Apartment boot camp

You bastards get out of my house!”

“I’m going to kill you.”

I’d hear him through the floorboards of my St. Paul apartment.

We moved in Sept. 1. For me and my two roommates, it was our first time living in a big-city apartment away from home. We’d lived in dorms before, but this was different.

This was urban living. We’d be on our own, paying our own bills, making our own food and not doing our own dishes.

We got together for a coffee-shop pep talk, and christened the new place “Fort Awesome.”

And it was awesome until the end of October.

That’s when we first heard our basement neighbor trying to mutilate the radiator pipes in the middle of the night, presumably with a baseball bat.

The sound was inescapable. In my room (where the bed was right next to the radiator) the banging was so loud it felt like it was coming from inside my brain.

I don’t mind a little radiator baseball every now and then, but this was just disturbing. Not to mention scary.

I couldn’t sleep and sat there waiting for the next pipe attack, listening to the cold hardwood floor.

The guy who lived below us had been there for years. Apparently, he had never caused trouble before, but the landlord said he’d try to talk some sense into him.

I guess the sense didn’t get in though, because November was sprinkled with skull-shattering radiator banging and frequent curses coming up through the floor.

“Shut up! Shut up! Get out of my house!”

So we shut up. Oh boy, did we shut up. We spoke at the volume of weak sighs. We turned the television down to inaudible levels. We walked softly and deliberately.

And still: “Shut up! You bastards!”

It became clear the yelling wasn’t directed at us. The man, who lived by himself, was yelling, alone, at nobody.

Sad as that was, it didn’t make us feel better.

We called the police several times at hours of the morning that would make most college students cry.

A pair of officers would come, listen to our story and then go down to create some quiet. Or try.

He had installed padlocks on his door, and no amount of yelling or pounding on the part of the officers drew a response. They couldn’t break in to his apartment, they told us. The best thing we could do was to keep calling the police and our landlord.

So we did. Throughout the winter, we called and called.

And we started keeping a log. Like sailors preparing to overthrow an overzealous captain, we recorded each outburst, each call to the police and landlord in detail.

One night in February, the banging finally stopped, only to be replaced by an even scarier sound. Footsteps.

He was coming up the stairs. Heavy footsteps, right up to our door. Followed by the clicking and turning of the knob.

The door was, uncharacteristically, locked.

A few minutes later he was at our windows with a flashlight. The light bounced around our dining room like a pingpong ball, missing us (barely) as we cowered in the shadows of the hallway.

And that was it. The light retreated, we called the police, they hammered on his door and got no answer.

But we were through.

We made an entry in the log, filled laundry baskets with clothes, and moved in with our families or girlfriends.

We never stayed another night in that place.

We spent the next month arguing with the landlord. He threatened (and we threatened back) to take us to court if we broke our lease. We wanted our rent returned for those months we lived in near terror.

And if it ended up in court, well, we had the log, right?

Wrong. The log was wasted paper because after reading the fine print of the lease, we discovered that the landlord wasn’t responsible for anything, anytime, anywhere.

So, in April, we stopped paying rent. That meant in March we paid for an apartment in which we didn’t live. And we lost the security deposit.

It was a depressing introduction to apartment living. We ended up with the impression that being a renter means paying to live in a scary (and dangerous) situation, and having no power to change it.

But things got better. We found a new place in a better location. The landlord seemed nice, and when we told her about our previous place, she assured us it was just an anomaly. The new apartment was still on the first floor, but this time, there was nothing below us but the laundry room.

And there were no radiators.

We called it “Fort Safety.”

Bruno Bornsztein is a journalism student. Send comments to [email protected]