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Tales of Tossman
Part I

Photo of Arthur Tossman

by Robert J. BAUMANN

"You want to find an apartment in Manhattan?", exclaimed my parents.

"Yes. It seems logical. It is where I work and where I hang out. Why not?"

"It will cost you an arm and a leg!", said my dad. My mom thought
worse. The only kind of rent I could afford would place me in a neighborhood where bullets were delivered like take-out Chinese food.

She was certain that within hours after my relocation I'd be on a slab in a morgue, unknown, unloved and unidentified. Given their fears there would be no way logic or reason would calm them, so I just decided I'd move and that would be that. The only question indeed was the one they had given some worried thought to.... where?

My co-workers all knew the names of real estate people who, for a modest fee, would find me a palace. After all, hadn't they also forded the river and made their home in the city that never sleeps?

You expect New York rents to be high. It helps keep the riff-raff on rent control.

On a sunny day in February I went apartment shopping with my agent.

Agents usually have a place to show you right off the top of their head. They sit. They listen to you describe your dreams and then they show you the same apartment they were going to show you when you walked through the door. I think there is a law about that.

I was taken to a small building and an even smaller studio apartment on the West Side. Even the thought of the East Side was so amusing that my agent nearly wet himself with laughter at the mere mention of it. East Side? Do you know what the cheapest rental is that I am aware of? You'd have to supplement your income with robbery and even then you might not have enough, he told me. The West Side and the older buildings there were soundly constructed and affordable. I'd be near everything. I'd be happy. I'd be able to work long hours at low enough salary to make this a dream come true. I believed him. I moved in April after a lot of haggling, packing and planning. In May my mother let go of my left leg, thus making the move from home quite final.

Yes, it was a paradise. The small kitchen was hardly used. My whole studio was a bed and a table which doubled as my desk. I did have a chair. I did have TV. My window, such as it was, did not open. The air conditioner had been fit into it for year round use. It did have a nice southern exposure... of the building across the street. That building was the rear delivery side of an office building whose windows were constantly dark and appeared to be blocked by boxes or garbage of one kind or another. Paradise.

As bad as this may sound to you, not much made the place interesting until the Tossmans moved in next door to me. Arthur and Yvette Tossman. A pair of humans who truly defy description. They were a match like a black dress shoe matches a brown one. You could argue that you had two pair like this. This was the Tossman household. No kids. Just Tossmen, if that would be the plural for more than one Tossman.

I did not realize how thin the walls were until Ms. Tossman arrived to put them to the test. They failed. I think that her incessant dragon breath might have weakened the walls. The woman always shrieked and never softly. A shrill voice would be one you could get used to, but Ms. Tossman's voice was such that made such an adjustment impossible. Mr. Tossman worked during a night shift, so the arguments did not begin until he came home and woke up his wife, usually around 3 a.m. Arguments? No, more like lectures. I never heard Mr. Tossman do more than grunt. His grunts seemed to flow from out of the bathroom. They were of the sort that revealed some kind of strain he was involved with rather than agreement or disagreement. It was as if the whole life of this fellow was devoted to a rotten job with lousy pay and horrid hours. He arrived home for the one thing that gave his life some meaning: A good bowel movement. He apparently never used his office toilet because seven days a week I could hear the Tossman grunts followed eventually by the sound of relief. It would be too much to think that this could be Tossman sex, but who knows? During all the grunting I'd heard Ms. Tossman would be reciting a litany of invective about life and love in general. Would she have been shrieking about such things during sex? Possible but not probable.

No, none of it was silent. I'd gotten into the routine of being awake at 3 a.m. simply because one did not sleep when Tossmen were awake. I'd be up making coffee just around the time that Tossman began his grunts, usually within five minutes after slamming his door shut. Tossman never closed a door, nor did his wife. The finality of a closed door could not be accomplished without a nice, loud slam. I was beginning to think the Tossmans were deaf. Whatever the case, they were indeed loud. The neighbor on the other side of their apartment often hammered on the wall and Ms. Tossman shrieked and hammered back. The people above and below the Tossmans came and went, usually not long enough to have to put up with the noise.

Days were quieter. Ms. Tossman would be out shopping and Mr. T would be sleeping at some point in time. He did not leave for work until late afternoon. A brief argument with Ms. Tossman would be enough to get him running away to work. She was indeed quite a gem. I actually saw her once. It was early on and I tried being friendly enough to say "Hello, Mrs. Tossman". Ms. T read Sandburg, I think. Good fences make good neighbors. She turned to me and shrieked "I don't talk to strangers.... and my name is not 'Mrs'. I am Ms. Tossman!". On that note, the door was slammed shut. She did not talk to strangers. Hmmmn, I thought. How did she ever meet Tossman?

What do the arguments sound like? I recorded a few. I will tell you the next time we meet.


Profile of Robert J. BAUMANN

See the class blog at: or the blog with music at

Summer 2006
Issue# 18
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