Friday, May 27, 2016

It Only Looks Ordinary

Earlier this week, I was reading about the opposition of Mars and the rising of the blue moon and decided to go out and take a look at it. I think I've mentioned before that stargazing isn't so great around here due to the increase in city lights in recent years. It was never outstanding, but the number of stars you can pick out on a clear night gets smaller all the time, as parking lots and new construction crowd in around us. Still, it's hard under any circumstances barring thick clouds ever to miss the moon, and I'm usually able to find a planet or two, light pollution or no.

Officially, the full moon had occurred the night before, but the opposition of Mars was supposed to be that night, so it seemed a great time to catch both moon and planet. Up the street I went, binoculars in hand. I had no trouble finding Mars, even without the binoculars, due to its brilliance and rusty color. The information I saw online had mentioned looking toward the southeast sky; my view in that direction being blocked by trees, I was wondering just how long it would take before the moon cleared them. I alternated between gazing at Mars and looking expectantly toward the trees, so I was caught off guard when I noticed the leading edge of the moon peeking above the horizon near the stadium, farther north than I was anticipating.

I had to catch my breath. The moon was quite large on the horizon, and the color was distinctively orange, more of a harvest moon in my mind than a spring moon. It was a dramatic rising. I noticed someone in a car parked at the side of the road, presumably as dazzled as I was; someone going by on a bicycle also stopped to look. I started thinking about other memorable full moons I've known, such as the one that rose over the sea outside my hotel in Naples, Florida, many years ago, waking me in the night and causing me to wonder who was out on the beach with a spotlight. There was also the time I was driving to my brother's house from Yellowstone and noticed a glow in the sky behind the hills. I first thought there was a fire, only realizing it was the moon when it finally crested the ridge, appearing almost to sit on the hills. And there was the moon that rose over the Santa Monica Mountains in the bright blue sky of early evening as I drove to the airport at the end of my Pacifica days, seeming to mark the end of something, or maybe the beginning.

All of this went through my head as I watched Sunday's moon climb slowly above the trees and the power lines, clearing some clouds that partially obscured it. Rather than Flower Moon, I would have called it the Gold Moon; there was nothing delicate or ethereal about it. It was Technicolor orange, and all of its features were sharply delineated. After observing for a little while in the same spot, I started walking home, stopping every so often to look behind me. It seemed wrong to turn your back on something like that, even if it was getting late.

On my street, I stopped again for another view. The moon had barely cleared a rather ordinary and nondescript flat-roofed building, which happened to have a window facing me. There was a light on in the room, giving it that slightly hyperreal air that offices and schoolrooms have when you go into them after hours. The empty room had a contemplative look, which became even more striking when I shifted position and noticed the standard-issue office clock on the back wall. The round clock face made a counterpoint to the moon, and the fluorescent light framed in the rectangle of the window seemed to answer in some way to the luminous orb in the sky beyond. It was such a perfect composition that I would have painted it on the spot if I could. The juxtaposition of mundane and magical, of earthly and celestial, was one of the most moving things I've ever seen. The feeling was a bit like that of Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, without the people. It seemed to sum up all the loneliness of existence, but it was also quietly exhilarating and obscurely comforting. I would have called it Time and Eternity, but I see that someone's used that for a video game. Maybe Eternity and the Clock instead.

So that's it, that's my full moon story. I was expecting to see a beautiful moon, but the framing that occurred when I changed position caught me by surprise (how true it is that shifting your perspective can yield unexpected vistas). It's remarkable that I had such a cosmic experience on my very own block, just down the street from where I live--but after all, maybe it isn't. Aren't we always in the midst of burning stars, whirling galaxies, wandering planets, and unseen dimensions? It only looks ordinary.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Where Have You Gone, Tom Bombadil?

