Photo of Arthur Tossman
by Robert J. BAUMANN
"You want to find an apartment in
Manhattan?", exclaimed my parents.
"Yes. It seems logical. It is where I work and where I hang
out. Why not?"
"It will cost you an arm and a leg!",
said my dad. My mom thought
worse. The only kind of rent I could afford would place me in a
neighborhood where bullets were delivered like take-out Chinese
She was certain that within hours after my relocation I'd be on
a slab in a morgue, unknown, unloved and unidentified. Given their
fears there would be no way logic or reason would calm them, so
I just decided I'd move and that would be that. The only question
indeed was the one they had given some worried thought to.... where?
My co-workers all knew the names of real estate people who, for
a modest fee, would find me a palace. After all, hadn't they also
forded the river and made their home in the city that never sleeps?
You expect New York rents to be high. It helps keep the riff-raff
on rent control.
On a sunny day in February I went apartment shopping with my agent.
Agents usually have a place to show you right off the top of their
head. They sit. They listen to you describe your dreams and then
they show you the same apartment they were going to show you when you
walked through the door. I think there is a law about that.
I was taken to a small building and an even smaller studio apartment
on the West Side. Even the thought of the East Side was so amusing
that my agent nearly wet himself with laughter at the mere mention
of it. East Side? Do you know what the cheapest rental is that I am
aware of? You'd have to supplement your income with robbery and
even then you might not have enough, he told me. The West Side and the
older buildings there were soundly constructed and affordable.
I'd be near everything. I'd be happy. I'd be able to work long hours at
low enough salary to make this a dream come true. I believed him. I
moved in April after a lot of haggling, packing and planning. In May
my mother let go of my left leg, thus making the move from home quite
Yes, it was a paradise. The small kitchen was hardly used. My whole
studio was a bed and a table which doubled as my desk. I did have
a chair. I did have TV. My window, such as it was, did not open.
The air conditioner had been fit into it for year round use. It did
have a nice southern exposure... of the building across the street.
That building was the rear delivery side of an office building whose
windows were constantly dark and appeared to be blocked by boxes
or garbage of one kind or another. Paradise.
As bad as this may sound to you, not much made the place interesting
until the Tossmans moved in next door to me. Arthur and Yvette
Tossman. A pair of humans who truly defy description. They were
a match like a black dress shoe matches a brown one. You could argue
that you had two pair like this. This was the Tossman household.
No kids. Just Tossmen, if that would be the plural for more than one
I did not realize how thin the walls were until Ms. Tossman arrived
to put them to the test. They failed. I think that her incessant
dragon breath might have weakened the walls. The woman always shrieked and never softly. A shrill voice would be one you could
get used to, but Ms. Tossman's voice was such that made such an adjustment impossible. Mr. Tossman worked during a night shift,
so the arguments did not begin until he came home and woke up his
wife, usually around 3 a.m. Arguments? No, more like lectures. I never
heard Mr. Tossman do more than grunt. His grunts seemed to flow
from out of the bathroom. They were of the sort that revealed some kind
of strain he was involved with rather than agreement or disagreement.
It was as if the whole life of this fellow was devoted to a rotten
job with lousy pay and horrid hours. He arrived home for the one thing
that gave his life some meaning: A good bowel movement. He apparently
never used his office toilet because seven days a week I could
hear the Tossman grunts followed eventually by the sound of relief.
It would be too much to think that this could be Tossman sex, but
who knows? During all the grunting I'd heard Ms. Tossman would be reciting a litany of invective about life and love in general.
Would she have been shrieking about such things during sex? Possible
but not probable.
No, none of it was silent. I'd gotten into the routine of being
awake at 3 a.m. simply because one did not sleep when Tossmen were awake.
I'd be up making coffee just around the time that Tossman began
his grunts, usually within five minutes after slamming his door shut.
Tossman never closed a door, nor did his wife. The finality of
a closed door could not be accomplished without a nice, loud slam.
I was beginning to think the Tossmans were deaf. Whatever the case,
they were indeed loud. The neighbor on the other side of their
apartment often hammered on the wall and Ms. Tossman shrieked and
hammered back. The people above and below the Tossmans came and
went, usually not long enough to have to put up with the noise.
Days were quieter. Ms. Tossman would be out shopping and Mr. T
would be sleeping at some point in time. He did not leave for work until
late afternoon. A brief argument with Ms. Tossman would be enough
to get him running away to work. She was indeed quite a gem. I actually
saw her once. It was early on and I tried being friendly enough
to say "Hello, Mrs. Tossman". Ms. T read Sandburg, I think.
Good fences make good neighbors. She turned to me and shrieked "I don't
talk to strangers.... and my name is not 'Mrs'. I am Ms. Tossman!".
On that note, the door was slammed shut. She did not talk to strangers.
Hmmmn, I thought. How did she ever meet Tossman?
What do the arguments sound like? I recorded a few. I will tell
you the next time we meet.
of Robert J. BAUMANN
See the class blog at: http://www.xanga.com/robertjbaumann
or the blog with music at http://www.myspace.com/thebignews