Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Live From Montpellier, It's Lunkhead-dämmerung!

Last Tuesday, August 17, will, I hope, mark the lowest part of my life in France. My telephone and Internet connection had been severed in the evening of Friday the 13th for not paying a bill I hadn't been presented with. Worse, the client whose outstanding and considerably overdue invoice would have paid for it -- and some food for my rapidly depleting larder -- still hadn't come through. It was looking grim.

Downstairs, chez les Lunkheads, there seemed to be new people in residence, with a big dog and a little dog. The dogs got along okay, but they whined and barked a lot. Especially the little one, who spent all night one night on the balcony outside the apartment and whined and yipped all night. But as the days went by, it was clear that there was something wrong. The big guy with the loud voice who gets louder when drunk on cider and mumbles basso when stoned on heroin started shouting. He seemed like a real drama queen, and although it wasn't always easy to understand him (nor was I particularly interested in listening), one day he went into a complete fit, where a sentence repeated over and over ended in the word "pareil," the same.

Then came the day of the smashing. One of the women started freaking out and was throwing things at the walls, shrieking incomprehensibly as each thing broke and the shards fell to the floor. I have no idea what she was throwing; if M. Lunkhead had been the sort of collect porcelain figurines, I'd have said his collection just ended. It didn't sound like bottles. I know what they sound like. Meanwhile, the little dog, who apparently wasn't housebroken, was roaming around the courtyard, which doesn't belong to our building. The violin-makers who usually use it were on their annual vacation, like most of France. Oh, and there was a little kid, named Esteban. He got yelled at a lot. He also won me over when M. Lunkhead was delivering a tirade by going "blah blah blah blah" in the same cadences. One of the neighbors across the way came to her window and caught my eye as I was at my desk. She didn't have to say anything.

This all culminated on Tuesday. Deprived of the Internet and all other communication, I had started yet another book project, one my agent's not real hot on, but hey, it was something to do. It started coming fast, and I sat at the computer all day when I wasn't tired from dogs yapping or people fighting, which was happening more and more between 4 and 6am. Apparently Mme. Lunkhead's job ended around then and she'd come home, substances would be abused, and verbal violence would start. I'll say one thing for M. Lunkhead: it didn't sound like he ever hit her. On the other hand, his voice could break glass.

I was sitting writing madly at about 2 in the afternoon, when stuff started escalating downstairs. Two men and at least one woman were all shouting, and it culminated in M. Lunkhead saying louder than I'd ever heard him shout before, "IL EST FINI!! IL EST FINI!!!" Smash boom crash. I walked out on the balcony and saw a ragged guy I'd seen going in and out and assumed was a dealer going down the stairs clutching the little bicycle Estaban had put in the stairway. Then I heard a woman crying, first inside the apartment, then outside. She banged on the door, calling a name. She banged on it some more. Then M. Lunkhead answered, yelling something. He slammed the door, and she started wailing, then coughing convulsively, then screaming. I walked out on the balcony again and saw her mounting the stairs to my floor, then back down, coughing and yelling. Junk sick, I thought. One of my upstairs neighbors appeared in the window with a cell phone and said he'd called the police. Okay, I sat down to write some more. I heard the woman come up the stairs and knock on my door. No way I was getting involved in this.

Then it hit me. I've been having trouble for a year with my sense of smell and taste, which hasn't worked at all the majority of the time due to sinus polyps. Recently, though, it had been coming back in the afternoon and staying for longer periods. That's why I ignored what I was feeling at first. My nose stung. No big deal. Then my eyes stung and my face felt like it was burning. That woman hadn't been junk sick at all; she'd been teargassed by M. Lunkhead. And now it was blowing in my open window. Soon, the living room was uninhabitable, but I know that teargas is a heavy gas, and it would have accumulated in the stairwell beneath chez Lunkhead, so I was effectively trapped in the apartment for the next three hours. There was much shouting and banging and the front door, which the Lunkheads' friends knew how to open despite the magnetic lock controlled by a RF key, had finally broken to the point where anyone could just open it.