I started re-reading The Lord of the Rings the other night--I don't know how many times now I've read the trilogy, but my copy of The Fellowship of the Ring is literally falling to pieces. The back cover and last few pages have come apart from the rest, and I trail tiny bits of paper crumbs every time I move the book. At this point, I should probably stop using my own boxed set as a reading copy and check the books out of the library, though it would also seem strange to read the story under a different cover and typeface. My own copies are almost as familiar to me as the back of my hand.

Why am I reading Tolkien? I've checked a few new books out of the library recently, but more often than not, I've been disappointed. I don't know what's gotten into some of our leading authors of late; they seem to be trying to reach for a meaning that escapes me, so I find myself going back to the classics or re-reading books I've already read. This isn't a real hardship, since I have a lot of books, but I'm sorry that some of the recent fiction hasn't seemed more compelling. Ideally, you keep growing with new authors and fresh stories in addition to revisiting old favorites, but some of the new work seems a little stale to me.

The Lord of the Rings is like comfort food. It's like sitting down with a big plate of macaroni and cheese or a bowl of popcorn: once you start, it's hard to stop. I was struck the last time I picked it up by how much happens in the first book that was left out of the Peter Jackson films. I think many fans were disappointed not to find Tom Bombadil and Goldberry in the films, for example, and while I would have liked to see them included, I understand the reason for leaving them out. So much happens in The Fellowship of the Ring that it probably would have taken a couple of extra hours (at least) to cover what takes place in between the hobbits leaving Hobbiton and the events on Weathertop. Mr. Jackson would probably have needed to make four films instead of three.

There's a part of me that would like to see Mr. Jackson go back into this material and do a prequel, even though I'm not quite sure how that would work. When I re-read the books last year, I remembered why the first one used to be my favorite: it's nonstop action, with so many incidents crowded into the story that it's like a thrill ride. There are the elves encountered in the woods of the Shire, Farmer Maggot, the evening at Crickhollow, Old Man Willow, Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, the Old Downs, and the Barrow Wights--and that's before the hobbits even get to Bree. The escape from the pursuing Black Riders is handled very effectively in the film, but that sequence takes the place of an entire stretch of other characters and incidents that you never get to see. Making a film requires different decisions of timing and sequencing than does writing a book, no doubt about it. Still, it would have been fun to see some of these other incidents come to life on screen.

Tolkien is best encountered, in my opinion, when you're curled up with a blanket and some hot tea. Even though it's May, we've had a cool spell that has actually made for just the right weather for LOTR. A chilly and rainy day outdoors creates prime conditions for letting your imagination roam in Middle Earth. If you're looking for a tea pairing recommendation, I suggest chai--and a little bit of chocolate or a couple of cookies to nibble on never goes amiss either.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Moonlight Hour

It's not unusual at any time for city streets to be crowded, noisy, and full of people in too much of a hurry for civility, but in the Iron Age this is especially true. A person could resort to such judicious responses as blogging, making rude faces, and other instances of patriotic civil disobedience--but getting away from it all is also, occasionally, the best option. An instance of the latter occurred once upon a late winter day when Emma, the protagonist of this tale, had had enough of being harassed, bumped into, and shouted at for the time being, and ducked in from the sidewalk to the Moon and Stars Cafe just in time to avoid being run over by a mother with a stroller and a cell phone.

Respite, of course, is a relative term, especially when you're talking coffeehouses. You are probably imagining Emma ordering a latte and collapsing into the nearest open chair to catch her breath as an antidote to the zeitgeist, but that won't do. No. In fact, she did walk up to the counter, and she did order a mocha. And given no other choice, she might have taken the nearest seat, which is what she did most of the time, despite the fact that the cafe itself was a breeding ground for wanna-be-world rulers and the poorer class of law students. (In a totalitarian age, the government left nothing to chance, not even espresso.)

