A couple nights ago I woke to the sounds of an elderly woman shouting. I looked out my bedroom window and saw, in the neighboring building, a silhouette in a window. “Help! Somebody help me! I’m on the 12th floor. Call the fire department!” It was 4:00 a.m. I was astonished that no one else heard her. In her rant I heard the word “gas” and thought of carbon monoxide poisoning. I called 911.
Minutes later, a fire truck rounded the corner with sirens blaring. They parked in front of her building and casually entered. I waited to see her light go on but it didn’t. A few moments later I saw the firemen exit her building and enter mine. KA-KA-KA went the pounding knock on my door. I looked through the peep hole and saw five firemen, axes dangling from their belts, wide as they were tall, staring back at me. I opened my door and they asked about the call. I explained that they were in the wrong building, I’m the one who made the call, but the woman in distress was next door.
“We were just there, no one came to the door,” one of them said. They eyed me suspiciously.
“Let me show you,” I said.
I brought one of them into my bedroom, and pointed to the window where the shouts had come from. There was no one there. He aimed his flashlight.
“That one?” he asked.
“We were just there, bangin’ on the door. Nothing”
“I’m telling you there was a woman shouting for help. I felt it my duty to call.”
He shook his head, looked me up and down, gathered his team, and left. As they stepped in the elevator one of them hissed.
I watched from above as they got back in the truck, but in that moment, the woman poked her head up and let out a bloodcurdling “HELP ME!”
The firemen heard her, flashed a light on her window. “What’s your apartment number?”
A few seconds later, her light came on, and I saw a fireman in her apartment. I went to sleep.
The next evening I asked the night watchman in my building if he knew anything about it. “They just took her away,” he said, and explained that she’d had a second shouting episode a couple hours earlier. She’s about eighty, he told me, lives alone. He shook his head resolutely. “I don’t think she’s crazy. Just lonely. I think she just needs someone to talk to. The right man.”
To celebrate our 10-year anniversary, I gave my beautiful wife four options:
a) Vegas weekend. Suite at Caesars. Dinner at Kibos. Stripper 101 at Planet Hollywood. Mani and Pedi at Spa Bellagio.
b) Luxury Cruise to Cabo. Three-night Baja Mexico Itinerary, all inclusive.
c) All-you-can-eat Surf ‘n’ Turf at the Sizzler, every Friday night, for a year.
d) Fly to Rio, dance down the Sambadrome, spend the night with a transvestite prostitute at the Papillon Hotel.
I think she chose well.
ME: ...I’m not sure how to put it. I get songs stuck in my head. Not exactly songs but three-second riffs. They play back over and over and over like a skipping record. Like right now I’ve got The Cruel Sea song “I Feel,” the part where it goes “I feel/Like nobody knows or cares how/I feel/Like I’m going to be kind of sick now/I feel…”, then it goes back to the beginning and plays in a loop over and over and fucking over!
DR. ROGER STEEN, ADDICTION SPECIALIST ($190/HR): How long has this been going on?
ME: Since as long as I can remember. Kindergarten. Nursery rhymes. Hanna-Barbera cartoons. “Here he comes, here comes Speed Racer.” “They call him Flipper, Flipper, faster than lightning.” The opening tune from “Good Times” tortured me through most of junior high.
DR. STEEN: Have you discussed this with anyone?
ME: No. I mean, yes, jokingly, like in a ‘shitty top 40 songs that got stuck in your head’ kinda way. You know, we all get songs stuck in our head, Doc, I know that. But for the last ten years or so, they’ve been non-stop. And LOUDER. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night to take a pee and BOOM, the disc starts playing, and I’m up for hours.
DR. STEEN: Have you tried mind-calming exercises? Counting sheep, this kind of thing.
ME: I don’t think you’re hearing me, Doc. This is my counting sheep. My nervous tick. All my life, whenever I get into an uncomfortable social situation, the song starts playing on a loop, like a security blanket. It’s not a bad thing. Or, it wasn’t a bad thing in P.E. in 11th grade. But for fuck’s sake it tortures me now. It starts with a song I like and then it persists and persists and persists. Fucking Bright Eyes! “Cleanse Song,” that bit “So I muffled my scream on an Oxnard beach/Full of fever dreams that scare you sober/Into saltless dinners” lodged into my head in Sao Paulo, Christmas 2007 and stayed well into March, New York, with relapses over the last four years. “Amateurs, dilettantes, hacks, cowboys, clones/The streets groan with little Caesars, Napoleons and cunts/With their building blocks and their tiny plastic phones/Counting on their fingers, with crumbs down their fronts,” that Nick Cave song—it’s been fucking hounding me for five years. Last week it was the Sunnyboys, week before that it was Iron and Wine. Doc, I know exactly what serial killers mean when they talk about hearing voices. It’s like I’ve got a long residency hotel in my brain, and the guests all overstay their welcome. In fact I’d even say my pot addiction and now my drinking and even that whole Internet porn thing was really just a subconscious effort to turn off the FUCKING RADIO!
I pause. Stand. Address the empty theater.
ME: See, just this very conversation, just this whole, ‘Doc, you gotta help me’ scene has done it. In my head, right this second, Mick Jagger: “Dear doctor, please help me, I’m damaged/There’s a pain where there once was a heart . . .” And I know he ain’t leaving any time soon.