Sensitive and Insane

The Witch of Micheltorena

Remember in my first column, when I hinted at having a full-blown nervous breakdown?

Well, I’m not going to talk about that here. I’m doing what the second season of House of Cards did, starving you the Lucas/Cyberhacking storyline for a few episodes.

Let’s go back to the Silver Lake apartment. This was the apartment situated next to the building’s pool pump, which emitted a faint screeching sound, and which I didn’t notice until after moving in. The sound was driving me insane because I was suffering from severe noise sensitivity at the time.

I considered two options:

1) Move out.

2) Fix or replace the pool pump.

I started with option number two and called a Leslie’s Pool Supplies in Burbank. I learned about a quiet pool pump called the “Intelliflo Variable Speed Pump,” which was priced at approximately $500.

Given that the costs of moving would be roughly the same, I rationalized it would be worthwhile to pay for it myself. I offered this to the apartment manager, who contacted the landlords (an eighty-year-old couple), who met with me to discuss the situation. The meeting went terribly. The wife played “bad cop” and showed no sympathy, telling me that they’ve never experienced any problem with the pump and that if I was displeased, I should move out. What was worse, she called me out on having a noise sensitivity problem, which triggered an endless stream of rage.

You see, at the time, I had convinced myself that I didn’t have a problem. I had constructed a “logical” world in which my sensitivity was okay. I rationalized that other noises—dogs barking, cars honking, music playing—were intermittent and “natural” sounding and therefore tolerable.

Subconsciously, though, I knew I was insane.

I knew I was insane because I had invited my friends over to see the apartment a few weeks prior and their faces dropped in confusion when I told them about the pool pump. I knew because they couldn’t fully hear the sound and I had to open the window for them to crane their heads outside. I knew because I made them stand in different corners of my apartment asking if they could hear the sound, trying to determine the exact zones in which it was present, and watched as their expressions of confusion turned to concern. I knew because my father visited me, determined to solve the problem like any good father would be, and we spent an entire day driving to different sound stores in search of the foam that’s used to insulate recording studios. I knew because when he sat in the middle of my living room floor, cutting the foam with an exacto knife, sizing it to the precise dimensions of my windows, he started sweating from the heat, and his face was red and tired looking, like he never signed up for any of this and was just waiting for the crazy to end.

So when the landlord called me out on having a noise sensitivity problem, I experienced that rage you experience in an argument when someone calls you out on something so painful and true that your only recourse is to feel strongly about how wrong they are, when you know in your heart they’re deeply right.

Like any person in a downward spiral, I channeled my rage into a “revenge plan.” This plan consisted of writing a short story that would portray the landlord as an evil witch, and then be sent to her home address, which I had obtained through extensive Googling.

Unfortunately, I was still “in it,” as they say, and the story ended up sounding like a rage-filled rant by a psychotic person whose plight was completely unsympathetic. I had this confirmed to me by numerous friends who read the story and provided the following feedback:

“I don’t feel connected to the characters. It’s like I don’t care about the narrator’s problem and so I lose interest.” – Margherita Arco

“I had a really hard time following and my attention started to wander. I can’t relate to an annoying pool noise. It isn’t something that bothers me.” – Lauren Platt

“The intro is too sticky. It reduces my desire to read further.” – Craig Battin

“Make yourself appear more logical and sane. It will be more interesting to the reader.” – Nicole Najafi

“Maybe put something in where you question whether the landlord is actually right about your hypersensitivity?” –Lindsay Talbot

“It needs a bit of work.” – Seth Fischer (writing teacher)

I, however, remained convinced that I had written a masterpiece. That my friends simply didn’t understand, just like the landlord didn’t understand, as I tried my hardest to remain ignorant to the fact that the people who were understanding me was a number fast approaching zero.

The story was entitled “The Witch of Micheltorena Street.”

Here is the excerpt in which I introduce the landlord:

To be clear, she did not possess the qualities of a witch commonly portrayed in folklore. Rather she appeared as an upper-middle-class woman in her seventies, whose perfume was some combination of Chanel No. 5 and airplane bathroom.

Where I describe the sound of the pool pump:

Imagine a car with squealing break pads, trying to decelerate down a hill that never ends. A shopping cart with rusted wheels, dragged around a grocery store by Tuck Everlasting. A pendulum operating in an air vacuum swinging until eternity, but in need of oil to stop squeaking but oil had run out on planet earth.

A second excerpt where I describe the sound:

It was like a subway car coming to a stop on a railway that never ends. Or a subway car coming to a stop on Groundhog Day, where Groundhog Day is actually more like the thirty-second span in which the car is stopping. Or a subway car that runs in a loop and has to make no stops, but happens to sound like it’s stopping even when it’s just running normally.

Eventually, after being medicated and looking back on this whole ordeal, I realize how the event was just the unfortunate combination of two factors: 1) an insane person, 2) the world we live in.

When you’re insane, your plight is unsympathetic. You’re complaining about a pool pump noise when no one else can hear it. You become convinced it’s ruining your life when no one wants to hear it (your story, not the pool pump). You’re freaking out over a mole turning into skin cancer when no one thinks that’s likely and therefore no one cares. You’re obsessing over the same issues in your relationship, which you’ve shared with all of your friends at least fifty billion times, and again—no one cares. You’ve drawn some remote connection between two unrelated events and developed a conspiracy theory that no one cares about.

You’re insane, and no one cares, because to gain sympathy, you have to be sane. If you’re not sane, then life in this world becomes very difficult. No one gives you leeway or compromise and things just get harder for you. You’re two pool pumps away from standing on a street corner, muttering nonsense to yourself, and asking for money.

Shirin Najafi is a writer living in Los Angeles. She graduated from Columbia University with a degree in economics and worked in investment banking before deciding to quit and become a writer. She performs the voice of a cat in some videos (www.magicalstew.com) and is currently working on her first novel.