Today, however, she glanced at the back corner, in which, always without warning but often enough to make it worthwhile, the outline of a slim doorway, invisible to the casual observer, would on rare occasions appear. Emma was aware that she was in full view of the cafe's patrons as she walked up to the door and said the secret word (it was "chocolate," but she never said this aloud), but she also knew that no one else, for reasons that remained a bit cloudy, ever followed her. As soon as she passed through, the door closed behind her, and the noise of the cafe was instantly shut out. She was now in a dark tower with a faintly luminous staircase that rose before her, first in a smooth spiral, and later in exuberant zig-zags as it neared the top. This she began to climb, with a tight grip on her mocha.

The tower had windows that opened onto a velvety black sky pierced with stars. There was also moonlight, so that finding her feet was not a problem. Despite the steepness of the climb, and the distance, she was never out of breath when she reached the top. At the very end, the stairs broke free of the tower entirely, with a doorway on the left leading to a small platform and another short hop of steps, broad but crystal-clear, so that one saw through them entirely. At the top of these steps, like a cardboard cutout at a fun fair, hung the moon. There was actually a bit of a jump at the end, but one always landed smoothly, gliding onto a window seat perched on the very edge of la luna, behind which was a small room with a table and two chairs (in case of inclement space weather, though it had never yet been necessary to use it).

Michael was already there, as usual. He occasionally brought his own cup of coffee, but more often it was a beer. They had sat that way, feet dangling into space (and an occasional passing cloud) numerous times over the years. There had never been a time when she had arrived and not found him there. They never talked much about their respective ways of getting there or how it was even possible. It very obviously was possible, so that was that. (When she had told him that her access was via a hidden staircase from a coffeehouse, he had grimaced a little and said his route involved "Kind of a wormhole." He hadn't seemed to want to say more.) In fact, their conversation was usually interspersed with large gaps of silence, for who, faced with such a prospect before them, would want to waste time in talk. And what, in fact, was there to say?

Below them is the earth, resplendent in blue and green. It has the appearance of a cartoon earth, or earth as seen in a child's picture book, with landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall, and the Golden Gate Bridge clearly visible, as are the occasional toy airplane or ocean liner passing into view. Despite dominating the foreground, the globe as a whole is somehow comically foreshortened, so that everything appears much closer together than it actually is, entire countries taking up no more room than a large park. Aside from that, stars twinkle all around them, and they are occasionally treated to the sight of a passing comet or a planet hoving into view.

It was not as if a visit to the moon made one forget anything. With the earth so insistently present, it would have been impossible to forget anything no matter how hard one tried. But the distance gave one perspective, the quiet was a relief, and it was a heady experience to find oneself sitting companionably on the edge of the moon with such an entertaining panorama on offer. Even the mocha tasted better there, Emma's opinion being that the altitude cleared her sinuses. And it was not quite true to say that space was completely silent. At times, there was a low-pitched humming and sometimes a faint sound of a high, distant voice, which reminded Emma of Dawn Upshaw singing Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.

Aside from the rareness of the occasion, the brevity of each visit also ensured that every moment counted. Half an hour? Forty-five minutes at most? Each visit was a jewel of such clarity and beauty that its memory was sustaining for months at a time. Breaking free of gravity for short periods was enough to help you get through tax season, the end of Daylight Saving Time, pap smears, and Vitamin D deficiencies in winter. You carried the view from that window seat around with you like a locket with an unfathomable secret folded deep inside.

Tonight, Michael looked at her, and she could tell by his brief but searching glance that he knew she had had a tiring day. But why ruin a nice evening by talking about it? She kicked her legs back and forth and watched a developing supernova overhead; Michael sipped his beer and followed a wandering planet with his eyes. In the background, that angelic voice was singing, "Ah, ah, ah . . ." It was celestial relaxation at its best. It was also over with all too soon.

The upper end of Michael's wormhole suddenly yawned, like a cave opening, to their right. Michael and Emma both got up, standing at ease on a wispy but otherwise quite substantial cloud. "It's been real," Emma said. Michael smiled. "Till next time," he said, with a tip of his hand. And then he was walking away, disappearing into the mouth of his tunnel, which instantly dissolved. And here goes Emma, jumping lightly from the cloud and landing on the crystal stair, descending slowly, and climbing into the tower once again for the long walk down.