Finally, I couldn't take being inside any longer and made a dash for the door. As I'd figured, the stairwell was full of gas. Outside, the raggedy guy and a friend sat in the street, sharing a 9% beer. The guy had an electric fan and a few other items. The other guy had a medium-sized dog. I wandered around town, aimlessly, aware that in a week, my landlord would be back from his vacation and start eviction procedures against me, but not against the Lunkheads. I'm behind in my rent. They're not. (I should add, however, that this isn't nearly as serious as it seems quite yet and I have considerable recourse to tenants' rights. Also, should I pay him anything, which seems extremely likely, he has to withdraw his action).

By the time I came back, the two bums were gone and an aerosol container with medical writing on it lay in the street. Curious, I picked it up and it seemed to be a teargas remedy. There was still plenty of gas in the stairwell, and M. Lunkhead's door was open, revealing anarchist slogans and a black-and-red star spraypainted on his wall. Boy, I bet the landlord is gonna love that! The gas in my place, however, had dispersed some, and things downstairs were kind of quiet.

The next day, there was a handwritten note in my mailbox. My translation, aided by Google:

I sincerely excuse myself for the sudden racket these past evenings. I had opened my door to two friends, and they didn't know and weren't clearly heard up to lacking respect for me, my apartment, and you. The situation deteriorated to the point where I cut short my/your patience and my/your kindness simply to chuck them out. 

I understand the call to the police was from your being disturbed, happily the conflict was already over. I have lodged a complaint. I hope not to revive and make more racket.

The word most notably missing from this semi-literate mess is one I learned so I could use it when I talked to the landlord: le larmogène.  As far a I could figure, the police came while I was gone, hence the empty canister in the street and the missing bums. I later saw one of the people who'd been evicted standing in town talking to some respectable-looking types, his fan by his side. As for the dog, it's shown up again, coating the balcony with excrement. Mme. Lunkhead, aware that the landlord is returning, finally went out to clean it, kinda sorta, yesterday, after an argument during which I heard M. Lunkhead repeat "It's your dog, not mine." And most nights, there hasn't been the usual battle at 4am. Well, about half the subsequent nights. And somewhere here, there's a neighbor who's obsessed with some song which they play over and over and over again, over a course of hours. Not, however, downstairs.

I long ago dismissed Bruce Springsteen's line about "Some day we'll look back on this and it'll all seem funny." The only solution is to get a decent book deal, have some money in the bank (which is all that impresses French landlords) and get a decent apartment where I can finally unpack my stuff and write in relative peace and quiet. I'm working on it, my agent's working on it, and it can't happen too soon for me.

Meanwhile, I wonder where Esteban is. And with whom. What a mess.


  1. Frightening!

    But one day you WILL look back on it and find it funny or.....

    You'll base a fictional character on M. Lunkhead and then you'll get that character run over by a bus and left to die slowly on the pavement?

    Either way, you'll be laughing?

    All the best (and, as my mum would say, do try and stay out of fights!)


  2. Update: Last night there was much knocking, and finally the sound of splintering wood. Sure enough, this morning the door was all stove in. Eventually another door was hung from the old hinges, but it appears it was a Lunkhead friend doing the repairs. Dang. I'd hoped the police had hauled someone off to jail. No gas, though!

  3. Hang in there, but if you are still hungry and need sustinence we will be in that part of the world from the 21st to close down my appartment for the winter and would love to treat you to lunch, in payment for the amusement your blog has given me.
    By the way how did you manage to choose such a dreadful neighbourhood?

  4. Be happy to have lunch with you, anonymous!

    The neighborhood isn't dreaful: the neighbors are. This is a particularly bad building; I could live across the street or around the corner and it wouldn't be this bad, I'm sure. Although actually it's just one apartment in this building that's a problem.

  5. You are making me rethink my dream of one day being a writer in France. :)

  6. Goodness Ed, what a nightmare of neighbours. It's a wonder you manage to get any work done at all!

    I love the way things get cut off on Friday evenings. EDF do that too although they aren't allowed to. You also should have received a warning before the line got cut. The cavalier attitude of the service industry is a real disgrace here.


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