Circuit Breakers

A Handy Use

Setting: Albany, NY, around 1992. The first floor of a large Victorian house that has been split into three apartments.

My bedroom was the largest room of the house, and directly underneath the main room of the larger of the two apartments on the second floor. We almost never saw our neighbors; they had a separate entrance on another side of the house. From the sounds coming from above, I assumed they were college students. That's not necessarily a bad thing in my book, and for the most part they were tolerable. There was one incident, though, that taught me the importance of having access to the basement.

One night, someone upstairs turned on the television set in the main room and tuned it to MTV. The music was loud enough to be heard vaguely downstairs. It didn't bother my housemate, since he worked third shift. I, on the other hand, worked days, and found it hard to sleep through the noise.

Two things made it worse. The first was that my bed was in a loft, and was about three feet from the ceiling -- their floor. The music was obnoxiously loud at that distance. The other problem was that whoever had turned on the television must have fallen asleep in front of the set.

I tried everything I could think of. I banged on the ceiling to no avail. They didn't have a doorbell, and the downstairs door was locked; knocking produced no response. We didn't have their phone number, so I couldn't call.

In the end I gave up and tried to sleep. Sometime during the night I remember hearing the bass line from a then-popular U2 song. The night went by slowly. Thumpa thumpa thumpa bump-bump, all night long.

Did I mention I had two important job interviews scheduled the next day. Did I mention I really needed a better job?

I tried to snatch minutes of sleep throughout the night. Finally it was getting light. Then I heard it: from upstairs, over the sound of the music, came a few loud thumps, like feet hitting the floor and crossing the room. The footfalls stopped, and suddenly there was complete silence. Whoever had fallen asleep upstairs had finally awoken and turned the darn TV off -- at 7:00 AM, just the time I normally got up. Just when I wouldn't have minded the sound, it went off.

I got up, and got the job too.

It happened again some time later. By this time I'd learned, though. When the music didn't go down, I put on a robe and slippers, got a flashlight, and headed for the basement. In the far corner was the circuit breaker box. There didn't seem to be a breaker listed for the 2nd floor main room, so instead I tried them one by one. CLICK - off. The music was still audible, even in the basement. CLICK - on. On to the next. CLICK. No change. CLICK. CLICK, CLICK. CLICK, CLICK. CLICK... nothing seemed to work. I went back upstairs.

Sleep still wouldn't come. Back downstairs. There was one unlabeled circuit breaker I hadn't tried. CLICK: silence. Ahhhh. I left it in the off position and went back upstairs to sleep. A little later I faintly heard music, sounding like it was coming from the third floor. I slept through it.

In the morning I went back downstairs and turned the circuit back on. I wonder; did they notice their lights going on and off in other rooms. Did they think there was a power failure in the morning when they had to reset their digital clocks?

I only had to use the circuit breaker one more time in the time we lived there.

Lesson: If you live in a building with noisy people as immediate neighbors, it helps to have exclusive access to the circuit breaker box.

Last updated 3 June 2000
Contents ©1999-2002 Mark L. Irons.