By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
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Their fights were always loud, always annoying, but also sad and funny. Haskett, who is gay, displays a bitchy elan, and his put-downs verge on high camp.
For example: "Giggles, giggles, giggles, you dirty little man. You always giggle falsely. You don't have a decent giggle in you." When Ray ruined their evening meal, it became, "You've crucified the dinner!"
But Peter's classic line -- which serves as the title of the play, the CD, the comic book, and Gibbs and Rosenthal's movie -- was "Shut up, little man."
"Little man," of course, was Raymond, who died in 1992 of a heart attack prompted by colon cancer, pancreatitis, and alcoholism, according to the medical examiner. Ray, whose sexuality is still open to debate, hated gays and had a much more limited, cruder vocabulary than Peter. With him, it was cocksucker this and cocksucker that. However, when he was alone, he would launch into dark soliloquies:
"I love people. I love the world. I love a lot of things. But I sure can't love a piece of shit."
Much of this I know firsthand. For three years, between 1991 and 1994, I lived in the building next to Raymond and Peter's apartment. My bedroom window was a mere 15 feet from their front door. Many a night I would lie awake on my futon, listening to Peter yelling, "Shut your goddamn mouth!" over and over and over, like a riffing victim of Tourette's syndrome.
More often than not, though, my four roommates and I would be in the kitchen throwing together a meal on the cheap -- pasta or burritos -- and through our closed window we'd hear the familiar strains of urban life.
Raymond: "I'm a man, I'm a man. But you ain't nothing but a cocksucker. A cocksucker ain't a human bein'."
Peter: "Shut up, I'm trying to watch Angela Lansbury."
We'd rush over, pop open our kitchen window, and have a few laughs about the peculiar logic of inebriation.
By the time we found our front-row seats, Raymond and Peter were already on the verge of underground fame. Their role as the Abbott and Costello of boozing had already been fixed in 1987 when two twentysomethings, Eddie Lee Sausage and Mitchell D., moved in next door. (Eddie Lee and Mitchell asked to be identified by their long-standing pseudonyms.)
Two recent college graduates from the University of Wisconsin, Eddie Lee and Mitchell took the first apartment they saw when they moved out to San Francisco. Only after they signed the lease did the landlady mention the "loud neighbors."
Soon Eddie, whose paper-thin bedroom wall abutted Raymond and Peter's living room, was being roused from slumber by brawls next door. Eddie Lee says he went by one evening to ask for some peace and quiet and Ray threatened to kill him.
"I was a killer before you were born, and I'll be a killer after you die," Eddie Lee recalls Raymond saying.
This encounter, coupled with the skull Raymond and Peter kept in their window, frightened him, Eddie Lee says. To amass evidence of threats, Eddie Lee and Mitchell say they began taping the fights next door with a crude boombox. They went as far as to dangle a microphone into Raymond and Peter's window.
By 1989, when they left the apartment, Eddie Lee and Mitchell had become completely obsessed with Raymond and Peter.
"After a while, we became them," Eddie Lee says from Seattle where he works in a used-book store. "We would emulate them all the time. Our friends thought we were crazy. We annoyed the hell out of them all the time doing our Ray-and-Peter routines. Mitchell would rush home from work so he could hear them."
Eddie, who was the driving force behind the taping, was predisposed to memorializing the bizarre relationship between the two households. An art student, he was particularly enamored of the Fluxus movement of the 1960s, a group of artists including Yoko Ono who made their lives performance art.
So it's natural that Eddie Lee and Mitchell once subjected their pickled neighbors to the tapes, placing a boombox outside Ray and Peter's front door. This only led to a new argument. "Listen to yourself, Ray. You sound stupid, little man."
Later, Eddie Lee and Mitchell provoked Raymond and Peter by calling and taping prank phone calls. On one occasion, they pretended to be the Nova Express Times newspaper conducting a survey on alcoholism.
But most important, they collected the critical pieces of information that would eventually feed the lore of Raymond and Peter.
They discovered that Raymond kept a huge stuffed rabbit in the house, to which he would cling while drinking and watching television. One day, Eddie Lee went to their apartment with a couple of 40-ouncers to make up and Ray answered the door, dried corned-beef-hash puke all over his shirt. Both images appear in the comic book and at least one of the many "Shut Up Little Man" T-shirts. The rabbit plays a prominent role in the play.
But for the most part, Eddie Lee and Mitchell kept the tapes to themselves, maybe sharing them with a few friends. It wasn't until after they moved out of the city -- Eddie Lee back to Wisconsin for grad school and Mitchell to South America -- that the tapes seeped up from obscurity and into global awareness.