Written By: Kathy  Deacon

A three-story multifamily dwelling is never what her clients are looking for here in Greenport. Nonetheless, Jane always shows it because she’s not only the agent but the owner of this property. I hear them clambering up the stairs and quickly tidy up and toss my papers into a drawer. She knocks. I smile, am introduced, and then step outside for a moment while they take a cursory look at the tiny room I’m renting as a workspace. “Kathy is a writer,” she tells them. Privately, she jokes, “You’re renting the room, of course, to get away from your husband.” I share a bathroom with Mikey. He leaves the bathroom door closed but unlocked–I’ve opened it once or twice by mistake–the threatening, malevolent look on his face makes him almost unrecognizable. Because he has to have the bathroom extremely warm, he has placed an electric heater next to the sink. When you enter it’s like walking into a sauna. Almost every day, I hear him groaning as he heaves himself up to the second floor landing and then stands in front of his door for the longest time jangling his keys. There’s a painful wait until he manages to get it open. The TV is on and he has an exhaust fan loudly humming. I’m not sure why. He slams the door. His moans can be heard through our common wall. Behind the other wall, a toddler runs back and forth the length of the apartment, screaming, laughing and coughing. In the evenings his father is home—also running, laughing and coughing; they have a good time. A dog scurries about in the corridor, racing up and down the steps, shaking and dragging its leash, and crashing into walls. I’d intended to write, but often when I get here I just read and then take a nap. Mikey’s limp is severe. He explains that he was struck by a hit-and-run driver and yet still rides his bicycle; it leans on the banister just outside his door. “They left me for dead, right in the middle of the highway.” His hip replacement causes him unending trouble. “Someday,” he says, “I won’t even make it up the steps.” I mention how months after root canal surgery my face burns from nerve damage. He shows me some of the missing spaces where his teeth were. I feel sad for him; he says he understands the suffering I’m going through. “I feel so sorry for you. God bless you. I pray for you.” A deep, recurrent hum like the sound of a motor, may be coming from the fan in Mikey’s room. When I finally summon the courage to mention it, he insists the fan has not been on. “But wake me anytime you hear it, even if it’s three in the morning.” Of course I would not dream of doing that, but . . . What you hear is not the fan but the refrigerator! I find the note scrawled on a paper plate slipped under the door. Now and then a sound like the whining of a power saw starts up; it can drone on and on for half an hour. When I put my ear to the floor inside the closet, the volume intensifies. It is coming from downstairs. I manage to catch up with the first-floor tenant on her day off. She says what I’m hearing is the new bathroom blower. Sure enough, her bathroom is directly under my closet. The blower goes on automatically whenever you turn the light on—there’s a single switch for both. Her son has to take long showers, and he, too, hates the noise of the blower. I call Jane. She says she had it installed to comply with Section 8 regulations. Tension with her has been rising ever since Mikey blew a fuse in the bathroom—and we couldn’t find the fuse box. (He is not supposed to have a heater in there.) However she agrees to take the first-floor tenant’s bathroom blower out. At night, low, unintelligible voices—sort of like a police radio—seem to be sounding inside of my head. Maybe I have tinnitus. Then again, maybe it’s microwave radiation from the 300-foot FM radio and television broadcast antenna—only three blocks away–that also serves as a cell tower and a communication tower for local and state police. Mikey says that when he worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency he heard about ways to block microwaves, and offers to construct a Faraday canopy in my room. He brings me a scrap of copper screen, which, he says, is the only thing that can block microwave radiation. “Try it with your cell phone.” I wrap the copper mesh around the cell, and have my husband call from our home phone. It rings the same as before. “God bless you,” he says, “I don’t want to lose you as a neighbor.” I don’t want to hurt his feelings–but something tells me this canopy won’t work. A new tenant has moved into the apartment on the other side of the wall, where formerly the toddler used to roam. His sound system is blaring 1970s hits and he’s grumbling on the phone about building supplies: “Send me a catalog—I don’t order from the Internet.” It turns out his name is Walt and he used to work at the animal disease research lab on Plum Island (and still worries about all the injections the employees there were required to receive). In the late ‘70s, he moved west and drove a truck. Some 30 years later, he’s back once again in Greenport. That man I see a block away coming toward me, or standing on the corner waiting for a bus—is suddenly morphing into Walt. Or someone behind a tripod taking photographs—turns out to be Walt trying to get a few good shots of the house to send to his brother in Iowa. He can hardly wait to get his ham radio set up. The only problem is Jane won’t let him run an aerial at the back of the house. Casual conversation meanders into a maze of conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11 and loses itself in a thicket of technical data—of which he seems to have more than a layman’s knowledge–about controlled demolition, the planes’ impacts, and so forth. In a low and steady voice he rails against Wall Street (brother, I agree). However, not just investment bankers–also anyone who can afford the overpriced real estate out here. It is 95 degrees and I am walking up First Street and encounter Walt as I often do. However, today he is carrying a machete, which he rhythmically sways while stopping to chat. “Doing some weeding?” I ask. “I cut down some but they were plastic. I could cut down this tree.” “But it’s a nice old tree.” He spots our downstairs neighbor, so I’m free to go. There is no sign of him on the following day. But the day after that, as I am about to take a nap, loud music starts up from his side of the wall. Once I’m out on the sidewalk, I glance up at his window. He appears to be frantically waving to get my attention. When I get home, I say to my husband, “He was swinging a machete. . . . I have to get out of there.” I quickly clear out my things. Jane loses no time lining up a prospective tenant and asks if it’s OK to have her call me so I “can reassure her it’s safe—you know, a good place for a woman to live.” “I don’t think it’s a good place for a woman to live.” “Can you at least tell her it’s OK sharing the bathroom with Mikey?—that’s what she’s concerned about.” Later, when I run into Mikey, he says Walt was hired to do some pruning and chopped down everything in the yard. (This, of course, is why I am now sitting in the library writing this, instead of my former room.) Having denuded the front yard of shrubbery, he has set up his radio antenna out front near the steps. When we see him riding around the village on his bicycle, my husband, who seems to have forgotten about the machete incident, always gives him a friendly wave—which all but starts a screaming match between us on the street. Walking home from the supermarket one afternoon, I nearly overtake a heavy white-haired man lumbering along, also hauling groceries. When he is just eight feet away, I suddenly realize it’s Walt. He turns his head—and a glimpse of his profile conveys the sense of a friendly middle-aged man at peace with himself, at home in the world. I stop dead until he is safely ahead and cross the street.