When we first moved in, the neighbor downstairs was having an emotional time.
He'd sit out on his step in a folding chair, right below our apartment, and cry inconsolably while singing along to ranchero music that he played from inside his empty apartment. We'd walk past him any time we came to or from the car, and studiously not make eye contact. Because what do you say to your sobbing neighbor when the most you can make of their language is a faux cognate soup of embarrazados? And he had an unwavering preference for staring over talking, so that he'd watch every time we pulled the car out, or walked past, which made me feel like I was in the presence of a middle school principle, but when I'd tried to introduce myself, he'd blankly fix guileless eyes on me and just not reply. He made me feel profoundly awkward, so there was no way that I was going to ask this stranger why he was sobbing.
One of our other neighbors said he was singing only to songs about women leaving men, she thought that was what happened to him. It went on for months, every night. He'd sit in a denim shirt with blue jeans, white straw hat cocked up, and tall leather boots, and as sympathy for suffering turned into resentment over the intrusion of straight pathos into the common area, and the inability to deal with it in our Spanish or his English, we started calling him the Crying Cowboy.
But after six months or so, he got over it. First his family started coming over, then some new woman, then some new woman and his family all at once. They'd barbeque under our window, and we'd say through the smell of lighter fluid, "Well, at least he's not sobbing endlessly every night." We still hadn't talked about our respective mustaches — mine part of a beard set, his just a gray Tom Selleck thing — but he opened up a little. He came to our door once when his apartment was flooding because three upstairs apartments all drain through it and it had been raining for days, so the downstream sewer was blocked. That was the only time he ever introduced himself and told me his name, and I wish I had written it down. He introduced himself very formally as the man who lived downstairs, which we already knew. Maybe that was what threw him off — he'd practiced the speech he was going to give, and we jumped on his lines. But he kept explaining to us that we couldn't use any of the water, even after we agreed that we wouldn't be using the water, because it drained through his apartment. It was important not to use the water.
Encouraged by this false camaraderie, the next time I saw him, it was still raining and as Amy and I went to the car, and I waved and said, "It's really coming down, isn't it?"
He looked at me like I'd just told him that fire was hot and said, "Yes, rain does come down." Like, "Where else would it come from, dumbass?" I felt embarrassed and stumbled for some "See you later," while he watched us pull out and drive off instead of going into his house. I drove off stuck with l'esprit de l'escalier, thinking things like, "Well, but sometimes it comes from the side when there's a lot of wind, jerkstore!" and "I'll get you!"
Last night, when I was heading to the store, I looked down right as he looked up and he'd obviously been staring off into space, because he had that start of someone caught thinking about something else. He was fumbling with his keys, and kept fumbling the entire time I was walking down the stairs, so that he was still there right as I was walking behind him. In my best conspiratorial guy voice I asked, "She lock you out, huh?" and he blushed crazily, and said, "No, I have key." But he practically slunk over to his truck, all the while grinning like he'd been caught watching Cinemax.
We're even, Crying Cowboy. Hope you learned your lesson.