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Dueling Decibels by: Pamela Ross
by Pamela Ross
After an extended tour to South America, Pamela Ross was
looking forward to no crowds, no phones, no noise.
Someone else had other plans.


I had just returned home from a long, but exciting tour to South America with my one-piano show, "CARRENO", and I was looking forward to a few days of R & R. No greasepaint, no crowds, no phones, no noise, just Chinese take-out, thank you very much.

So when I found out that a rock DJ/arranger had moved into the vacant loft directly on top of mine while I was gone, I hit the ceiling.

"But he's JUNIOR VASQUEZ! He's FAMOUS!", the realtor-in-question proclaimed defensively. "I don't care if he's GOD!!", I shouted back. "If I hear a single 'boom,' your you-know-what is GRASS!" I slammed the receiver down.

My heart raced, my temples pounded. It was happening already. Traumatic high blood pressure. This is a documented type of sky-rocketing blood pressure that occurs instantaneously upon hearing the word "rock". The "DJ" part kicks in a few seconds later.

He rang the doorbell. It figured. He was a rock DJ. He just HAD to press whatever little buttons he could find. He just HAD to see what they sounded like.

"Who is it?!?"


"Junior who?", I lied.

"Just...Junior. Your new neighbor. Came to introduce myself."

I let the peephole cover bang shut. "All right, all right," I grumbled, just like my Grandfather did whenever my Grandmother asked him to grind up the chicken because her false teeth didn't fit right.

He looked...normal. He dressed...normal. He sounded... normal. He was smiling. He had big dimples. He was even...well, cute.

This did not bode well. I invited him in, in spite of myself. Gingerly, he stepped into my apartment. He looked to the right. He looked to the left.

"So where's the 9 foot monster?", he grinned.

That realtor!!

"Sound doesn't travel UP!" I snapped.

He spotted my 9 foot Baldwin sitting out front, by the windows.

I heard myself shrieking. "You can't hear it! It's a fact! We've had experts up there!"

"I'm not worried. Anyhow, I LIKE classical music."

Quick, I said to myself. Think quick.

"Me, too. Coffee?"

"No, thanks. Gotta get back to work."

"Oh. Where is work?"

Did I really want to hear this?


I could feel my molars grinding together.

"If anything bothers you, just come up and knock. O.K.?"


Within minutes, my whole place shook. My hair shook. Dead mice came to life. My formerly calm, serene existence became an acid trip as seen through the eyes of Mary Queen of Scots before her head fell off.

I slammed open my back door. Fell into a mousetrap I'd set in the hall. Clumbered noisily up the stairs. Chunked on Junior's door. Nothing. Slugged it with my left foot. Nothing. Threw my whole body against it. A little dog, smelling my desperation through the door, barked. Junior appeared. The sounds of rock music crashed over me like a tidal wave during a hurricane. "You'll have to turn it down," I lip synched. He nodded, beckoning me into his studio.

Equipment glistened on the shelves like the braces on my teeth when I was twelve. Grammys mounted on the wall shot darts into my eyes.

I must have been on tour when he moved it all in. You don't miss the scraping sounds of that much heavy metal being dragged over your ceiling.

Do you?

So there we were, the two of us, facing off, Junior not quite grasping that I was drowning in an avalanche of 'booms'. "Let's trade places?" I asked him. "You go downstairs. Play my piano. Then, I'll turn up your synthesizer. We'll meet in 10 minutes. Compare, uh, notes."

I was sure we would have to petition for the Warsaw Peace Pact in Manhattan.

Junior, returning from my apartment, was astounded by how much he could hear (and feel) downstairs. And I definitely couldn't hear him playing my piano. There was my evidence. Loud and clear.

Later I found out that he never even touched the piano.

We made an agreement. First, he would lower his decibel level. Next, I would tell him when I had to practice, and he would move his gear to the opposite end of the apartment. That way, he could do his composing without giving me a migraine. If he needed to work at night, he would switch to the side farthest from my bedroom and use his headsets, so I could sleep. He never asked me not to practice while HE was sleeping, so I assumed he couldn't hear me pounding the bajeebers out of the Liszt Mephisto Waltz.

Then one day I noticed that his little dog Oscar (stage name: Emilio Poochie), who for some reason was only using 3 legs, was also losing some of his hair in odd patches.

"What's THAT?", I asked, pointing at the furry little creature unceremoniously.

"It's nothing. He just gets these nervous fits every once in a while."

"But he's only a year old!"

"He's a little sensitive, that's all".

Must be all that heavy metal, I thought.

Later that evening, after Junior left for his club, I was playing the Mephisto Waltz when I heard a sad howling noise coming from the bathroom vents. I rushed into the bathroom only to hear...Oscar. He was either missing Junior or else it was...No. I didn't want to think about it.

Little by little, Junior took his recording equipment out of his apartment and moved it to the more spacious studio at his night club. No more 'boom-boom-boom' from upstairs. I began to feel lonely. Deserted. I stopped playing the Mephisto Waltz. I switched to Chopin Nocturnes.

Oscar stopped howling. He started using all 4 legs again. His fur grew back.

And then the unmentionable happened. A neighbor four floors up from me cornered me in the elevator. "I'm, uh, glad you finally stopped playing that Liszt thing." I gasped. "You can hear it all the way up THERE?!?" "Of course! What did you think, this place was soundproof?!?"

He slammed the gate shut on my foot.

If Junior moves out of here, I'm going with him. When you've got a neighbor like him, you've got to stick with him. Through thick walls and thin walls. Through shag rugs and Persians. I'll even practice on my synthesizer with my earphones on, so I don't wake him up.

Do you know why I can't hear his footsteps on my ceiling? Because he doesn't wear shoes, that's why.

Listen. I'll give up Prokofiev. I'll give up Bartok. I'll even give up Liszt. But I am NOT giving up Junior!



Pamela Ross

Pamela Ross was born in Louisiana and has roots in Spain and South America. She studied music at Juilliard and holds a B.A. degree from Queens College, NYC, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude. Graduate studies were pursued at Yale University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she received a Master of Music degree. Miss Ross has taught at Yale University, Johns Hopkins University and at Emory University.
Visit her website at: Pamela Ross in Carreņo and goodbye, harry


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