Peeping Toms and Hand Grenades
or … “My Window on the Sidewalk”
This one might be a little worrisome to my friends and what remains of my family. It worried me, too, at first … but then I got to know this town, P-town, and relaxed a bit. In the six years I’ve lived here it’s pretty much behaved itself, even in the inner city. But I can’t say it hasn’t been a little weird at times … so I guess this is business as usual for my friends and family after all!
For those of you who are avid readers of my blog (and let me stop for a moment, so I can run around and give you each a hug), you know I’m a lover of heights. Not in a thrill-seeking adrenaline-junkie capacity, but more in a I’m-so-comfy-in-my-lofty-but-humble-perch kind of way. I practically started out my life falling off a bridge, grew up climbing trees and crossing abandoned railroad trestles without pause, helping with roofs and antenna towers was a hobby for me, and flying little airplanes a pleasant habit I’d really like to get back to.
But when it came to my choice of apartments, my student budget (read: those student loans you hear about indenturing kids to the wrong side of the financial system for life) stole away my hopes for a fourth-story walk-up, and relegated me to the smallest studio on the ground floor. A city sidewalk crouched ominously just outside my window.
Oh, would I have copious stories to tell–and will–about the milling crowd that once frequented the pub across the courtyard from me–and probably will again … but that went out of business a few months ago, so that colorful clientele has greatly diminished. I’m here to tell you that the remaining crowd has been no less entertaining.
First, I’d have to mention the old man who thought he owned my kittens. The fact that they had an apartment he didn’t live in seemed not to dissuade him at all. Every morning I would prematurely awake to the sound of tapping, or that squeaking sound a finger makes when rubbed on a window. Despite my initial upset at this intrusion, I could never bring myself to chase him away, especially after I heard the endless adorations he murmured through my window. Cowardly, I decided to let this one go and let the man have his fun, although I did leave a card in the window about the tapping.
Apparently he couldn’t read. The tapping got louder, the squeaks turned to bits of twine and sticks rapping on the pane and whatever other toy he could find to entertain “his” furry children. His words had become more insistent over time, as well, assuring his glass-enclosed felines he would liberate them from their bondage soon. My perturb was beginning to make a comeback, and brought worry along for the ride. Would he actually break in to save them?
It all ended when he realized the cats would chase sun reflections on my curtains, which were being perforated at an alarming rate … Finally I set out down the hall and set our friendly behemoth of a night manager on him, who calmly informed the man that he would be charged as a peeping tom if he didn’t desist. I felt guilty taking that one little pleasure away from him after so many months, but my curtains were much relieved.
Summertime approaches and my windows are open more. Smokers from my building, and perhaps the ones next door, seem to think my window is just the right legal distance from the front door to light one up. Of course the one person in the building allergic to cigarette smoke is the one they put in the ground-floor apartment. But I must give our local smokers credit: once I show myself in the window, looking a little green around the gills, they move on as pleasantly as possible. Yay Portland! But it has taken a long time to train the local smokers not to pick my window.
From cigarettes to cellphones, the endless meandering conversations that waft in from under my window I can do little about. And sometimes I don’t want to: these are the most entertaining part of all! It’s amazing how silly most phone conversations sound from only one side, especially when your side has no idea there is someone listening from a foot or two away, just on the other side of a very thin curtain. I’ve heard many a strange conversation suddenly cut short when I couldn’t help but giggle a little sitting here at my desk.
We won’t talk about the conversations where the caller is missing their cellphone altogether … I figure they are having a conversation through time, with someone from their own unfortunate history. I hope at least in this version they get ahead in life.
I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention the singers, some of which are truly amazing. Every known genre of music is represented passing across my little patch of sidewalk. I’ve heard snatches of opera going by my window that should have had agents chasing after them!
The sports fans come next, as the summer rolls in, crowds of chattering and excited fans wearing green and yellow, cheering, singing, goofing, and general hubbubing on their way to and from the nearby Timbers stadium. It is best not to try to get in or out of my building when a soccer game is about to begin or end, for fear of being trampled by good-natured sports fans.Some of these make up for the lack of the closed pub, especially post-game; their hubbub a little more outrageous and confrontational than before the game.
Occasionally the quieter times on my sidewalk are broken by a more depressing mix of verbalizations, usually a homeless couple–or soon-to-be, from the sound of things–arguing over whose fault it all is. This is never a productive subject to argue about, I murmur to myself as I turn up my music. Over time I’ve come to recognize a certain level of inebriation that affects their relative volume, violence and choice of vocabulary (the three V’s) of these tirades–all increasing at the same time.
I’m amazed at the difference one windowsill can make in our minds, once we’ve become acclimated. If I were on the other side of mine, standing on that sidewalk so near at
hand, … er, foot … I would be ducking for cover as these screamers tromp past. But my pre-high school experience growing up in the hell of inner-city Baltimore seems to have come back to me, where out of sight really is out of mind … and I still have a veneer of shielding from the violence of the city itself, even if it is just sound. I have yet to witness anyone actually being harmed physically here …
Although I can attest that words often hurt far more.
If it wasn’t for my tightly fitted metal screen–and my common sense–my inner child would love me to wait for moments of verbal distress like these and loft hand grenades out the window. Not REAL hand grenades, but something that goes “POP” and showers the victims with confetti or something equally distracting. I mean, it works with dogs bent on squirrels or other dogs! Break their focus and they forget what all the fuss was about.
I can see CSI-Portland dusting bits of confetti for fingerprints now. Oh, well … it was fun in my head.
Now it’s full summer. My windows are once again glued shut during the hottest part of the day, but–eek–open at night to capture some of that cold dry air that sneaks back out from the shadows once the sun has mosied on. Except for a few one-sided conversations and the rare cussing-at-god moments passing outside, the scene is a relatively quiet this time of night. I’m usually taking this time to game online, or write in my blog (like now), or cuddle with my kitties while watching a movie, or just relaxing with the breeze . . . a normal night . . .
Until something rare happened a few days ago: my kitties and I heard feet shuffling outside the window, then silence. (Were they trying to peek in?) . . . then the sound of running water. Oh, ugh.
It seems someone thought my window was just the legal distance away from the front door to relieve their bladder. So not something I wanted to be sitting nearby to witness, even by sound. I waited for the feet to shuffle off and quickly closed the window before the smell of that wafted in. (Thankfully my building manager is ON things like that and hosed it off the next morning.)
I’m hoping this is a rare once-in-five-years kinda thing, which means I won’t be around to witness the next one. I think I’ve had my fill of the city for a lifetime. With a year left in college and a one-year lease, I’m settled in for that long; but after that I have no idea where I’ll go next.
But you can bet it will be high above any sidewalks.