You know how in television shows and movies there are classic token characters that are total clichés, so much so that you totally take them for granted as existing, even though you've never actually seen them for yourself in the real world?
I used to be just like you: innocent, naive, and unexposed to the cold truths of life. I, too, was able to watch scenes play out on the screen and laugh them off as Hollywood creations. As soon as the screen went dark, I went back to my life, never even considering the possibility that the wacky, crazy characters I had just been so entertained by could ever affect me personally. I was blissfully ignorant, like a college student excitedly counting down the days until graduation.
Enter: The Ceiling Banger.
You've watched at least one episode of Friends, right? Please, please say yes. Okay, good. You know The One Where Heckles Dies? The beginning of the episode, according to that site I just linked, unfolds as follows (you can just skip down to the part in bold if you want):
Phoebe: You name one woman that you broke up with for a actual real reason.
Chandler: Maureen Rosilla.
Ross: "’Cause she doesn’t hate Yanni," is not a real reason.
(There’s a knock on the door.)
Monica: (opening the door) Hello, Mr. Heckles.
Mr. Heckles: You're doing it again.
Monica: We're not doing anything.
Mr. Heckles: You're stomping. It's disturbing my birds.
Rachel: You don't have birds.
Mr. Heckles: I could have birds.
Monica: Okay, Mr. Heckles, we'll try to keep it down.
Mr. Heckles: Thank you. I'm going to rejoin my dinner party.
Rachel: All right, bye-bye.
(Monica closes the door.)
Chandler: Okay, Janice. Janice. You gotta give me Janice. That wasn't about being picky.
Ross: We'll give you Janice.
Phoebe: I miss Janice though. (Imitating Janice) "Hello, Chandler Bing."
Rachel: (doing Janice) "Oh, my, god."
Joey: (doing Janice) "Oh, Chandler, now, now, that's it. There, faster!" (He turns around and everyone is staring at him.)
(Mr. Heckles bangs on his ceiling.)
Monica: Stop with the broom, we're not making noise.
(She stomps in protest. Heckles bangs again, which is answered by Monica and Rachel. Heckles bangs yet again, which is answered by everyone. There is no response.)
Rachel: We won. We won!
If you've seen the rest of the episode (or are a reasonably intelligent person and are able to indirectly glean things from episode titles), you know that immediately thereafter, Friends & Co. find out that Mr. Heckles has died (cause of death: "sweeping", because he was found with a broom in his hand).
Can you guess where I'm going with this?
That's right. I have a Mr. Heckles. And (s)he is very much alive.
Before I go any further, there are some unique characteristics that my Mr. Heckles has that need to be discussed. First of all, mine is a Russian lady who can't speak any English. She doesn't come upstairs and say funny things in a slow, dull voice (I wish), and she doesn't wear a bathrobe.
Her name is Magda*, and she has taken over my home life.
When we first moved in, I didn't see or hear from her for about a month, at least not directly; within the first week, the building manager called us saying that one of our neighbors had complained and told her that we were moving furniture at three o'clock in the morning (it's important to clarify here that at the time, we owned exactly zero pieces of furniture - unless you count an air mattress as furniture, which I do not - and we were most definitely never awake at 3am). Other than that, all was calm on the home front.
Then, about a month and a half after we moved in, my employers gave Toby and I a queen-sized bed frame, mattress, and box spring for our bedroom. My friends Nick and Adam helped me haul the first two items into our apartment, but the job of moving the latter ended up being a solo mission, carried out by yours truly. I made a valiant effort, and got it as far as the bottom of the staircase by spinning it around and around, corner to corner, from the car and up the steep slope at the end of the driveway. I stood for a moment, puzzling over how the hell I was going to get it up the stairs, and ultimately decided to set it on top of the railings and pull it upwards with all my might. I got it onto the railings, gave a mighty heave, and knew instantly that I was doomed to fail.
And then, as if by magic, Magda appeared. She stepped out of the her doorway near the bottom of the stairs, gave me a half quizzical, half exasperated look, said something in Russian, and proceeded to stride over to the staircase, rolling up her sleeves as she went. She hoisted up her end of the box spring, and I quickly and awkwardly did the same, unsure of what exactly was happening. Together we carried that thing up the stairs and along the open air walkway to my apartment. I hastily whipped out my keys and opened the door, and she helped me push it inside. Then, after a flurry of bossy hand motions and words, including pretending to open the window and fanning her face (it was a hot day, and I can only assume she was telling me to air out my apartment), she departed. Overall, it was a positive experience, and I felt like I had just met a cranky yet lovable storybook character that would serve as a sort of California Russian grandmother type, watching out for me and jumping in to save the day if necessary.
