#174: On Proximity, or “Fuck you, Danielle”

June 7th, 2013

The window was open because I like the cold. I was on the couch because I was reading a sad black-and-white comic book.

And all I know of these people is that one was mad at Danielle.

“Fuck you, Danielle!” a man’s voice yelled from outside as I read on my couch.

I have a garden apartment down a few steps from street level, so when people walk by, I see ankles and thighs. Maybe a butt or two if the person is short.

This time I saw a mix of each. There were the bottom halves of four people, plus the bottom half of a bike.

“No, fuck you, Danielle!” he yelled again in dude-bro tenor, his voice rising in volume but taking care not to rise also in pitch.

It sounded husky, like a phlegmy dog.

Danielle responded back, a high-pitched and somewhat whiny tone. Not angry, just defensive. Her tone said she wanted to know why he was mad, but by then they had passed my window and I couldn’t make out the words.

We live close in a city. Even when no one’s in sight and the houses with Venetian blinds are just the props on the proscenium, there are people behind the blinds, people scurrying behind the gates, people in the back of each bus.

The buildings are over the street are over the highway are over the subway with some folks on the river for good measure. We skitter out our best shots for privacy — a balcony here, a fence around a tiny backyard there — but then the tramp of the upstairs neighbor’s foot or a shout heard through a blind-covered window remind you that in a city you’re never more than a few feet from someone else.

It’s impossible to be lonely when companionship means opening a window. It’s impossible not to be lonely when the window dwellers take so much time to scurry away from contact, to pretend the millions aren’t there. We don’t talk to our neighbors because we have so many.

But we have no secrets either. We have public lives but, through a communal game of make-believe, we act as if they’re private. We argue in public. We declare our love and kiss openly. And we can count on others to shut their eyes to us as we do to them.

It leads to sanity in this claustrophobic town. It lets us enjoy the peace and wonder of being around so many people we can learn from, talk to, share with.

It leads to cruelty, too. We forget that any shame in this town is a public one. We bark “fuck you” to our friends, forgetting how many others are just feet away.

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