I tell you this, you may picture me as a perverse Kilroy, my fingertips,
nose, eyes, forehead and hair all visible from inside your windows,
but it is not true.
It's just that I live in a densely occupied urban
neighborhood, where, as the owner of a large dog, I happen to walk
a lot at night.
In addition, my neighborhood is full of loose-living liberals whose
basements house forlorn lawn signs for Nader and Kucinich and whose
windows are often shade- and curtain-less. That's just the way we
liberals are. We don't need to hide anything. We believe in tolerance.
I've been told that the same is true in the Netherlands, but for
a somewhat different reason. In a country that openly accepts prostitution
and legal drug use, cleanliness is a moral issue. Since it is a
vice to keep a messy home, windows are left uncurtained as proof
of one's immaculate habits.
In my neighborhood it is not cleanliness, or lack thereof, which
interests me, but rather a glimpse into the lives of my curtain-free
neighbors. I want to see how they've decorated.
How many others have, like myself, indulged in deep, red wall paint
in the last few years? What sort of art is on the walls interesting
paintings or mass-produced images? And what about television? How
many living rooms are lit entirely by the blue glow of the ubiquitous
In some of these blue caves, hulking figures can be seen, sometimes
in separate chairs, sometimes huddled together on couches as if
afraid of what they are witnessing on the screen I cannot see. I
can only imagine what fascinates them so much as to cause their
immobility, their concentrated focus. It must be terrifying or hypnotizing.
That is all I can deduce.
In one slightly-below-sidewalk-level apartment I regularly walk
past, a man lives alone. He is heavyset and mostly bald. It is clear
that he lives alone, because he always sets his table for one.
Last time I walked by he had his regular setup of one plate, one
napkin and one fork, but three kinds of salad dressing. This detail
delighted me. It showed something about this man, who lives in a
small apartment full of videocassettes, stacks of magazines and
a few pieces of exercise equipment. He values his choice in salad
dressing. Any meal is worthy of celebration, any salad worthy of
three choices of dressing. What shall it be tonight? Ranch? Italian?
Creamy Bleu Cheese?
I think I'm so fascinated by windows because I grew up in the country.
You didn't get a chance to look in people's windows when the nearest
neighbor was a half-mile away, set back from the road, surrounded
by trees and protected by some old, grizzly dog that lived in a
mud-splattered doghouse on the service end of a long and rusty chain.
I started my window-watching when I lived in San Francisco and
worked as a mailroom flunky in a stock-brokerage firm. I had to
be there at 6 a.m. to sort the mail for all the stockbrokers and
suburban offices. One morning at 5:30, as I walked down the hill
to the bus stop, I saw the oddest mannequin in an apartment window,
two stories above. The mannequin was oddly skinny, with a smooth
chest and stick-like arms. Protruding from its crotch was a huge,
erect penis, the size of a policeman's baton, only pink.
What a funny sort of art project, I thought to myself, only to
have the mannequin lift an arm and wave to me. It was no mannequin,
but in fact some early-morning, masturbating, ridiculously endowed
I've lived in cities for more than 20 years now and can't stop
looking. This habit is easy to indulge because a surprising number
of city dwellers leave their windows unadorned. If you people are
going to offer me mini-movies nightly, free of charge, I'm going
My own house has large picture windows facing onto a well-traveled
street. You'd think that I'd know, as veteran window-watcher, to
gird my windows carefully with Venetian blinds and thick drapes.
Instead, they are usually open for public viewing. Sometimes I dance
in the dark, alone, to old Bruce Springsteen on vinyl. Sometimes
I make my boyfriend kiss me.
Sometimes I do nothing more damning than look out the window, at
the lights of the hills across the river, wondering what other people
are doing in the semi-public rooms of their homes.