In New York, the word “super” can be an oxymoron. Short for superintendent, this is the person responsible for your building’s upkeep. With no shortage of byzantine plumbing problems, vermin infestations (of the four, six and eight legged kind), Edison-era wiring, saggy floors and saggier ceilings, supers are frequently the fall guys for these and myriad other NYC apartment woes.
Luckily, my super lived up to his title. Not only was he a wizard with a plunger and duct tape, he was my building’s peacekeeper.
My neighbor made lots of noise. This included, but was not limited to, bass-heavy music at 2am. You cannot drown out bass. Maybe that’s why it’s named after a fish. (Ha, nailed it!)
First time it happened, I banged on the wall, which I thought was standard newyorkese for turn it down please. It elicited a less than neighborly response. Subsequent attempts to stop the nightly rhythmic thud — notes on the door, hallway conversations, complaints to the landlord, earplugs — didn’t fare any better. It culminated with my neighbor coming to my door with a baseball bat, telling me to go back to Connecticut (I’d never been to Connecticut. And I’m not much of a baseball fan).
So I went to the super, who went into shuttle diplomat mode right quick. He met with each of us individually and listened to our concerns. He helped my neighbor understand that I wasn’t some yuppie plutocrat, but a nice non-profit human rights guy. He helped me understand that my neighbor was a good kid he’d known since childhood, who was frustrated by the changes in his neighborhood. And by the way, his father had been a political prisoner in a country in which I had worked. The super did what a great mediator does — helps parties see the other as a three-dimensional being, and not as a convenient stereotype.
While I never quite became friends with my neighbor, the noise did decrease significantly, and we (only slightly awkwardly) said “hey” to each other in the hallway from then on.
We mediate lots and lots of noise complaints at the New York Peace Institute, and we do a pretty good job of it. Nevertheless, I wish I were still in touch with the super super. He’s a natural mediator, and we could use him around here.
As much as we may be neurologically wired primarily for fight or flight, we are by nature cooperative, social beings. And some of us, regardless of our education or upbringing or profession, seemed to be wired to build peace. If only my apartment were wired to run more than one appliance.