If you think losing an hour to Daylight Savings Time is bad, try losing it during a sleep-over with four ten-year-old boys.
This past week-end, Theo made the momentous transition into double digits. It was a big deal, although not something my little guy was particularly thrilled about–he was perfectly happy living life as a little kid.
Last year, we celebrated Theo’s birthday at Corb’s hotel, and that worked out quite well. However, this time around, Theo wanted to hold the sleep-over at an actual residence, and Corb and I foolishly volunteered the apartment.
Apartments are fine, as far as sleep-overs go. There’s not too much room, so you can keep an eye on what’s going on, which helps keep things manageable. One problem that I hadn’t contemplated, however: the neighbors.
Specifically, the neighbors living directly underneath us. As I’ve mentioned in stories past, we live over a...well, somewhat peculiar couple. When we first moved in, I decided to affectionately name the wife the Troglodyte. She’s a small, plump woman, with wide blue eyes and a churlish disposition. Her husband is a thin man who reminds me of Eustice on Courage the Cowardly dog, except that our Eustice has a bit of a drinking problem. The two of them were the lucky recipients of a particularly grisly askthumbkin episode a few years back.
Now, in the interests of fair disclosure, things have, for the most part, been fairly calm, save for a violent outburst involving the Trog on the day that we moved in. However, I’ve always had the feeling that we were living above the den of a sleeping dragon. Little did I realize that it would take the footsteps of four ten-year-old boys to get her to breathe more fire.
It’s my fault, really. Things had been going fine, all through the dropping off of the kids, and the birthday cake and the presents. But into the third hour, Corb and sat down with the adults for the making of some adult-conversation, and I made the foolish mistake of allowing the boys to scamper down the stairs and out of the apartment to play by the pond. Unfortunately, the little darlings ran up and down the stairs, laughing and yelling, at least a dozen times. We were watching them from the living room, but Ashes asked to go down to keep an eye on them, and they decided to play pig-pile on Ashes.
“Dad,” Ashes called up. “Dad! DAAAAD!”
I ran to the balcony. “What’s up, pigeon?”
“I want to come back in,” she screamed. “They’re being mean to me!”
So, I excused myself from adult conversation, and opened our front door to let her in. And there, standing at the bottom of our stairs, was the Trog, wearing a fuzzy green bathrobe and a look on her face that would have turned a lesser man to stone.
“Did you REALLY have to let your kids run up and down the stairs?” she asked, arms folded, tapping her slippered foot up and down.
“Um...well...it’s my son’s tenth birthday party...” I stammered.
“I mean, all I wanted was to get a little bit of sleep...I’ve got this horrible flu, and I just wanted to rest...and then I hear them, screaming and running up and down the stairs...screaming and running up and down the stairs...” At that point, I think I started to see a small stream of smoke start to dribble out of her nose.
“I’m really sorry,” I said, trying to act as charming and apologetic as possible. “I’ll bring them up right now, and promise that they won’t run up and down any more. Really! You have my word of honor.”
The Trog frowned and turned away, as if to signify that my honor didn’t mean that much to her.
Later on, Annie came by to drop off Theo’s birthday present, and brought Chad with her. After a half an hour of small talk, Chad and I decided to take the kids to pick out some movies and pick up Taco Bell. I cautioned the guys against saying a word in the hall, and they dutifully scurried past me, quiet as can be.
We made our way past the Trog’s front door. I half expected the door to fly open, with a burst of hot flames licking my ass. But we made it past the door, without a peep.
Unfortunately, once we made it to the front door of the building, I realized that a taxi cab was pulling up. “Oh, shoot,” I thought to myself. “The Trog’s husband has been out drinking, again.” He’s lost his license a few times, due to drunk driving, and now grabs a cab home on those nights out to the bar. In other words, seven nights a week.
I watched him stagger out of the taxi, and then weave toward the front door. The kids ran past him, to my car. I opened the front door to allow Chad out. Chad, blissfully unaware of things like Troglodytes, droned on about the latest fantasy novel he was reading. I nodded as he spoke, all the time keeping a careful eye on the Trog’s main squeeze.
The TrogLover moved with the slow, careful gait of a man trying to hide his inebriation from those around him. He stumbled once, near our mailbox, and then held out his hand against the mailbox to steady himself.
“Chad, can you hold the door open, please?” I asked, moving past the mailbox, hoping that would save me from conversation.
It didn’t. TrogLover thanked Chad as he walked through the door, and I thought I was spared. But suddenly, the old man turned around, his face curled up in a grimace.
“You know, I think you two are both nice guys,” the TrogLover said blearily, pointing at Chad and myself. Oh shit, I realized, he’s confusing Chad with Corb. Even if Corb is much blonder and about a foot taller than Chad. Quickly, I moved back to the door, to spare Chad from a full-frontal attack.
