Alone in New York at last: the joy of a neighbor-free existence

By Guelda Voien  | November 17, 2015 - 12:59PM

Neighbors: You can't live with them and you can't kill them, as the old adage goes.

In my time living in New York City, my neighbors have included drug users, drug dealers, a person who seemed perfectly nice but practiced Irish folk dancing at all hours, an indie rock band and, yes, at least one murder victim. All of them colored my experience of living in the city, to put it mildly.

Neighbors fundamentally change how you experience your home. If you aren't hearing them, they're probably suing you, reporting you to a co-op board or condo association, or at the very least gossiping about you and judging your frequency of overnight visitors.

I now have no neighbors. My landlords live in my two-story building (in the only other unit) but due to a feat of architectural genius,we've never once heard each other. The converted carriage house where I live has a garage below me and no one above. My landlords' apartment is basically at a 90-degree angle from mine, and I only share a wall with their closet. That wasn’t the appeal of the apartment—the real appeal was that it was decidedly less third world-y than the other option in my price range, and had an oven. But the lack of neighborly intrusion above and below me, or sharing walls with me, has proven to be its most enjoyable feature. Because while it’s nice to have an oven like twice a year, truth be told, I don’t cook that much.

Not having neighbors, however? Absolutely fantastic. In fact, that may be an understatement—I think it changed my life.

Before moving into my current apartment I lived in what I'm absolutely sure was the smallest studio apartment in Brooklyn. It was an illegally converted flophouse—some of the apartments only had hot plates—and everyone there was as broke as me, or worse. My neighbors came and left at every hour, and the balsa wood partitions separating one "unit" from the next didn't do a lot to insulate you. You could hear the music in their headphones as they descended the makeshift "stairs" outside my apartment, I kid you not.

When I was ready to sleep, I'd dose myself with benzodiazepines and melatonin, put in earplugs, play classical music and wear an eye mask. That strategy, though, did nothing to assuage the sounds of the band that practiced next door. They didn't believe in concepts like "weeknight," and when confronted, flatly refused to change anything about their behavior. I truly hope they all end up in Guantanamo and get sleep deprivation torture. 

Before The Worst Studio Apartment in the World, I lived under some drug dealers, who actually ended up getting shot—a story I've anonymously shared here before. And in between those two apartments, there was the Irish dancer. To her credit, she at least felt guilty for the occasional late night practice session, and it wasn't exactly her fault that in our cheaply converted brownstone, even neighbors' conversations were audible from the next apartment. Luckily, Irish dancer and her cohort were fairly boring (when they weren't River Dancing). Sadly for the couple below us, my roommate and I were hard drinkers with strong opinions and lots of friends. Though the neighbors never complained, I feel bad about it to this day.

But now? These days, I live in a state I can only describe as euphoria. If my other living situations were like having an infected hangnail, residing in my current apartment is like taking opioids for the first time. For instance, it’s shameful but true: I slept until 5 pm the other week because it was so quiet. Is that a good idea? No. All medical professionals say no. Was it fun? Yes. Am I pleased that it is possible? Absolutely.

Even more than sleep, though, there is the fact that I never run into anyone in the hallway whom I don’t know. No one ever steals my New York magazine. No one ever tries to peek in while “stopping by” to give me some mail and judging me on the disarray of my abode. There is no music, no complaining, no discussion of bike placement, no Grand Theft Auto, no having to say hi to people I hate, no reminders of the fact that some people don’t have to work in the morning, no gross sex to overhear, no cloying food smells when I’m hungover. Bliss.


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