It's a thing she has often noticed, the different quality of the return trip. The closer one gets to the bottom the more one notices chips at the edge of the stairs and cracks in the walls of the tower that never seemed to be there on the way up. At the bottom of the tower, the stairs are worn; one notices a coffee stain and a bit of dust on a windowsill. Then the outline of a door appears, and you are somehow through it and back in the noisy environs of a crowded coffeehouse. No time seems to have passed while you were gone. Despite a sense of residual sadness, though, there is something else. The sunlight seems brighter than it was, and the aromas of freshly brewed coffee and baked croissants, which now come through with a sharp intensity since your sinuses are clear, are heavenly.

Emma takes her cup to the counter for a refill, sits down, and finds a newspaper someone has left behind. She unfolds the front page and scans the news of the day. "So the world is still here," she murmurs to herself. "And honestly, how glad I am. Even if it is the Iron Age."

This is the latest version of a story I've been writing for a number of years. Originally, it involved two children; then, a single child. This is the first time the story has featured two adults.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Road to Damascus

What a difference a single detail can make in how you perceive things. The other evening, I was coming into my building when I happened to notice that a house across the street had its porch light on. I don't know whether the owners had changed to a different, brighter bulb or whether they usually have the light turned off at that hour, but the change noticeably altered the appearance of the house. Suddenly, it flashed into my mind that the whole setting--the still bright sky above, the house and trees silhouetted against the light, and the darkening street--looked remarkably like René Magritte's painting, The Dominion of Light, which I have written about before.

In the many years I've lived here, that thought had never occurred to me previously, and I don't know that it would have except for that porch light being left on. The view across the street is a pleasant one, but there is nothing in it that has ever made me think of Magritte. If it's a cosmic joke, it's a good one, because one of the dominant characteristics of Magritte's work is its surrealism, the way it takes the ordinary and gives it a fantastic twist, blurring the boundaries between ordinary consciousness and a dream state. I take Magritte's surrealism as an invitation to look at things more imaginatively, to realize that the seemingly solid appearance of things often masks another reality.

When you have experience in looking at things from the perspective of myth, the idea of seeing beneath the surface becomes second nature, but even I was startled by the sudden change in perspective. I have always found the views of the rooftops and trees in my neighborhood to be charming and reverie-inducing, particularly at sunset, when they show to best advantage against the changing light. There is something pleasing about the solidity of the houses and the varied angles of the roofs set amid so many tall and shapely trees. The scene is comfortable and established but somehow leaves the door open to the imagination, possibly because your eye is drawn up toward the liminal space between earth and sky, away from the traffic and the street so noisily present below. You can imagine Mary Poppins sailing in over those rooftops with her umbrella or perhaps sailing over them yourself one night in a moonlit magic carpet ride.

More than anything else, this episode makes me realize how important the detail of the light is, not only in the scene across the street but also in the painting. It's the central image in the The Dominion of Light, literally and metaphorically, standing in for, as I interpret it, the spark of consciousness that's alive and observing in each of us, the point of connection between spirit and matter, the awareness that's awake even when dreaming and that sheds light in the face of ambiguity. It's not a blinding light that forecloses any possibility of nuance or complexity but rather a soft, steady light that neither overwhelms the dark or retreats from it.