“But you’ve GOT to learn to control your kids better,” he said.
“Well, it’s my son’s–“
“JUST control your kids better,” he said, talking over me, and I realized that he couldn’t hear me. “That’s all. They were running up and down, and up and down, and the missus, well, she wasn’t at all happy about it. And she says to me, ‘I’m going to say something,’ and I sez to her, ‘Don’t,’ but she sez to me, ‘Nope, I gotta say something,’ and all I gotta say is, look. Look. Look.” And he licked his lips.
It was weird, watching him, in his inebriated state. I have never heard him say more than two words in our entire time there. Now, he alternated between angry and nice, mid-sentence. I couldn’t tell if he was mad at me, or mad at his wife. I supposed it didn’t much matter.
“Just. Control. Your. Kids,” he said. “Don’t let them run around like that. You’re the parent, you can do it! And look, we all get along pretty well here. We all don’t have any...problem with you too, do we? We put up with things, right?”
I wasn't certain what he was getting at, although I had an idea. However, this was neither the time, nor the place.
“You do, you do,” I said, and finally, he heard me. “And I apologized to your wife.”
He shook his head. “The missus was pretty mad,” he said, and all I could think of was that my neighbor suddenly reminded me of Andy Capp, returning home from a bender with his wife waiting at the door. I tried hard not to laugh.
“I know! And I said I’m really sorry. She looked so sick,” I said, as clearly and as loudly as possible. “It’s my son’s tenth birthday party, and he has friends over...”
"Oh! Tenth birthday." The TrogLover’s beautiful blue eyes widened.
“So, once I heard from your wife, and how sick she is, I’ve spent the rest of the night telling the kids to be quiet.”
The TrogLover shook his head. “Oh, don’t do that!” he said, with a smile on his face. “Just let the kids have fun!” And then, he started to stumble up the stairs.
I stood there, trying to soak in what had just occurred.
Well, I did try to let the kids have fun, I swear, but the double-barreled impact of the Troglodyte and the TrogLover weighed heavily upon my soul. For the rest of the night, I watched the kids carefully, living in an awful state of anxiety, fearful of what would happen next. Would I get a furious knock on the door from a fuming Troglodyte at one in the morning? Would the TrogLover turns one of his bottles of hooch into a Molotov cocktail and aim for our balcony? Would the police be called in, and the kids sent to jail?
I wasn’t able to get to bed until three in the morning. Ashes, blissfully unaware of the turmoil in my soul, lay next to me in bed, continuing her evening-long quest to watch the entire fifth season of the Gilmore Girls in one night. Finally, as the noises from the living room, where the boys were sleeping in side-by-side sleeping bags, drifted down, I entered into a nervous sleep.
An hour later, I woke up, abruptly. There were voices, excited, in the living room. What was going on?
Theo scampered into the big bedroom. “Brett called his dad!” he whispered.
“Brett?” I mumbled. “Why’d he do that?”
“He wants to go home. He says he’s bored!”
I rubbed my eyes and glanced at the clock. “Sorry. I didn’t realize I was supposed to be providing entertainment at five in the morning...” I rose from the bed. “Hold on, sweetie...”
I stumbled into the living room. Brett was sitting up. He had managed to wake up all the other boys, with him, and was talking on the cell phone, to his father. After a few minutes, he hung up the phone. “I’m bored,” he said. “Usually I’m playing video games, now.”
“At four in the morning?” I asked.
“During the week-ends,” he said, dead serious.
What kind of parents let their ten-year-old kid play video games until five in the morning? I wondered.
“Brett, don’t go,” pleaded Theo. Like a Greek chorus, all the other boys joined in.
“I can put a video on for you,” I said. “Would that help, Brett?”
And so, I managed to placate Brett by placing Happy Gilmore in the DVD player. He called his dad, who was already on the way to the apartment. Crisis averted, I crawled back to the bedroom, to get some shut-eye.
I didn’t sleep until six in the morning. The kids woke up at eight. By that point, daylight savings time was in effect. Which meant, I received sixty minutes of sleep.
Which is why, after sneaking the kids out of the apartment, I felt totally justified in making an announcement to Corb and the kids, later that afternoon.
“I have one goal this afternoon,” I said. “No laundry. No cleaning. No dishes. I’m just going to spread out on the couch, read the latest New Yorker...and sleep.”
The sleep was good and the sun felt great, streaming through the double doors. I even managed to crawl into the bedroom and watch the conclusion of the fifth season of Gilmore Girls, with Ashes. It was a relaxing end to an evening of simmering anxiety, and it almost made the whole ordeal worth it.
Almost. Only next year...back to the hotel. No need to wake sleeping Troglodyte's ever again.