Me and the man upstairs

The doorbell rang, so my delivery of groceries was here. I put a mask over my face, and stepped out onto the porch, where the delivery woman was putting down a few sacks of my stuff. So far, so normal. What wasn't normal was the man on the sidewalk, twenty feet away from us. I'd never seen him before, and he was yelling. At us.

"Friend of yours?" I said to the delivery woman, someone else I'd never seen before. The screaming guy stopped screaming, and seemed to be listening to us.

"Nope," she said. "He started yelling at me as soon as I got out of my car, but I don't know why." The screaming guy continued screaming, and she said, "There's one more load," and walked toward her car to get the rest of my stuff.

Usually I'd just wait, pandemic and all, but this morning it seemed wiser to accompany her at a safe social distance. The stranger was approaching her and I ended up between them, more out of luck than intent.

"You having a bad day?" I asked him, cordially, and of course he started screaming in my face. I was wearing a mask; he wasn't, and he was furious about cars, parking, and tow-trucks.

She put my last four sacks of groceries on the grass between the curb and the sidewalk, while the screamer was re-screaming about cars and parking and tow-trucks. There was no tow-truck in sight, and the lady's car was properly parked at the curb.

I said "Thanks" to her, and she nodded but was understandably in a hurry. She climbed into her vehicle, started the engine, drove away, and the screaming guy took a swing at her car's rear fender as it passed. He missed, but his momentum made him stumble and fall.

Which was OK by me. I prefer having lunatics on the ground instead of on their feet. I picked up my groceries and walked toward the porch, but when I got there he'd hurried over and was blocking my way.

"You'll excuse me," I said, "but I'm going inside."

"What if I won't let you?"

I scoured my mind for a clever retort, but there was nothing to be found so I just looked at him. He was younger than me but not young, with unkempt hair, and eyes wider that you'd want to see in someone blocking your way. Was he really challenging me to a fight, like in second grade? Well, he was skinny and I'm fat, so he might land a few quick punches but eventually I could sit on him and crack his ribs. I'd rather just put away my groceries, though.

I showed him a slight smile, and with a few steps off the walkway and onto the lawn, then back to the walkway, I'd sidestepped him, and maybe we were both relieved. I went up the three stairs to the porch, unlocked the door, and he started screaming at me again. I put the bags I was carrying inside the building, and reached for the plastic bags on the porch. I took the two big ones, but there was a small bag I hadn't grabbed yet, and he snatched it.

I stood on the porch, holding two bags of groceries, and he stood at the foot of the three stairs. He was no longer screaming, but glared at me defiantly, holding my tiniest bag of stuff. "Those are my suppositories," I said. "They're for hemorrhoids. Do you have hemorrhoids?"

He screamed, "Fuck you!" and threw the bag into the bush. I could barely see the little plastic bag through the leaves and branches, with nothing in it but a small yellow box. $3.19, I think. It wasn't worth an injury over $3.19, and also not worth injuring someone, so I shrugged, unimpressed. He stomped off, shouting again about parked cars and tow-trucks.

As I watched him scream off into the distance, I was thinking, he's the looniest loon I've seen on this block since moving to Madison, but he's not much compared to the loons I saw in San Francisco when I lived there. He's a minor-league loon.

I carried my groceries in, put the frozen stuff in the freezer, and returned to the porch with my grabber, "as seen on TV." I reached over, snagged the bag on my first attempt, and I was about to return to my apartment when I heard a voice from on high.

"Have you met Mike before?" I looked skyward, and it was my upstairs neighbor, on the tiny balcony that overlooks the tiny porch. The floor of the porch is metal grating, so I could see my neighbor's face through the bars. I hadn't noticed him earlier, but it was no surprise; there's a plastic chair up there, and he's often in it unless it's freezing, and it was a balmy 45°. Despite years of talking with him on the balcony, though, I don't know his name. He told me once, but I forgot it instantly.

"You know that guy?" I asked.

"That's Mike. He lives in the other building, drinks too much, and likes to make trouble." Our apartment complex consists of twin buildings, so 'the other building' means that Mike the Screamer pays rent to the same landlord we do, but he doesn't have a key to our building, which is a relief. "I already called 9-1-1," he said, " and I'm going to report him to the landlord."

I stepped out onto the grass, so I could make better eye contact with my nameless neighbor above me. "That's probably the right thing to do," I said.

And it was, and I would've called 9-1-1 myself, but I was also relieved that I didn't have to. I hate calling the authorities, and never do it unless there's no other choice. Mike hadn't hurt anyone, hadn't even tried to hurt anyone, but it was obvious that he'd wanted to. He'd taken a swing at a car and missed, which was comical when it happened, but he was plainly dangerous to the young, small woman driving that car.

I thanked my neighbor, came inside, ate some eggs, and inserted a suppository. When two policemen came knocking, I answered their questions but said "Let's not" when they asked if they could come inside. With an open door between us, I described what had happened, and later I watched from the porch, with my neighbor on the balcony above me, as the cops nudged Mike into the back seat of their squad car. I do not like dealing with cops, but it had to be done.

"Too much beer," said the man upstairs, "and too early in the morning, causes nothing but trouble."



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