The other thing that impresses me about this incident is how quickly one's view of something can shift with the addition of a single element, like a piece of a puzzle falling into place. That light coming on so suddenly seems to say, be ready, because even something as familiar as the intimate scenes you look on every day holds something in reserve. There's always something unknown even within the known, always more to know than we realize at the present. If you think you know as much as you'll ever want to about a given subject, person, place, or thing, get ready: an increase in consciousness can be life-altering. In the face of uncertainty, plant your feet, turn your light on, and wait.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Hemingway and the Bulls

It's been a while since I've read anything by Ernest Hemingway, though I have three of his novels on my bookshelf. When I read him in the past, I sometimes had an almost visceral sense of being pummeled, which may have derived in part from his prose style and in part from his themes. This week, however, I finally read The Sun Also Rises, and it all came about because I was reading a novel about his first marriage and his years in Paris. That novel, The Paris Wife, written from the point of view of Mr. Hemingway's first wife, Hadley, tells the story of the complicated personal relationships of the Hemingways and their friends and purportedly hews close to actual events.

The Sun Also Rises is, apparently, a barely disguised version of actual events described in The Paris Wife. As I finished the latter book, Mr. Hemingway's novel was literally sitting across the room from me, directly in my line of vision. It seemed like a good time to find out what he had made of events I'd just read about from someone else's perspective, but I was hesitant. Was I in the mood for literary punches and jabs? No, I wasn't, not really, but my curiosity had been piqued, so I decided to give Mr. Hemingway another try.

As happens to me with fair frequency, I found that I had a different reaction to the author than I'd had in the past. I can't speak to the rights or wrongs of the actual events, but only to the novel, which tells of painful circumstances and tragic characters with a surprising amount of humor. I enjoyed the careful descriptions of landscape, the sharp dialogue, and the vivid sense of place and time. In the time it took to read the novel, I was transported. I can fully appreciate how painful it might have been to be a participant in these events, but the work itself is graceful.

Mr. Hemingway's descriptions of the running of the bulls, the fiesta, and the bull-fighting in Pamplona made me realize something else. I've written before about an alternate outcome for the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, one in which the Minotaur is released from the labyrinth instead of being killed there. My thinking was that if the Minotaur is a disguised version of a sun god, his killing might be the key to the tragic events that follow his death. In the running of the bulls, one sees what this release of the Minotaur looks like in actuality. Though events are still, to some degree, choreographed (as they are in the bull-ring), the strength of the bull is at least celebrated and appreciated by the onlookers. The bull-fighters are judged, in part, against the size and ferocity of the bulls.

Mr. Hemingway made the bull-fights a central image in The Sun Also Rises, and to me, it seems he was very aware of the mythic import of the spectacle, which is also a ritual. Having seen so much death in the war, he must have been acutely alive to the ritualistic conquering of death in the bull-ring, where the bull-fighter "takes on" some of the animal's strength and vitality in the act of defeating it.

It seems to me that though the danger to the bull-fighter is real, the odds are still stacked against the animals. (In the bull-fights, at least as described in the novel, the animal invariably dies.) I don't think this was lost on Mr. Hemingway. Each triumph by a skillful bull-fighter is a temporary triumph, even when repeated many times. But to a character like Jake, shattered by a near-miss with death, the ritual of renewal, even if only temporary and somewhat conditioned, must have been very powerful.

Jake and the others of his generation who survived the war are mirror images of the bull-fighter, though less fortunate. They returned from the labyrinth alive but forever changed, aware of the futility of what they had been through and searching for a way to live with that awareness. As Jake tells it, his central project in life has become an accommodation to facts that cannot be changed. "I did not care what it was all about," he says at one point. "All I wanted to know was how to live in it. Maybe if you found out how to live in it you learned from that what it was all about."

It may be off the topic, but the metaphor of bull-fighting in The Sun Also Rises has given me an idea. What if, in the future, we settled all conflicts between nations in the bull-ring? Just send down the person or persons responsible for making the call to the ring and let them match wits with the bulls. It would have to be an even fight, though, so no sending in proxies or hiding behind the fences. If they came out of it still thinking that war is a good idea, then let them fight each other, if so inclined. It may sound crude and simplistic, but wouldn't it save everybody else a lot of trouble? If the bull wins, the whole thing is called off, and we have a two-week fiesta instead.