How very wrong I was.
The only interaction I had with Magda for the next couple of months was the occasional sideways glance, and one or two hand waves in my general direction if we happened to cross paths. I assumed she liked us, and didn't think twice about walking around in our apartment with shoes on or letting heavy bags drop to the floor with a thud. Then, one fateful night, I put on my heeled boots at the door just before we were about to go out. At the last minute, I realized I had forgotten my chapstick in the bedroom, and walked back across the apartment, my heels clicking as I went. This was at about eight o'clock on a Saturday night. Toby and I locked up and headed down the stairs, only to be accosted by Magda, waving her hands and yelling, "Boosh, boosh boosh!", stomping her feet and gesturing to show that we had woken up the old ladies for whom she is a caretaker. After us trying to communicate with her that we were sorry, it wouldn't happen again, she finally waved us off with a cranky flick of her wrist and hobbled back into her apartment, slamming the door behind her.
From that moment on, I was terrified. Of an old lady.
We encountered her at the bottom of the stair case a few more times (it's impossible to avoid her door if you go down the back stairs), speaking loudly in Russian and gesticulating wildly, always accusing us of some wrongdoing that we could neither understand nor defend. I began to avoid the back stairway, opting instead to walk to the front of the building and go through the front door and back in through the side gate to get to our car. I dreaded doing laundry, because I had to walk past her door to get to the washer and dryer. I tiptoed around the apartment, flinching every time I dropped something.
I thought it couldn't get any worse, and then one night as we were laying out the futon for a friend to sleep on, we heard a banging noise on the floor. We paused and the banging stopped, so we continued with our task. The banging noise started up again. Toby and I looked at each other, and I said, "Is she...banging on the ceiling?" Toby said, "Yeah, I think she is." It was then that I became aware that that cliché exists for a reason. People actually do that. Does she realize that she is fulfilling a stereotype? Does she know that she is scaring a twenty-something-year-old girl into avoiding her at all costs? Would she care if she knew those things? I'd venture to guess no, because at this point, I've decided she has the heart and soul of an reborn zombie witch.
There were a couple more banging incidents, including one that woke me up in the middle of the night, and then the whole situation came to a head when she started yelling about us to two of our other neighbors as we sat inside the apartment, peeking out of the blinds and waiting for it all to end so we could leave to go to the beach. It dragged on and we finally opened our door. Our other neighbors tried to explain to us what they thought she was saying, and the building manager finally came over to see what all of the commotion was about. I started crying (because, you know, that's how I do), and explained that we are not bad people, and we try to be as quiet as possible, and I didn't know what else we could do to stop Magda from getting pissed off at us. The building manager seemed sympathetic to our plight, and promised to try to find someone who could understand Magda's ridiculousness.
Since that last encounter, quiet has reigned, with the exception of a few screaming matches coming from below (between whom the occurred, I have no clue, because it's just Magda and two frail one-hundred-year-old ladies in that apartment). We haven't changed our habits or lifestyle, but no yelling or pounding has occurred on Magda's end, and though I still tiptoe around and avoid the back stairway as much as possible, I am slowly starting to relax again. We even had several friends over the other night (something I had ixnayed for months, out of fear that she would stab a hole in her ceiling with the broomstick), with no negative consequences.
But no matter how relaxed I get, I am still aware of her constant presence. I walk as quickly and quietly as possible down the stairs, keeping an on her apartment to see if her door is opened or closed. I am gentle in setting objects down on the floor, and I cringe if I accidentally drop my blow dryer or laptop charger. I know it's silly...I mean, it is, right? After all, how much damage can she do? Unless she is actually an reborn zombie witch, in which case I should probably try to avoid all eye contact, just in case she has plans to hex me.
Oh, and in case you're wondering what she looks like:
|visual approximation (via)|
Moral of the story: clichés are real, folks. And sometimes they come in the form of scary old people. It could happen to you. Consider yourself warned.
*Name changed for privacy. Just kidding, I totally made it up. I don't know her real name, because I've never officially been introduced to her; all she does is yell things in garbled Russian and glare.