Voyeurism wasn’t in my nature, it was implanted in me by my immediate environment. I am a city-dweller, a true city-dweller. In an apartment building slotted on top of beside, across from and below other human beings. Anonymous intimacy was forced upon me. I never wanted to hear the domestic arguments of neighbours I have no face for, or to have the dazed, blue-tinged faces of TV-watchers pointed almost in my direction. I can speculate about the inhabitants in the building across the way. I don’t know what the large glowing object in the centre of the room is, but they lie on their bellies to look at it. I will probably never know what this is. I can see them shifting between floors – two make tea and appear in the window just above them. One leaves for a moment and soon I will be excluded, after the woman with a consistent look of mischief pulls the blinds closed. The anonymous intimacy then is forced upon their next-door neighbours. Unless their walls are better than ours.
I must stress that though I am a voyeur, I am not a pervert. These displays demand my attention and I would look away or merely glance disinterestedly if only I could. I do not sit by the window crouching behind a net curtain. (No! Net curtains are for our parents’ houses!) I am not watching like cinema. No, I go about my day, apparently. You could even say I go about my day just as though I were not a voyeur – as if I didn’t notice and think about more than I wanted to. I drink tea. I read books, watch films and even genuinely give my attention to them. Except for the glances, triggering invincible little thought-trains of speculation until I glance next and revise my speculation. These thoughts are tiny, tiny, but they are speckled over every day I have lived here.
It is much like the way in which television sucks at the eyeball. In a bar where a television has been left on in spite of having nothing in particular to present (no game of Sport-Ball, no revelations) even during your most fascinating conversations the light and movement of the screen hoovers the direction of your eyeballs towards it giving you pointless information you knew you never really had any desire to receive.
Am I am jealous of their window. Big, like a balcony – comfortable to stand at, smoking. I, on the other hand must crane my neck out to keep my abode relatively unmolested by the grim stench of my very favourite disgusting habit. The ergonomics of it requires isolation, so no matter how much I enjoy my cigarette my cold head will have a glum, blank expression. (Only nutters and people in love smile alone. It’s obvious to all strangers that I am not in love). My head poking out of the window is not conducive to conversation. Not that I have many visitors. Their big window may comfortably entertain up to three smokers. Even one smoking, or ones smoking can still turn their head to dip into conversation on the other side of the room – tossing their attention from their company (guests or hosts) to strangers on the street; drunks, lovers, and people who look like they’ve sorted it all out. Whatever that means, and they’ll never tell me.
I find myself so infrequently in suburbia that it holds a certain novelty for me. I travel primarily by foot at a swift pace by which all of the city is accessible to me. Cars are mobile obstacles that populate the city and have no humans inside as far as I am concerned. Screeching things I must placate because they want my life. Inexcusable abominations I would never consider even if I could afford it. I don’t know how people can justify the danger, the expense, the planetary damage. People who live in cities, I mean. Organic, European ones, I mean. The vastness of American cities, or perhaps American-ness itself, would seem to demand the presence of cars.
I avoid appearing frequently at even my favourite cafes to avoid being recognized and having an order referred to as ‘the usual’. I don’t have a landline and I have never met my landlord and I know to look out for seagulls while eating a portable food object on Grafton street. At Christmas time I resent the shoppers who clog the streets drifting slowly in awe of the unfamiliarity of the surroundings. I’m a real jerk and none of my friends know the extent of it. I identify with the kitten who lives around my building who no affectionate passerby can charm into physical contact. Also, I am adept at dealing with strangers; those I politely ask for directions from and ‘eccentric’ ear-chewers which I am skilled at escaping from.
I wonder about my own visibility. I wonder if, living alone as I do, the neighbours would take any kind of responsibility for me if I were to sit still for weeks with the light on. I’d be starving and bearded and one day the beard would stop growing and the flies would arrive. Would they notice? Or more importantly would they have the bravery to step outside of their urban comfort zone of anonymity and actually do something about it rather than assuming that somebody else will or worse: deluding themselves that I am okay. I am never going to conduct this experiment because I do not want to die.