Forum — From the August 2013 issue

Neighbors

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Maximilian in the basement watched TV every night. I lay on a mattress on the floor in the apartment above him. He’d turn on the news around ten, fall asleep, and leave it going all night.

Once, I visited a couple who lived next door to a circus. It was loud, but even so, a whole circus — animals, ringleader, crowd — was quieter than Maximilian’s thundering TV. And yet, his apartment had no electricity. This was Albany Park, Chicago, 1999: broken windows, broken doorbells, balky hot water, apartments partitioned in two, apartments formed in unfinished, unwired spaces. Maximilian powered his TV by an extension cord that ran up the basement stairs into the entryway and attached to a light. When I’d had enough, I’d go down and unplug it. He’d wake, shout in confusion, then fall back asleep. If this is the worst it gets, I thought, well, I can handle it. Then Maximilian’s girlfriend came back, and it got much, much worse.

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is the author, most recently, of the memoir Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War (Henry Holt).

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