I am surrounded in my neighborhood by windows into other people’s lives. No, I mean literally, windows, hundreds of them, as clear and accessible as mine is presumably to them, by periscopes, or infrared binoculars - gosh, I don’t even want to think about the levels of granularity we could probably achieve if we ever permitted ourselves more than a half a glance.
There must be some kind of unspoken agreement in all this. Because I’ll tell you what there aren’t: curtains. And while a great many of my neighbors probably benefit from golden, recessed lighting and Pottery Barn earth tones, I think there’s also something compelling – even flattering - about the picture of people who suddenly do not depend upon an audience for their existence. The girl eating yogurt. The guy doing push-ups. Somehow my life just never seems to measure up. Heck, people even look better naked between the lucky blind spots afforded by their windows, in fact I think there is probably a business opportunity here for anyone with social networking on the brain: imagine a virtual venue where we don’t all seem so desperate to one another.
Maybe peculiar. Inscrutable always. Yet fully and plainly ourselves. I’ve written here before Charice Mericle Harper’s The Monster Show from 2003 in which those very often homogenized creatures are mercifully granted their rightful eccentricities, though a year or so earlier this author and illustrator actually tried the same trick with humans - albeit from the perspective of someone named Finnigan who happens to be angling for a job in the President’s Secret Service detail. You probably missed this book. It came and went in hurry. Oh, how many times have I written exactly that same sentence? Hundreds, I’m sure. You may have even seen me from a couple of stories down, gnashing my teeth, and bloodily yanking stray hairs from my eyebrows.
Wait, did I mention? Finnigan is a squirrel. Granted, one “of exceptional character,” not inclined to “scamper around public parks and beg for nuts,” still I think the fact of his not participating directly in the human race precludes him from a voyeur’s basest envies.
No, Finnigan’s reporting appears strictly anthropological, inspired by certain mysterious behavior in the windows 527 Walnut Street, a.k.a. Normal Towers. In 1B a man buys flowers for his pet bee. Hmmm. And in 2B a woman carves Halloween pumpkins all day long. 4A draws a picture of the sun on her window when it is raining. 5B wears a dish towel as a cape.
Suspicious? Absolutely. But critical? That the President in this story decides to finally not pursue it suggests this is merely a very small sample of our larger, incurable strangeness, though I think there is also some reassurance to be derived from the sheer diversity of our national neuroses.
Well, reassurance for me. Sometimes I need to squint to make it out. This between gnawing on my fingers and worrying we’re all losing it, in habits and numbers too massive to resist. It’s great to be connected and all that, but I want to believe in the untouchable oddness of my closest neighbor like I want to believe there are still people somewhere living in the depths of a jungle who have not spied our wider world.