My LA. Neighbors



A few years ago, before we moved to the Midwest, my husband and I lived in a decrepit apartment building just off Hollywood Boulevard. We were mere blocks away from Grauman’s Chinese Theater and a music school.

Because of the location, our building was filled with mostly transgendered individuals and musicians. Aspiring women and aspiring rock stars. It was an always interesting and sometimes annoying combination.

The transgendered folks were often coming home from a late night as I left for the 5 a.m. to noon grocery store shift that paid my bills. The the elevator would reek of cheap perfume and cigarettes, with partially finished beers sitting on the stained carpet. I much preferred the pretty ladies with great legs and large feet to my musician neighbors.

Perplexing to those who know that I am a musician myself? Probably. Let me explain by quoting a passage from my Musician’s Handbook for you.

“Musician Manners 101:

First Rule: You DO NOT have band practice where you live, if you live in an apartment building or a house that is in close proximity to neighbors. Firstly: it is rude. Secondly: they will call the cops on you.”

Duh, right? This seems obvious to me.

The entire time I lived in Los Angeles, I played music in bands. There are many places that allow a band to rent a practice room by the hour, usually in the $15 to $30 range. (The cheapest places were in North Hollywood, but there was a costly place just down the street from me, in West Hollywood, that we’d use in a pinch.)

When you split the rental fee amongst band members, it is quite bearable. A small price to pay to rock freely and loudly as you’d like. Many of these places even have a drum set already waiting in each practice room, amplifiers available for the guitar players and a P.A. system complete with microphones for vocals. I thought it was a great deal and enjoyed the “not having to lug a bunch of musical gear around” factor. Just show up, play your music, pay and leave. Painless.

For some reason, maybe because they knew they were a majority, the musicians in our apartment building played loud, amplified guitars and sang constantly in their tiny apartments. The building was old, the walls were thin. It was like being at a rock show if someone a wall over, under or above decided to play. Pretty much any time of day, there was somebody being really loud somewhere nearby. It sucked.

The people below us often played wanky guitar licks with fuzzy, obnoxious distortion and would have sing-along parties late into the night. These parties usually ended with the couple who lived there having one of their late-night drunken, screaming, slamming doors, 20-something fights. With a 4 a.m. daily wake-up call for my aforementioned job, you can imagine that these parties thrilled me pieces.

Pieces of angry, exhausted, 30-something rage.

Once, when my husband went downstairs to ask them to turn the amplifier down, he was rebuffed with, “But dude, I just got a new amp.”

Oh… sorry. Well in that case, pleeeease turn it UP and play that Coldplay song you’ve been playing over and over again for the last hour at least sixty more times. Sorry we bothered you… dude.

This brings me to another problem I had with my fellow musicians/apartment dwellers: their musical taste. If you’re going to play other people’s music constantly, can I at least CHOOSE the songs? The guy below us had a nineties mayonnaise alterna-drivel boner that nearly beiged me to death, and the guy whose balcony was directly across from our balcony loved to butcher cheesy eighties songs.

I sang in an eighties cover band for awhile. It was a blast, I made good money, but I’ve heard those songs played the way they were supposed to be played- by excellent musicians. This guy did not even come close.

The cheesy eighties songs guy was what prompted me to write this, actually. I was reminded of him when Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” came on our car radio this morning. My husband and I both immediately said, “I wonder where that guy’s getting stoned and singing off-key now?”

We used to hear him smoking up through the screen of our balcony. The tap-tap-tap as he cleaned out his pipe on the edge of the ashtray. The scratchy click! of the lighter. Next, the smell would come wafting across the way. The Official Smell of the Unmotivated. The Smell of Rock Concerts Past. The Smell of You’re Not Going to Sleep Until I’m Done, Neighbors. We learned his routine, and knew that if we heard the pot smoking, off-key singing accompanying a poorly-played guitar would soon follow.

“Time After Time” was a favorite of this guy, but not his long-suffering neighbors. He didn’t even come close to hitting the right notes, and often we’d sing along loudly across the balcony air in his direction, trying to alert him to this fact. “If you’re lost you can look and you will find me! Time after time!” we’d scream together across the way. Sometimes we tried to harmonize with him.

My husband went over to tell him to knock it off many times, the last time being when the guy finally snapped at him: “Go ahead! Call the police! I don’t care,” probably because the police would be an improvement over the 6’5″ neighbor with “no verbal filter” as my husband will sometimes apologetically explain. (He’s a say-what-he-means, no bullshit sort of guy. I deeply love this about him.)

My husband replied, “Okay, I will… and I’ll be sure to mention that I smell pot every time you open your door as well.”

So he called the police. He also mentioned the interesting smell. After making us deal with his caterwauling for a year, the guy moved out within two weeks. We never saw him again.