Like many, I can safely say that my college years were some of the best years of my life. There were friends, obscure liberal arts classes, house shows, bars, cheap beer cans, marijuana, lectures on saving the environment and various sexual rendezvouz that one would like to forget (or, for that matter, remember better). In the summer before my Senior year I moved into a one bedroom apartment on Watkins Avenue. It was a great pad, the ultimate hipster chill-zone - an attic apartment with plenty of space, a built-in bookshelf and some groovy windows.
The house was this large yellow victorian house with three floors. Each floor had two one-bedroom apartments on it, except for the first floor, which had a one-bedroom apartment and a two-bedroom apartment. I had really only met the girl that lived directly under me. She was an Art major and seemed like a good person. My apartment used to be inhabited by these dredlocked townies who grew weed in the back closet, so, naturally, my place always smelt a bit funky. But one day, the smell got strange.
My friends came over to hang out all the time, and the rental company had just turned on the heat, so we figured that the smell was coming from my radiator. Heat can smell when turned on for the first time in months. A few more days went by and the smell persisted. It was an old house, so we now thought there might be some type of deceased animal in the radiator. Also, second floor neighbor #2 (not the cool art major gal) - a strange, strange girl from a college 30 minutes away - had a cat, so we thought that she might not be cleaning the cat dung. The smell kept getting worse and worse. It got so bad that I couldn't have my friends come up the front entrance of the house. I made every visitor come up the back entrance, because it didn't smell as bad. Try bringing a girl back to your apartment with that smell? It wasn't good. Even incense couldn't clear this scent.
It was about 4 weeks when the smell started to become unbearable. My parent's came up for family weekend and I asked them to come up the front entrance, asking them if they smelled anything weird. They seemed to think it didn't smell too bad, and my mom decided that we should open the window in the hallway to air it out. I started to think that I was going crazy... was I the only one seriously smelling this?! My mom, dad and I ran into my second floor neighbor (the cool art major gal) and she said that she was experiencing the same phenomena with this smell!! I wasn't going mad...
The next day, the cool second floor neighbor gal called the rental company. I was in the library taking my literary theory midterm (it was an online exam). She says, "You'll never believe what that smell was." I said, "Tell me! Tell me!" Turns out that the old man in the two bedroom apartment on the first floor was dead for a month. I was ingesting the fumes of this dead man for a month. I was walking passed the door of a dead man everyday for a month. For all I know he was melted soup by then. This all got to me, but this isn't what bothered me the most. What really got me is that nobody even know this man was dead... no family, no rental company, no friends, no mailman.... not even the people who lived in his goddamed house! I wrote a poem for this man, "An Elegy for the Man Downstairs," and taped it to his door. I had hardly known him. He yelled at me once when I was moving in. He then spoke to me about Heidegger once. But I wrote this poem because I don't think anyone had actually ever done anything for this man; he lived alone, he died alone. I wanted this man to be remembered, although I never caught his name. He lives forever in my poem, "The Smell," which was published in my chapbook "Poems from Watkins: A Mosaic of Memories from the City of the Hills."
They say that you should know thy neighbor, and let me tell you, I will never forget him.
(I'm a HUGE fan of Snap Judgment... would love for the opportunity to share this story on the show. Happy holidays!)