The second time I moved out of home I rented a small unit in the inner-south suburb of Black Forest. I only stayed there a year. That was enough.
A person from work still lives in the suburb and describes it as ‘a place where many people with a social conscience live’. I have no idea what that means but it’s a pleasant enough area, for sure. It’s leafy and expensive and has cute coffee shops, like any proper inner-city ‘community’ these days. I simply had the misfortune of living next door to the only person in the whole neighbourhood without a conscience, social or otherwise.
He was a gay chap who loved Kylie Minogue and Whitney Houston. He sang their songs in the shower and he actually had a good voice.
I don’t know what he did for work but whatever it was, he didn’t need to be there at the usual time. He would stay up late at night and make a racket and this became the problem between us.
At first, I didn’t hear much from him except for the occasional exuberant shriek during the night. But then he lost the plot completely, blasting the very best of Kylie on his thumping stereo to all ungodly hours during the week. He’d go out into his courtyard and start screeching along to the songs at the top of that lovely voice of his. Obviously, he was completely drunk. He may have been on drugs too, I’m not sure.
He was worse when his mates came over. They’d get drunk, crank up the disco hits and start having singing duels, like they were on The Voice. They would fight over whose turn it was to sing the chorus. They were actually mildly entertaining when they did this, even at three a.m. on a Wednesday.
But when the female friend came over it often got nasty. She couldn’t handle her liquor, as they say. After a certain point the devil in her came out, and it had the most outrageously filthy mouth on it. Her vocabulary was not vast, to be sure, but the swear words she did know she used frequently and really put everything into them. I’ve never heard ‘You’re a fucken c@#!’ said with such conviction and spirit before.
It wasn’t just the profanities she let fly, sometimes it was the crockery too. One night she pelted my neighbour with what sounded like ceramic plates. It was a real blitz, things getting smashed on the floor for a good half hour.
And they were meant to be best friends, go figure. I guess they were also unhappy drunks who brought out the worst in each other. Anyway, I was paying $330 per week to live next door to this mayhem. It didn’t seem like the best deal.
I complained to the property manager and eventually the landlord spoke to the guy. He calmed down for a while. But then he started up again, of course.
I decided to write him a letter. Because, you know, that's always a good idea.
My name is Peter and I’m your neighbour from unit 5. We haven’t met or even spoken to each other and yet I feel like I know so much about you and everything that is happening in your life. This may be because you continue to get shit-faced drunk nearly every second night before proceeding to carry on like a pork chop for the whole neighbourhood to hear. Not only do you blast music late into the night but you and your drunk mates swear and scream at each other like youse was from the country or somethin’.
You have been told by your landlord to keep the noise down after 10 p.m. on weeknights. I suggest you finally start to respect this very simple rule. If not then I will have no alternative but to take matters into my own hands and first cut off your electricity before calling the cops.
I actually met the guy for the first time shortly after putting this letter under his door. His name was Drew and we had a decent chat. He admitted to overstepping the mark with the noise on a number of occasions and apologised. He’d been going through a rough patch and was drinking too much. But he would keep it down from now on, he promised. He said the bit in my letter about cutting off his electricity was funny.
He seemed like an OK guy, really. A bit lost maybe, whatever that means.
Of course, within two weeks it was all back on again: the music, the dancing, the singing, the whole Studio 54 in Black Forest thing.
I finally cracked it. I stomped outside and went to my neighbour’s window. He was in his kitchen, on top of the dining table, dancing away to Whitney in nothing but his underwear. His male friend was in the living room dancing along on top of the couch. He was just in his jocks too.
I went round to the front of the unit and, like some sort of demented beast, banged on the screen door with two clenched fists and great fury.
IT’S TWO O’CLOCK IN THE FUCKING MORNING ON A FUCKING WEDNESDAY, SHUT THE FUCK UP, YOU DICKHEAD! I screamed.
I heard him fall off the table. Then the music stopped.
There was another guy in the suburb. He wasn’t a pain but he was strange and I didn’t know what to make of him.
He lived in a house between some train tracks and a creek. Like literally.
On one side, right up against his house, there were four lines of train track, crossed by a busy suburban street. The train station was fifty metres down the line. On the other side of the house there was Brownhill Creek, which was less of a creek and more of a concrete stormwater canal, with the usual shit dumped in it.
The guy looked old for a middle-aged guy. His brown, leather-like skin was pockmarked on his forehead and cheeks from cancers having been cut out. The rest of his face was hidden behind a thick biker beard. He also had a big gut and often wore a hi-vis shirt that was much too small.
The thing about this guy was that I’d see him every day. Not every couple of days but every single day, both morning and afternoon. He’d always be at the same spot, standing at the boom gates of the train crossing.
He may have been a train enthusiast, one of those trainspotters, but I don’t really think he stood out there because of the trains. Instead, he stood at the crossing for the people and the occasional, quite random interactions he had with passing cyclists, walkers and even motorists. Some people waved at him. Some stopped and had a quick chat. Most people, like me, passed by every day without any acknowledgement or interaction unless the train schedule dictated otherwise.
One morning I came to the crossing when the long interstate freight train was passing through. It was going at a real crawl, no more than walking pace. And the guy was out on the street, going from one waiting car to the next, telling each frustrated driver what was happening and why the train was going so slowly and how long they’d have to wait there for.
This was at six a.m. in the morning. On a Tuesday.
I’d be kept awake for most of the night by the disco inferno emanating from my neighbour’s unit, and then I would still get up before dawn and start walking to work, only to come along as a random guy in a hi-vis shirt was in the middle of the road directing traffic like it was his job.
If this was the great social consciousness in the suburb my friend had spoken about then it was pretty bizarre.
The all singing and dancing neighbour never really calmed down, despite my worst intentions for him. I had to bang on his door and shout at him one other time. That scared him enough to grant me another couple of weeks of peace. But then his female friend came over and threw some more plates at him. She was so feral that night that I actually felt a bit sorry for him.
The next week he broke up with his boyfriend in yet another over-the-top, hysterical scene in the middle of the night.
The following evening I was putting the bins out on the street when I saw him. The lights were on in his bedroom and the blinds fully open, and he was lying on the end of his bed in a very unusual position, like he’d passed out. He was dressed in just his underwear again. The whole street could see him like that.
I went back inside and paced around my kitchen, unsure as to whether to call for an ambulance or not. He could’ve overdosed. Then again he could’ve been sleeping.
I went out and was going to check his window again when I saw an older woman at his door. She was knocking on the door and calling his name, a tender panic in her voice. I hung back and waited and watched.
He eventually woke up and answered the door. He hadn’t overdosed or anything like that but he didn’t look the freshest, let's put it that way. I think his mum stayed with him for the rest of the night.
I moved out of the unit as soon as my lease expired. I didn’t move far, just to the neighbouring suburb, and rented a place there without incident.
Some years later I moved to the hills and started taking the train into the city. It actually took me a while to remember the guy. But then I looked for him and he was there, standing in his usual position at the boom gates of the crossing, watching my hills train go by. Watching and waiting for someone to come along or for something to happen…