Environment: Stolen

I have described, complained, and stared at that building. (“Bill” and I were staring at it when he made this comment.) There are pictures and musings. And somehow I still can’t getUgly Building East over how it, or they, have become a part of my life (the picture on the header is the same as you see below, for chrissakes). An unwanted, unwarranted part.

I enjoy sitting outside to smoke, read, or just sit. Usually all three. There it is. The scape to the north is blocked by the “L” shape of my own building and to the south a fence meets your wandering eyes. It was installed by the prior tenants to define the back porch property into two agreeable quadrants. Every so often, maybe once a week, I catch a glimpse of my neighbor, a quiet Korean gentlemen of maybe 50 years, and we exchange formalities. I have seen his wife once and only heard his child a few times. It is a fantastic setup.

Except for Ugly Building East. Edges of sky creep around the edges but all other focus is drawn to the happenings inside the windows. A man rocking in his chair watching television. A woman doing laundry. Someone leaving for a trip and his shirtless roommate sending him off. It is like being in the NASA control room with hundreds of monitors. The turning on and off of lights, the colors on the walls, the flashing cathodes of TV sets all remind me of a vertical dance floor. The squares pulsing with the vibrations of life, but who can be the judge of who is actually living.

Ugly Building WestThe most fascinating, and nauseating, thing about the geography of my building is that to the west, out of my living room window, stands Ugly Building West. They have separate names, different light patterns and patrons, but the same architect. The building is an exact replica of Ugly Building East, or vice versa. I don’t know which came first. UBW does have the advantage of a Jewel-Osco on the first floor. And a gym. And an acupuncturist. I wonder how the rents differ.

One night, after procuring a Discovery Channel telescope, I set up shop in my living room facing UBW. There were only a handful of lights on so I focused on a random abode. I didn’t stare though the telescope but kept my eyes focused on the whole building to catch any movement. When I would see something I could train the scope on the square and watch. (Keep in mind, I am not a habitual voyeur. Curiosity does get the better of me at times, though.) My lights were out to insure the best visibility and my own secrecy. The music played and I watched. All of a sudden…

Three windows up. A figure. I grabbed my notebook to record what I witnessed:



Telescope is focused on West Big Building. Christmas lights in the window. Large man approaches, grabs binoculars, and peers directly at me.

Frozen in fear.

Lowers binoculars. Wipes his teeth with his finger and directs the binoculars toward the building named East Big Building.

He lowers at what seems to be disappointment at not finding anything. I think he went to bed.

How many times has he done this? I know for a fact this was my first time. The chances of it being both of our first times is highly improbable. What has he seen? Has he recognized me on the street, and if so what goes through his head?

I have tried to find him again, to no avail. I haven’t changed any of my domestic habits, the windows and curtains remain open. I think the only thing that has changed is my focus on that particular window, still with Christmas lights, and my constant wondering of what he is like.

Tonight I sit sandwiched between these monstrosities and think of the sunlight, privacy, and fresh air that I am missing out on.

One Response to “Environment: Stolen”
  1. deneb says:

    It’s interesting that your people watching extends to what they are like. Back when I lived in Arizona, a friend and I enjoyed spending our lunch hour sitting at a coffee shop in downtown Tempe and watching the people go past. I often wondered about their ‘story’.

    Even now, while rarely get the chance to people watch, I still wonder about people’s stories. Ironically, Wal Mart is a great place to go and ask yourself that question. In a big city, Wal Mart pretty much just attracts the … um, common folks? But, in a small town like mine, everyone shops there because there is really no place else to go.

    People’s stories are more interesting to observe than to hear. Once someone tells you their story, it gets injected with their own personality issues – meaning they see themselves pretty much as either heroes or victims.

    Actions truly speak louder than words, still… a person’s perception of themselves can reveal as much insight into their true nature as their actions in the world.

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