Rear Window

While replying to a work-related email, I noticed a company name and address in the sender’s signature line. After the business part of my reply, I wrote a P.S., “How’s your view?” I inquired. I knew the recipient received the email because the next morning there was a sign in the window of his firm reading, “Good morning, Ashley” in big black letters. I noticed the sign when I walked into my kitchen and looked out the window while making tea — it turns out one of my windows looks almost directly out over theirs (they are one floor down from me).

Every morning, from nearly every window of my five window apartment, I am greeted by a group of art students (the upstairs neighbors of my email recipient’s firm) who paint, sculpt, draw, and Papier-mâché directly across from my kitchen. The art teacher’s office, decorated in macramed plant holders and wall-hangings, is nearly within arm’s length of one of my bedroom windows. Above the art school lives a family with two small children — who love to look out their windows during thunderstorms. The family’s latest aquisition is a black and white painting of a leaping frog, which, after much debate, they finally decided to hang next to their Viking range, above the computer desk. I watched that whole scene play out from my kitchen window one Saturday afternoon, while I was cooking.

Nighttime is more exciting. My neighbors across from my living room window (we live in an “H-shaped” building, so our living room windows look out on to each other) come home around midnight, their bright lights (sans curtains) flood into my apartment. From their nocturnal activities, I’ve guessed him to be a restaurant manager and her to be a model. She’s always coming in late at night with rolling luggage and a suit bag (and leaving the apartment mid-morning) while he doesn’t leave till late afternoon. They’re definitely not married. They also fight quite a bit. And, his feet smell. The latest fight was about his looking at other woman, and his ridiculous gold sneakers. I have to agree with the girlfriend on that account, the sneakers are ridiculous looking. How do I know? Apart from seeing them first-hand in the elevator, he also airs them out on the ledge of his living room window, cracking the window open when he does this — a sign of odorous feet, perhaps?

I know I’m not alone in watching my neighbors’ lives play out like a television series. The New York Times found other people who freely admit to spying on their neighbors, either for folly, their health, or artistic/journalistic purposes. In New York, we learn to live in tight quarters. We stand closer to people in the subway during rush hour than we ever would allow during a conversation. Personal space is a whole lot less personal in a city. We become somewhat unwitting voyeurs, but curiosity sometimes overrules our manners. Our neighbor’s life may be entirely different than our own, more exciting, sad, colorful, happy, sex-filled, lonely … or perhaps it’s because their lives are exactly like ours. We come home, hang up our coat/throw it down on a chair; check the mail/answering machine/fridge; use the bathroom; relax on the couch/watch TV; have sex; cook dinner; go to sleep and start it all over again.

City living is a mash up of reality television and a really great novel. People are living in front of you, acting on their own accord, but you provide the dialogue of their lives; you imagine their personalities beyond those four walls and what makes their life worth living; then you turn the page to see what happens next.

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