Sunday, April 04, 2004

A Thin Veil of Privacy

I’ve been nursing a hacking cough all weekend. On Saturday night, I settled in front of the TV and watched Rear Window for the tenth time.

Great movie. Grace Kelly has the most amazing clothes. She floats around in great poofy taffeta numbers swirling brandy in snifters. I curled up on the sofa in jeans drinking bourbon on ice – an acceptable remedy for a tickly cough.

There are some cool lines in the movie. Grace storms to the door after Jimmy Stewart tells her that their relationship has no future. He says, “can’t we leave things at status quo for a while?” She says no. She won’t be coming back. “That is, until tomorrow night.’ And slams the door.

Seeing your neighbors is such a New York thing. My last apartment was a small studio with one large window that looked right into an adjacent apartment. I was so close that I could read the titles on the spines of his books.

At first, I never really noticed what was going on in my neighbor’s apartment. I could see him moving about, but I wasn’t really watching, until one day when my friend, Susan, was over. She said, he’s watching porn in there. Sure enough, his TV, which was clearly in view from my large window, showed some serious girl on girl action. Oh. Whatever.

Okay, now I was paying attention. He seemed to watch a lot of it, particularly when I had a friend over. It didn’t stop there.

Soon he started walking around in his tidy whities while watching the porn. A few weeks later he had progressed to decorative underwear – a blue thong, I think. He would pause frequently in front of his window to make sure that I had seen him. I guess that I wasn’t suitably impressed, because soon he stopped wearing underwear all together.

Now I was getting a little nervous. A naked porn exhibitionist has only one place left to go. I talked about with friends from work. They suggested holding up numbers like an Olympic judge to embarrass him. One serious feminist friend thought I should throw a rock through his window.

Sure enough. Two weeks later. I came home from work, sat down in my arm chair next to the window, and my neighbor took his exhibitionism to the next level. I slammed the shade shut and called the cops.

The cops were not at all helpful. They told me that I had to live in the dark, never pull up my shade, and not confront the jerk.

It all turned out okay. He moved out a week later. I guess pleasuring himself was his farewell gift to me. How thoughtful.

I guess what disturbed me most about the whole incident was that my neighbor had passed a line, an unwritten rule of New York living. See your neighbor, but don’t really watch. Do not acknowledge each other. And certainly don't perform for them. You may only be inches apart with your lives open to inspection, but you are strangers. I take great comfort in that invisible line, that thin veil of privacy. My neighbor crossed the line in a more serious way that Jimmy Stewart with his telephoto lens and binoculars.

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