If I finished The Paris Wife feeling a great deal of sympathy for the first Mrs. Hemingway, I finished The Sun Also Rises with a new empathy for Mr. Hemingway. Glamorous and hip they may have been, but they had a lot stacked against them. Even with all the artistic fervor taking place in the Paris of their day, I don't think I would have wanted to be there, because too much of it seems to have resulted from pain and early loss that they could not surmount. Even though the war was over, they still seemed to be fighting it.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Medieval for a Cause

Last year I wrote about Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales in April; this year, in keeping with that same spirit of spring, I read a prose retelling of the work. My online hours may have been spent keeping up with current events, and my walks may have entailed enjoying the flowers while tuning out modern noise, but my mind was in the Middle Ages. I wasn't sorry to absent myself, at least sporadically, from some of this week's sound and fury. Going medieval isn't always bad.

I think you need to read at least some of the tales as Chaucer wrote them to get the flavor of the language, even if it slows down your comprehension. One of the most memorable experiences I had in an English class was hearing Middle English verse read out loud while we mastered pronunciation in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and other works. For the first time, I could hear the underlying rhythms of the English language--hear it clearly as music--with the sense of the words taking second place to the sound. However, if I were teaching The Canterbury Tales, I would also have the students read a modern retelling so that they could enjoy the stories as stories.

To fully appreciate them, it's true: you have to read the entire work, or the bulk of it, and that would probably only take place in a course devoted to Middle English poetry. It's an ambitious project to read them all but worth it. It's not just the stories in themselves, but what they say about the people who tell them, and their listeners, that makes the Tales so much fun. You have, among others, the opening story told by a long-winded knight, a series of unflattering and/or bawdy tales told with the purpose of annoying someone else, the unforgettable forthrightness of the Wife of Bath, the stark morality of the Pardoner's tale of the three wastrels, and the folksy humor of the Nun's Priest's tale of the sprightly Chanticleer who outfoxes the fox.

I haven't been able to stop thinking about "Chaucer's Retractions," which comes at the very end. This is Chaucer, still in character as one of the pilgrims, turning aside, just as the company is approaching its goal, to offer a private speech in defense and/or apology for all his works, including the Tales he has just concluded. In spirit, it's a little like the series finale of some long-running TV show in which of one of the characters wakes up, and you find it was all a dream. After so much irreverence, crudity, and satire, Chaucer in effect takes it all back, just in case there was something in there that might have offended God or man. Of course, his failing to do this until the last dirty joke has been told leads you to question his sincerity, but the seriousness of his prayer also seems to hedge his bets. After all, death could come suddenly, and there was no sense taking any chances. If there's humor in this retraction, it's a dark humor, as I read it, laced with a sense of mortality.

A medieval pilgrim stopping in the woods unavoidably makes me think of Dante's pilgrim, who lost his way in a similar place before seeking his salvation. I'm also jumping ahead a couple of centuries to Shakespeare's Prospero, who, having used the magic arts to regain control of his fate, gives them up in the end, saying, "This rough magic I here abjure." Although Chaucer's purpose, to instruct, seems very different from Prospero's, they are both in effect using their creative power to shape things to their will. All of Chaucer's characters are subject to his whim, just as the inhabitants of Prospero's island are subject to his, until they're released. There's an inevitability to this release, but it's also a little sad, a letting go.

April is a great time to read The Canterbury Tales. You can rest your eyes by looking out the window at the trees leafing out and the flowers budding and put yourself in company with the pilgrims setting out on their journey, which, by the way, begins with crossing a stream. (Is The Canterbury Tales, in some sense, an underworld journey? This is a question I would put to my class of imaginary students, who may someday be actual ones.) I let time elide like that the other day at the coffeehouse while finishing the Tales, and it was as if the fourteenth century and the twenty-first blended together and became one, a Frappuccino of centuries. It was as if no time had passed at all since the pilgrims first gathered at Starbu--, I mean, the Tabard Inn.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Most Foolish People You'll Ever Hope to Meet

Dear ----,

I have said all of this to ----, in writing, without getting a response. I have thought about withholding part of my rent payment until I get a reply to my concerns and may consider doing that in the future, but first I want to relay these complaints directly to you to make sure you’re aware that this situation, which I have brought to your attention before, is ongoing.

