10 January 2008

water! lights! ghosts!

A few nights ago the radiator in my spare room exploded in an eruption of water and steam that made it all the way down to my down stairs neighbors’ apartment. The police got called, and I became fluent in Bulgarian. But there is a back-story.

About a week after I moved into my flat here in Razgrad I was laying in bed talking on the phone at about 10 pm at night when my door bell buzzed its toxic ear shattering beep. On the other side of the door was a cranky old man who pointed at me, shaking his finger like a catholic nun, and told me I was a bad boy. He told me a lot of things, but at that point my Bulgarian was way underdeveloped. I basically understood that he felt I was being wayyyy to loud in my apartment. Music? I asked. Nope, he answers “ You make that:” “Ti pravish tova!” and he proceeds to stamp his foot on the ground. Okay, not only was I lying in bed when he complained, I wear, in the grand Bulgarian tradition, special house slippers. How could I “praviya toba” with house slippers?

Starting that week I started receiving visits just about every week from my neighbors. At first only the old man showed up, but now his cranky old wife started coming. Her finger waved even more, to the point where the old man would interrupt her ravings to say “relax a bit, he does not know Bulgarian.” Her answer: “oh, He knows, he knows he knows. He is a bad boy.” At this point she decides to introduce their next catch phrase: “Cled put, polistiya!” “Next time, the police!” “Ti pravish tova” had already become a popular joke in my office, with the general understanding that the noises these old people where hearing were in their heads, and not from my floor. Their visits were increasing, and I decided, along with my landlady, to try and set things right. We planed a visit to their apartment with a fresh batch of my own chocolate chips cookies. (Note: the concept of chocolate chips IN cookies is new for Bulgaria, and thanks to yours truly, hitting by force.) Please understand that in Bulgaria, surprising your neighbors with a visit (called na gosti: literally “to guest”) is a high honor that is not to be turned down. This is strange for me, since in America to show up uninvited without calling is extremely rude. However, not only were we refused entrance into their apartment, they wouldn’t even try my cookies. At the door, my landlady negotiated a truce. I would be “quiet” after 10 pm and they were not to bother me under any other circumstances. But it was a lie, I could see it in their eyes, they meant war.

And they gave me war. I imagined them sitting in their apartment every night, waiting for ten, absolutely quiet and absolutely angry at the world, listening for the noises. When they thought they heard something, they would start banging on their roof, my floor, with a broom handle. (Note: As everyone reading this who is in Bulgaria knows, my account is at this point flawed: no brooms have handles in this country. Oops.) My favorite instance of broom handle bangin’ was when my friend Tyler was over. We were sitting on my bed, playing an apparently raucous game of scrabble when the bangin’ started. I have been tempted to bang back, but rather I (gallantly, maybe) let them express their anger without response.

But then a week later they came up to my apartment again! With them came more finger wagging, more accusations (I can understand them now) and more police threats. Little do they know that I have already called the police, and informed them that they may receive these bogus accusations about me. I also had created a coalition of neighbors who love me and are more than willing, probably already have started, to spread vicious rumors around the block. So I reached into my pocket, pulled out my cell phone and handed it to them. “Cled put?(next time)” I said “ne, polistiya trabva da zniat sega che ti imash problem c men. (No, the police should know now that you have a problem with me.)” Low and behold, calling them on their bluff not only made them turn around and go downstairs, but I did not hear from them for weeks. That is, until about 5 in the morning two days ago.

