Noe Valley Voice December-January 2008

For Rent: One Crazy Place

By Robin Dutton-Cookson

Our downstairs neighbor, Laura, just moved out. She left in a civil manner, so we don't have to worry about her setting fire to the house or coming back to steal our mail. But she also left because of us. We drove her crazy. We have that effect on people who live underneath us.

It all started back at our old flat on Alamo Square. Randy, who I liken to a gray-haired drug-dealing version of Schneider from One Day at a Time, squatted in the storage unit below our building. He parked his white serial-killer van in the driveway at all hours.

One day, his meth-head girlfriend stood outside our place with a metal rake and scraped the sidewalk for about seven hours. That Night of the Living Dead moment freaked me out so bad that we packed up our precious baby and fled our awesome Victorian for the so-called safer digs of Noe Valley.

But trouble soon came a knockin'. Bill, who lived in the in-law unit below us, was initially nice enough. Friendly. Took his turn taking out the trash and recycling. But Bill went on a downward spiral after getting laid off. He stayed up for three solid days on a drinking binge that turned him psychotic.

Bill ended up hallucinating a massive scenario in which snipers hid in trees and I took his side (thank God) against a conspiracy put forth by the landlord. It all culminated one sunny spring day when he gave me a look on the stairs that scared me so much I was afraid to go home. I imagined him smashing in our window with a baseball bat or pushing me down the stairs in front of my child.

Poor Bill put a few belongings in a ragged suitcase and a paper bag, and he walked down our street into the Mission neighborhood. I thought he was off to become homeless, but he checked himself into S.F. General. Our landlord called Bill's family in Los Angeles to come get him, and then Bill was gone.

I started to wonder if my family made our neighbors turn crazy.

The in-law unit stayed empty for a year while the owner cleaned out the dusty remnants of Bill's psychosis. And then came Laura.

Laura toured the place while we were out of town in Texas, so she didn't get a chance to sneak-preview the cacophony of stomping and screaming that would go on over her head each day. She quickly became tired of my family's noise. But instead of acting cool about it and just talking to us, Laura threw temper tantrums that shook the walls and rattled the windows.

See I told you we made people crazy.

We made countless compromises in our lifestyle, resulting in greater conflict for our family. We constantly barked at the kids to keep the noise down so as not to bother Laura. Nothing helped.

No matter how much we took off our shoes, closed off the playroom (above Laura's bedroom) until 10 a.m. on weekends and 8 a.m. on weekdays, forced my eldest daughter not to stomp or jump or run or have any sort of matter how much we did any of those things, Laura became angrier and angrier with us. She called the landlord to complain about us. She slammed her doors.

And she got into this crazy passive-aggressive thing with her bathroom fan.

The cheap fan is located directly underneath my pillow, and it vibrates our bedroom floor so hard the bed shakes. It gives me a headache even if I am up and walking around. If Laura turned it on while I was trying to sleep, I might as well have gotten up and cleaned the house.

We also had our second child right around the time Laura perfected her fan technique. The fan woke the baby up from her naps and bedtime sleep pretty much every day. This greatly hampered any glimmer of sympathy I could muster when Laura yelled at us that she was "completely sleep-deprived" because she couldn't sleep in until 11 on Saturdays due to my children playing.

Suffice it to say that Laura completely sucked as a neighbor. But our landlord totally took her side and always asked us to keep it down. One time, he even went so far as to question our parenting, a move any landlord should know is guaranteed to earn them a place in San Francisco tenant law hell.

Yes, we are happy that Laura is now gone. And even though we are curious about the next person who will live downstairs, we are currently celebrating. We've been in this house for five years, and we love our "affordable" San Francisco digs.

I let the kids run straight into the playroom at 6:30 a.m. this morning and dump a giant box of Legos on the floor. They screamed and stomped, as children are supposed to do. At dinnertime this evening, we made a family toast to Laura. "Here's to being as loud as we want in our own home!"

About Robin Dutton-Cookston

Robin Dutton-Cookston, 35, is an author and columnist whose writings populate many web and print publications, including Mothering, Hip Mama, Clamor, and Mom Writer's Literary Magazine. This fall, she published The Foggiest Idea, a collection of essays she has accumulated since moving to San Francisco in 2002. It's a "Tales of the City for the playground set," she says. The 160-page paperback is available on or can be special-ordered through local bookstores. She also puts out an "old-fashioned photocopied zine" called Apron Strings.

In addition to her literary pursuits, Dutton-Cookston works for San Francisco's official website for families (, and blogs at She lives in Upper Noe with "one husband, two little girls, one cat, and lots and lots of spiders." This is her sixth year making a ruckus in the neighborhood.

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