Shortly after moving into our apartment on Damen Ave in Chicago, we gave our place the very creative nickname, The Dame. It was large—so large that people thought we made a lot of money. “How much do you guys pay for this place?!” It had exposed brick—so exposed that it was freezing in the winter and stifling in the summer. Interstates 90 and 94 ran through our back yard, and the Metra (train to the suburbs) ran through my bathroom. Bits of brick fell off the walls and the ceiling fans chose their own hours of operation and our lights could be counted on to rarely work, but we loved the place.
Our first party was huge and loud, and the next day our neighbor, Ron, came over, pounded on the door, and walked right in. Ron is a fifty-year-old man who looks like he started a motorcycle gang. He looks like a guy who mentored rockstars and gave pep talks to football teams about how to be intense at all times. He looks like Dustin Hoffman in Hook without the wig. There were fifteen of us sitting on the floor, playing Mario Tennis on GameCube, like kids. He stormed in, all sideburns and mustache, and yelled at us like kids.
“There’s cups in the hall, you guys are blasting music till 3 a.m., it’s called being fkin’ neighborly!” He let us have it. We apologized throughout his speech, and he finished, and we said, “What would you like us to do?” “An apology would be nice!” Fifteen guys in unison: “Sorry.”
The first time we saw Ron after that, he was very nice, like he wanted us to know that everything was fine. In my experience, when someone yells at you like that, you’ve got some relationship work to do. There’s some unpacking that needs to be done, and some serious introspection, but Ron said it, was done with it, and we were cool.
Over the next two years, we kept things cool by saying hello and asking if he needed anything brought in from the car. And if we could please sweep his floors and clean his windows and shine his silverware.
A year and a half later, we were on the roof with Ron, and he was lighting off fireworks with friends. To say that the people lighting fireworks were sober would be the farthest thing from truth. These were not cute fireworks, either. These fireworks were so loud, they gave you chills and hurt your ears and forced exclamations from your mouth. “I was in line, and wondering—” Tssssssssssssssssssss “—I was wondering what it would take—” BANG! “—OHH!!!” He lit them about ten feet away from us, and we watched the flimsy cardboard mortar tubes fall over after each launch, inspiring confidence. Our conversation shifted. “Surely these will never fall over during launch.” It was said more like a question than a statement. “Surely you cannot be killed by fireworks.” We said more things that we knew to be false. It was the most stressful conversation I’ve ever had.
“I love my boomies,” he said.
This man had stories about everything. He tells them, and he shrugs through the entire story, with random pauses, almost leaving space for him to say, “You can believe this or not, I don’t care.” He wrote the entire first album for an artist that you know, but didn’t get the credit. He was an Olympic runner. His friends are professional athletes and music junkies and he once got in a fight with someone. My friends went to a bar for about nine minutes and then left because it was crazy in there. That’s the bar where Ron hangs out.
Two years later, the house-cooling party is winding down. It’s nearing 3 a.m., and the last ten people are hanging around. In comes Ron, and he’s talking to our friends about that first party, when he had to give us a talkin’ to. My friend Mike says, “But these guys are good guys.” Ron says, “Oh these guys are great guys. Every time we need something brought up from a car, they offer.” Ron tells more stories, the guys eventually leave. Ron and I walk to the door, and we start the goodbye.
“Hey, I mean it, you guys are great.”
We shake hands.
“Thanks, Ron, I appreciate that.”
“You guys have been the,” he pauses and gestures with his hands, “The best neighbors we could have asked for.”
We shake hands.
“Thanks Ron, you guys have been great, too.”
“Hey, I’m gonna miss you, man.” It was as if he realized this while he said it.
We shake hands.
“We’ll miss you too.”
“Take care of yourself.”
“You do the same.”
I closed the door and smiled—at the same time wishing my friends were there to witness this relationship’s 180 degree turn, and being thankful for solitude. I looked around at the windows my dad screwed into the wall for decoration, the couches I bought in Grand Rapids, and the carpet that James threatened to steam clean every other weekend. Leaving isn’t easy, and thank God for that.