Now, I tell the next part of this story with some hesitation. I live alone, and it is the dead of winter. There are some nights, when wind is howling outside my windows, that I honestly get freaked out, that I fear break ins, ghosts, any number of things that go bump in the night and might be out to get me. So maybe you think I’m crazy, but in the past two weeks some things have been a little strange. Doors left open when I feel for certain that I closed them. Certain personal belongs of mine, like books or cds, I found in peculiar positions. Positions that are not strange per se, but maybe in ways that I don’t quite remember leaving them. Then, the night before the incident with the spare room, I was completing my nightly routine of brushing my teeth turning off the light in the bathroom, and then walking down the dark hallway to my bedroom. I do this every night, and the hallway is always dark because the light does not work there. This walk feeds my fears of communist ghosts. Expect this night the door to the spare room, which is right next to my bathroom, had light showing from the other side. I opened the door, turned of the light, and went to bed. I slept until I was woken by my doorbell, which buzzed its toxic ear shattering beep, and low and BEHOLD my cranky neighbors were on the other side saying something about water. The burst into the apartment, and walked into my spare room, which was a thick fog of steam and hot water. See, the radiators here work on a centralized water heater that flushes them with a constant stream of hot water. This, being the spare room, had its radiator disconnected from the valve that controls the water. On this night, the valve was turned all the way open, and the seal that covered the disconnected pipe had broken. The problem was fixed by simply turning off the valve.

And I was left with a room full of water, and two cranky old people who at this point had started to ask me for money. “What are you going to do about this? Why would you do this? You are a bad boy. We want money.” And here is when I achieved fluency, or at least the semblance there of. I don’t really remember what I said to them. But my rant lasted about five minutes, at the top of my lungs, all in Bulgarian. Yes sir. I stormed out of the room, and decided to call my coworker. He answered, thank god, and I gave the phone to my neighbors. He told them to go down stairs and leave me alone. Five minuets later, my bell buzzed again, and I opened the door, and it was a police officer. The police officer, it turned out, was the son of my down stairs neighbors. He came in with a set of tools, and replaced the seal on the pipes. As it turns out, he is a nice guy. He is worried about his parents and in our discussions my cranky old neighbors become, for me, somebody’s parents. To my disapproval, compassion was dripping into my consciousness for these lonely old pensioners.

My landlady has taken over the deals with the radiator, and my neighbors. I don’t know if they will or have received money. And I don’t want to know. I want a bar lock on my door. And I am about to go get one.

Cheers my loved ones!


Anonymous said...

hilarious story, shaunathan. traumatic for you, funny reading on a gloomy wednesday morning for me. miss you much! wanna skype this weekend?

david silver said...


their lives are so boring that they use you to create excitement.

if you have fear of ghosts, i suggest you watch the film spirited away.

what kick ass news it is that your bulgarian is good enough to be able to GO OFF for five minutes. that's excellent.

Addie Boo said...

Oh my gosh! Alert the press- my cousin posted a very interesting story on his blog! I am so excited. I love reading your stories and the manner in which you tell the. I am glad that you are able to make chocolate chip cookies because life without those is just not worth living. Try adding some sour cream...it makes them more fluffy and tasty- about a tablespoon will do. Oh and your Bulgarian! It's kicking in the way I knew it would and I am so proud. Welcome back to blogger land. We've all missed you. Ask me about my own ghost story later...or maybe I'll blog it.

Anonymous said...

Tell me about Bulgarian babichki and their ways... Although I personally find them more funny than serious...

My GF and I (we're both Bulgarians) had to live with such landladies in Sofia for some 2 years. I myself couldn't give a sh%t about those, but my GF had to endure a lot of that psychological warfare while I was at work. In the end, we both decided we had enough of those "babichki"-landladies and moved out for good (of course not before promising them to pay them 200 leva as a sort of an excuse, letting em hope they'd get it for 10 days and disappearing). It's more expensive having an appartment rented all to yourself, but it's worth it not to deal with those old hags.

On a side note, I have found that the very best way of dealing with those suc kers is:
1) stay away from them
2) if they keep ringing at your door, don't answer. If they continue ringing on and on, just call the police and tell them those guys keep pestering you. It would be even better if you had someone speaking fluently bulgarian with you to better explain. Those old bast rds live in constant fear of the police (or militsia, as it was known in the old scary commie days) - due to historical reasons.
3) Last but not least and actually the best advice I can give you - find a better place. there quite nice places to live in Bulgaria. Studentski Grad in Sofia for example... ahhh memories :)

Corinne said...

You write very well.