[this might be verbose]

dear andre torrez:

i’m writing this to inform you that, after accepting your generous offer of thirty filepile stickers for five dollars, i received the envelope in the mail a few weeks later.  or maybe it wasn’t a few weeks.  maybe it was a few days.  i don’t know; i don’t check the mail that often.  at any rate, the envelope had my name and address on it in giant capital sharpie letters and it came from your town, so i knew what it was when i unlocked my mailbox and four weeks of ads and bills and such fell out onto the floor.  inside the envelope were the three varieties of stickers promised, ten each.

this is good this is bad this might be offensive

i should admit to you straight off that when i decided to order stickers from your fine organization, i was not planning to affix them to guitar cases or notebooks or tool boxes or computer parts.  i wasn’t going to give them to friends or put them in a drawer or affix them to my forehead like so many other objects. no, when i sent off my five digital dollars for those little white labels that would judge anything i desired to be good, bad, or offensive, i had evil in mind.  what particular evil that was i didn’t know yet, but let me assure you, my sticker-purchasing motives were less than pure.

i’ve lived in this apartment for almost exactly three years now.  during these three years, i’ve sat on the front steps waiting for friends, taken my trash out to the alley, driven my car in and out of the parking lot every day, done laundry at the end of the hall every week, and checked my mailbox at the other end of the hall every month, all without befriending a single one of my neighbors.  oh sure, i recognize a few mothers, children, couples, singles, dogs, but we never say much more than a hello or an excuse me or an is your shower broken, too? or don’t mind him, he’s harmless or can i block your car in for a minute while i unload all these phone books?  i don’t know anybody’s name except for the beagle named regal and i think one of the german shepherds is called ivy.

oh, and the guy who lives in the apartment directly below mine is called fucking asshole.  he drives a giant red pickup truck and i think he is gay, but that’s not why i call him fucking asshole.  nor do i call him fucking asshole because for the past three years i have been able to hear him having sex.  granted, for some reason i can only hear him if i am in bed with my head on the pillow, but the sporadic grunts and groans coming up from the floor a few nights a month (or nearly every night during the great sexathon of 2002) are still audible.  also audible were the early-morning strains of “chopsticks” and “mary had a little lamb” for three weeks after he got a new piano, and sometimes at nine on a saturday morning (the equivalent of six a.m. if you work in a bar or restaurant like i do), there is country music.

no, i call him fucking asshole because, despite the fact that i have silently and graciously endured his various bedroom noises for several years now, he has not afforded me the same courtesy.  any noise coming from my room sends him into a fit.  he gets out of bed and runs to the kitchen.  fumbling in the dark, he searches for a broom or mop.  once he finds the broom or mop or curtain rod or ten-foot pole or some such reaching object, he races back to the bedroom and pounds it into the ceiling at least five times in succession.  bits of plaster and paint rain down onto the floor, the bedsheets, the shoulders of his PJs.  vindicated, he flops back onto his bed in a cloud of white plaster dust.  upstairs, i am bewildered.

this same incident occurs no more than five times before i awaken at six a.m. on a tuesday (literal six, not waiter six) to his true revenge.  it’s the same country music as before, except this time it’s loud enough to loosen plaster on its own, without the help of a reaching apparatus.  i’m sure he expects to hear me get out of bed and stomp on the floor, but i stay where i am and read a book until it’s over.  that way he’ll think i slept right through it, or at least decide it’s pointless to try to make me throw a fit the way he does.  my plan works, and he doesn’t try the country music again.  he still bangs on the ceiling, though, and it makes me wonder.  if he pounds the broom handle into the same spot in the ceiling every time, will he eventually bore a hole up through my bedroom floor?  will i be able to look down through the rip in my carpet and see him looking back at me?  will i be able to resist the temptation to drop bizarre and useless small items onto his bed?

probably not, andre torrez, for i was unable to resist the temptation to paste your stickers onto the front doors of the strangers in my apartment.

i started with the nice woman next door to me, who never plays loud music and always says hi to me when i see her.  her dogs are nice, too; they are curious and sniffly but never too aggressive.  most of the high school boys i knew could have learned from those dogs.  she got a [this is good] on her front door, at eye level, right underneath the peephole.

next was the guy across the hall.  he’s about my age, and i think his girlfriend lives there, too.  once i helped them carry a coffee table he found on the street into his apartment so he could refinish it.  his girlfriend’s always taking the trash out, and when i say always, i mean that that’s all i see her do, ever.  they got [this is bad], not because i think they are bad, but because that’s all there was besides [this might be offensive], which i had to give to fucking asshole.

i gave [this might be offensive] to fucking asshole.

i went out that evening, and when i came back, the offensive sticker was gone and the bad sticker was gone, but [this is good] was still there next door.  why was it still there, andre?  did she just not notice it?  did she not come home that night?  or did she see [this is good] affixed to her door, think to herself, “this is good,” and go inside to greet her puppies?

i was curious to see what other people would do with your stickers.  would i get the same results?  i also agreed with andy‘s observation that if i only put stickers on the doors right next to mine, people would know it was me.  so i went down the hall a little ways, armed with more stickers.  apartment ten got [this is good].  number five got [this is bad].  three got [this might be offensive].  fucking asshole got bad, across-the-hall and his garbage girlfriend got good, and, since i was doing laundry at the time, the dryer may or may not have been offensive.

imagine my surprise when i returned home that night to find all of the stickers gone.  asshole, garbage, and nice-woman-with-dogs had all removed their stickers, as had everyone else down the hall.  even the dryer was no longer offensive.  what had happened?  why didn’t anybody want a sticker?

“it’s probably because people don’t want things stuck to their door that they didn’t put there,” andy said.
“but why wouldn’t they want a sticker there?” i asked.  “i would want one.”
“yes, but that’s because you’re the kind of person who would put them there.”

i was hoping that my little experiment would prove that people didn’t want to be bad or possibly offensive, but they wanted to be good.  i was hoping to prove that [this might be offensive] just below the coin slot on the dryer would be funny to people other than me.  alas, what it proved instead was that andy was right.  nobody likes to find stickers on things.

this failed experiment made me wish for more people who appreciate the bizarre.  it made me wish for nicer people in my apartment.  it made me wish fucking asshole would move away.  mostly, though, it made me miss the guy who lived across the hall from me before garbage girlfriend moved in.  his name was fiesta mike, he worked at a tattoo parlor, he drove an orange dick tracy car, and he had a bumper sticker on his door that said, “vegetables aren’t food.  vegetables are what food eats.”  fiesta mike was probably offensive already, and he would have wanted the sticker to prove it.  come back, fiesta mike.  i miss the purple skull candles on your windowsill.

at any rate, andre, i’m still glad i bought the stickers, because i have quite a few left over, and i think maybe next time i can come up with a better plan.  thank you.

all the best,
alison headley