a chip. 

During this period, the parties downstairs got noisier. Less music was played, but people shouted, threw bottles at each other, and overturned furniture. More than once, a male-female dispute went into the hallway late at night, and on one memorable evening, at about 4, the screaming woman eventually went into the street, where she kept screaming for another twenty minutes. 

Last night was also memorable: recently, the neighbors have started singing and chanting loudly and tunelessly, not only during the night, but during the day, as well. They're doing it as I write this, in fact, using a bullhorn because aparently they can't yell loud enough. Last night, they also used the courtyard again, although they seem to have cleaned up after themselves this time, but the evening seems to have been capped with a burning of a stack of "pub" just inside the front door; there was a pile of ashes there at 11 this morning. 

I should contextualize these remarks by saying that since all of my business is conducted with the US, which is between six and nine hours earlier than here, I tend to stay up late and get up late. Thus, the bar next door playing music until just before 1 is not a problem. I've also lived around students and young people in Texas (in a university town) and Berlin enough that I can sleep through some noise without a problem. These people downstairs are unprecedented in their disregard for the fact that they live in a community and have to have some respect for the fact that their actions affect other people. It is a measure of the tolerance of all of the people whose residences face our courtyard that nobody has, to the best of my knowledge, called the police on these soi-disant anarchists, and that their spoiled-children antics, which now include throwing their garbage onto the stairway, continues. 

I realize the difficulty in getting rid of rent-paying tenants, but I hope this testimony and that of the many others whose lives have been disrupted by these idiots will help you. 

Best Wishes, 

Ed Ward


  1. My wife and I had a similar experience on a much smaller scale when we were living in Montpelier. Our upstairs neighbors were sullen and unpleasant drunks and drug abusers who would have noisy parties lasting well into the night. Some of their activities included having friends shout their names from the impasse to gain entry at all hours, one of their guests exiting by rolling down the stairs and slamming into our apartment door and on another occasion, leaving a large pile of human excrement right outside the buildings' front door(as a sign of their displeasure with the hosts, we supposed). It was in the centre ville, which is where I assume you live. We moved to a larger place in Boutonnet and heard from our former landlords that the two guys eventually were evicted. We saw them from time to time after that, once or twice begging outside the cathederal with that improbable porch attached to it. A disagreeable kind of behavior that seems tolerated and tacitly encouraged in Montpelier. It is otherwise a beautiful city.

  2. I wouldn't single out Montpellier for tolerating these sorts of people, nor do I think their behavior is encouraged. We certainly had loads of them in Berlin, where they posed as 'antifascists,' and there's a significant travelling population of them in the summertime. Yours sound even worse than mine, though (and yes, I'm in centre ville). Just a reminder that bums who don't actually sleep rough have to live *somewhere*.

  3. I like two things about your letter.

    1. I now know that I don't have the worst neighbors in Montpellier. Even with the stairway sex, puke, and least it's intermittent. Yours seems to go on continuously.

    2. It's amusing to see that you, being the writer you are I suppose, add style even to a complaint letter. It's probably the best-written one I've read!

  4. Maybe they'll get arrested at the flash mob cocktail party tonight.


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