I have had noisy and ill-mannered (to say the least) neighbors upstairs dating back to 2010, from approximately the time your company acquired this property. This problem continues with the current tenant. I talked to her (once) about heavy footsteps and miscellaneous noise, and she professed not to know what I was talking about. At first, she was not as consistently noisy as the other tenants have been, so it was easier to ignore, but I was bothered on the evening of Feb. 26 (as on other occasions) by tapping noises directly above my head while I was trying to relax in my living room. There is no reason I can think of why someone would be tapping on the floor unless they wished to annoy someone, an immature exercise at best, but I noted from the young woman's general demeanor that she was no more likely to be a good neighbor than any of her predecessors.

I'm not concerned about ordinary noise and realize that some is unavoidable. In years past, though, I had a rather heavyset neighbor living above me, considerably larger than the young woman in question, and I rarely heard him--just to give you a point of comparison. It’s impossible to escape the conclusion that the noise is deliberate (all of these tenants have been rather odd as well).

Secondly, on the afternoon of March 18, I found some trash (cotton swabs and a coin) on the back floorboard of my car that I definitely didn't put there; the only explanation can be that someone else has been in the vehicle, although it did not appear to have been broken into. I'm meticulous about locking the doors, so I'm not certain how someone could have gotten in. I threw the items away and called the ---- police to report the incident, but I was told that unless something was damaged or missing, I couldn't file a report.

I'm telling you because I think this is most likely to have occurred at the apartments. I rarely take the car anywhere except to the coffeehouse and the grocery store, and I doubt if it happened in broad daylight. It probably happened overnight. There's nothing in the car that anyone would want to steal or that would make it a likely target for thieves. I usually park it underneath the light at the corner of the lot. The last time I had been in the back seat was on the previous Saturday when I put my groceries there, and I didn't notice anything then, so it must have happened sometime that week. I haven't discovered anything missing or broken in the vehicle so far, but that doesn't negate the fact that someone broke in, which I assure you I take quite seriously as a safety concern.

Finally, I never got a response last summer (2015) to my request for someone to service the air conditioner for my unit, which did not work up to par for most of the summer. When that happened, my refrigerator failed to work properly, and I had to throw some food out. I have already requested someone to take a look at it well in advance of the warm weather; I am told now that this will happen, and I hope that's the case.

All of this is to say that I am not really sure what I am paying rent for since I haven’t had proper use and enjoyment of my apartment for the last 5½ years. These issues go beyond mere annoyance, which would be bad enough, to the level of actual health and safety concerns. I am not sure that some of the tenants upstairs haven’t been (or are not now) engaged in criminal activity, based on my observations. I want you to understand that I’m not talking about pranks typical of college students. With previous landlords (I’ve lived here for almost 16 years), we sometimes had tenants who partied or came in late, though most of them lived in the other buildings. Some of them were undoubtedly problem tenants, but I never had an entire string of them living directly above me for years at a time.

I was unable to resolve this issue with the first problem tenants back in 2010 by telling them about it, and though I have introduced myself to subsequent tenants and let them know, more or less politely, about the problems they were causing, it has been to no avail. There has been a pattern to these issues extending over a period of years (and unprecedented in my many years of living in apartments). The least I expect of a landlord is to maintain a safe environment so that I can enjoy my own apartment in peace, and I am not getting that. I do not bother these neighbors, I take care of my own apartment, and I expect my concerns to receive a response.

I will also add that, though you may be unconcerned about your water bill (as evidenced by my inability to get my dripping kitchen faucet properly fixed), I hear water running so frequently above me that I often wonder what people are doing besides playing with the pipes. It seems rather excessive.