I think his name was Michael.

Throughout much of my adult life I have avoided becoming friendly with my neighbors. I try to be pleasant towards them, say "good morning" when I walk by them, and offer a smile and a nod. I don't want to be their friends. It upsets the delicate balance when people who live close by decide to stop by every day when I get home from work and come over uninvited on the weekends to soak up large blocks of my time because they believe they have an open invitation. As such, I have always labored to demonstrate to my neighbors that I am pleasant and friendly but that I do not want to develop any kind of relationship with them.

Michael lived next door.

Because of the alignment of studio apartments in the apartment complex in which I am doing time, Michael and I shared a "common balcony." When I first moved into the apartment in 1997 I was concerned about this shared balcony. I became more concerned after I met Michael. Two weeks into my time here, he came out of his apartment and greeted me. I was unloading groceries from my car. He was holding a beer and staggering in his doorway. For almost an hour he engaged me in what can loosely be described as a conversation. He rambled on about several topics and repeated himself frequently. He slurred his words at some points and ranted angrily at others. Since I was new in town he wanted to give me some insight into life in Orlando. Instead he gave me a burning desire to avoid any future contact with him. For this I felt sorry. It meant classifying a human being as unworthy of my time. He was lonely and figured I must be lonely as well.

"I get to fly on the airline for free.
My sister works for the airline.
I get to fly free because my sister works for the airline.
Ain't no reason not to have a job in this town.
Go to a hotel and work in maintenance.
People who don't work and live in the streets make me sick.
I see you have furniture in your apartment.
I'm thinking about getting some one of these days.
You should come over for a beer sometime.
My balcony door is always unlocked.
Come in and help yourself.
Watch out though.
Sometimes I puke on the carpet
cuz I don't have enough time to get to the bathroom.
My sister lives in San Antonio
She gets me free airfare on the airline.
There ain't no reason not to have a job in this town."

Michael moved out a few weeks ago. Something tragic had happened in his life and I'm not really sure what it was. He had lived in his apartment since the mid-1980s when the complex was first built. Just before he moved there was a note on his door from the complex manager. She asked him to bring "the two certified letters" to the office as soon as possible so they could process the paperwork to terminate his lease. He loaded everything he had, which was not very much, onto the back of his pick-up truck and drove off into the night.

Michael never had any visitors.

When I first moved to Orlando, Michael rode a bicycle to work. He had lost his driver's license on account of multiple DWI offenses. Around Christmas of that year he acquired Fleetwood Mac's The Dance and played it over and over for the next twelve months. Sometimes there would be a knock on his door. Someone collecting for a charity or trying to sell something would bother him. He would stand behind the closed door and mumble that he only opened his door "for friends." This was interesting because he never had any friends visit in the five years I lived next door. I think he wanted friends. One night I was sitting on my half of the balcony with two associates and he wandered on over. He was marvelously drunk and dropped his beer can and tripped over it. Michael asked if we wanted a beer because he had plenty in his refrigerator. We had plenty of our own, and my friends were frightened by his appearance. They looked down at their shoes while I told Michael we were "all set, but thanks." He never came by again.

"You have to take care of your vehicle."

When Michael got his driver's license back he got an old car. Later he would buy a new pick-up truck. I would see him in the parking lot, checking under the hood or washing and buffing the exterior. He would tell people who walked by that they needed to take care of their vehicles and keep them nice so they held their value. A wonderful lesson from a man who frequently threw up on his carpet. They gutted his apartment this week. It smelled like slow death inside, as I learned when I crept over and saw the door open in an effort to air things out. The carpet was badly stained. Michael had not been kidding about his vomiting troubles. The inside of the refrigerator was covered with a layer of brown decay and his bathroom was thick with mildew and a wide array of stains. They threw the appliances out, pulled out the carpet and began to install a new floor. The acids from his regurgitations had eaten through the floorboards. He got very angry when people didn't take care of their cars.

I could set my watch by the sound of Michael
opening a beer can every ten minutes.

I wonder sometimes about the fate of this sad little alcoholic man. I like to think I can have a positive impact on people's lives, but I wasn't going near his with a ten-foot pole. I remember him standing and talking to me that day early on in my Orlando adventures. His skin was frighteningly pale. His teeth were rotten and covered with thick plaque. His hair was thin, curly and rat-like. His eyes were vacant and his aroma was that of a person who has lost their ability to smell themselves. What bothered me most about that conversation was his judgmental attitude. I think he needed to make himself feel superior to anyone he could. Homeless people, jobless people, drug users, homosexuals, and others were lambasted in his attempt at conversation that day. Because of it I didn't feel sympathetic towards him. I let him sit alone in his filthy apartment with no furniture drinking himself to death. A part of me was afraid I could someday become like him. Whenever I brought a woman home or had friends visit, I could see him in his window watching. I don't know if he was jealous or just overly curious. Most of the women were friends from out of town, but he probably got the idea I was quite the womanizer.

He knew I was avoiding him.

After I spent my first year in Orlando purposely dodging Michael, he began to avoid me. This was fine with me. I wanted to have nothing to do with him. There is a certain sadness in that. I consciously and openly considered another human being to be less worthy of oxygen than myself. I didn't care about his lonely and sad life. All I cared about was avoiding him. I was glad to see him move, but curious about what had happened to him. I expected there to come a day when the police would show up and find his dead body lying in a pile of his vomit. Now I wonder where he went. Did he find hope? Did he admit himself into a rehabilitation hospital? Is he in jail? Did he move back to San Antonio with his sister, who got him free airfare all the time? Is his family looking after him now? Did he find a friend? I don't know because I didn't care. For this I feel guilty and part of me hopes he found some kind of light but it is more likely he has sunken into greater darkness.

Eventually someone else will move in next door.
There will be no evidence of Michael's existence.
They just pulled the bathtub out.
Three Hispanic men listening to a Spanish radio evangelist.
I think I'll put on Fleetwood Mac's The Dance
To drown them out.

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