The Wife and I live in an apartment building in Hannover, Germany. Our building has 10 units, and the walls are paper thin. We can hear everything our neighbors do — from the units above, below and to the sides — and we have some interesting neighbors.
We’ve got the young married couple upstairs, who get into these crazy fights every 2 weeks, involving apathetic, “you have to stop doing this,” type comments from the husband, and a lot of manic screaming and throwing of breakable household goods from the wife (followed by equally loud and frightening bouts of makeup sex). Then there’s the nice Russian family across the hall, who are actually great neighbors and do a magnificent job of ignoring us when we’re out on our balcony. We even have a unit full of college students on the first floor, who party until all hours of the night and can’t seem to figure out which day of the week to put their garbage out on the sidewalk for pick-up. (Seriously, you idiots, the garbage truck comes Thursday morning, so when Wednesday evening rolls around, put the beer bottle down, step over the Swedish exchange student with alcohol poisoning and throw out that plastic bag full of empty cigarette packs and curiously stained gym socks.)
Now, I don’t particularly like living near college students or newlywed couples grappling with mental illness; they’re all nice enough, I suppose, but terribly inconsiderate as neighbors. They genuinely don’t care about anyone around them. However, I would take an entire apartment building full of these crazy, sweaty meatbags over the terrible, old, evil, antichrist neighbors living directly beneath us.
I call them Emphysema Dieter and the Crimson Hellcow. They’re these twisted shut-ins who’ve lived in our building for — I shit you not — 40 years. Dieter looks like a dried-out tobacco leaf. Hellcow looks like a chubby little troll with flaming red ‘I’ve-given-up’ old lady hair. They smoke all day long. Their putrid stench wafts directly up through the vent in our bathroom and up over our balcony. When they open their door, the entire staircase reeks of filth. It’s like they’ve lived here so long their apartment has become a kind of nicotine hive; its tobacco roots having grown so long and woven so deeply into the architecture they’ll have to tear the whole building down after the two cancer maggots inside finally pupate and fly away.
They both have remarkably bad smoker’s coughs. Emphysema Dieter, in particular. When he’s out on their porch hacking up a little bit of wonderful, I seriously gag and throw up a little in my mouth. He’s so old and decrepit he can barely walk. I almost feel bad for him, but then I hear him coughing up that morning lungbutter and I think to myself, “Yeah… when you die, I’m gonna go out, find your grave and then I’m just gonna piss all over it.”
Now, Emphysema Dieter and the Crimson Hellcow aren’t just disgusting, they’re also mean. When they babysit their granddaughter, we can hear them berating her for crying. I can’t understand all the German words, but my wife tells me they’re yelling things like, “Oh, you’re gonna cry now? Good! Go ahead, you big baby!” Which, of course, only makes the child cry harder. I think this is how Dieter and the Hellcow reproduce; not through normal, human copulation, but by subjecting young souls to a constant diet of ridicule.
They’re also mean to people outside the family. They lean out their window and glare at people in the street below. They yell at anyone who parks a car in front of the building — even if it’s absolutely necessary because the people are moving in — and even if it’s only for a few seconds. Now, when someone parks a car out front, it affects Dieter and the Hellcow not at all. Like, not even a little bit. I suspect they yell at people not out of respect for building rules or traffic protocol, but because they cannot stand the sight of happiness in others. Smiling makes them nauseous. Laughter burns their ears. When they see two lovers kiss in the shimmering light of a beautiful spring morning, they soothe themselves by microwaving a gerbil.
Since these two creatures rarely venture outside, I am forced to assume they sustain themselves by sucking the breath from stray cats and gnawing marrow from the bones of orphan children. However, I’ve seen the Crimson Hellcow in the staircase a few times, and she always uses the opportunity to say something vicious to me in German. Luckily, I can’t understand a word out of her mouth and she can’t speak English, so our dialogues go like this:
ME: *Walking down the stairs* “Oh great, it’s you.”
THE CRIMSON HELLCOW: “Hurry up, can’t you see I’m standing here?”
ME: “I don’t care. I don’t care. Whatever.”
THE CRIMSON HELLCOW: “What are you, deaf? You impudent little shit…”
ME: *With a smile and a wave* “Break a hip, you miserable hag!”
Come to think of it, I’m not even sure Emphysema Dieter and the Crimson Hellcow are married; they have different last names on their door and mailbox. Maybe they’re brother and sister. Maybe I’ve finally found Hansel and Gretel, only instead of pushing the evil witch into the oven in order to escape being eaten, they pushed her in because they thought it was funny. Then they ate the candy house, smoked all the candy canes and moved to Hannover in hopes of finding a sassy American expat to devour. Oh God, they can smell the freedom on my skin. They want to crack open my bones and suck out the marrow of liberty. I bet my loins taste just like bald eagle.
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