Saturday, April 7

I like to look

So, I have this thing where I like to look into people's windows. I guess you could call me a voyeur, but I don't think that's quite accurate. I don't like looking at people; I just like to look at their stuff.

That sounds consumeristic, I know, but that's not how I mean it.

I'm talking about cruising down a quiet neighborhood street and quietly peering — for just a second or two — into each open window and taking stock of the room inside. How it's arranged, what's in there, what's on the walls, what's on the bookshelves, whether the TV is blaring a football game or sitting quietly in the corner, the color of the walls, the angle of the room's layout, all that stuff.

It's probably totally creepy, I know, but I'm not the only person who does this.

I remember very clearly from my childhood our ritual drives to Jackson; we would take the same route through Henderson every time, and there were always three houses my sister and I would observe closely because they had such interesting things peeking out of their open windows each time we'd pass. The first was a ranch-style house with a large floor-to-ceiling window in the dining room, through which we'd see a distinctive white wicker dining room set, which my sister — then a teenager — always talked about trying to duplicate in her future houses (she has thus far never had a wicker dining room set that I know of). Then there was another ranch-style home with several large picture windows whose heavy drapes would occasionally be drawn back to showcase the large white Greek statues inside. We were always a little bummed when we passed and the curtains were closed. The third house was a split-level modern Tudor with a large, paned window between the two levels. You couldn't really ever see inside the house, but the big window was kind of a thrill in itself.

As I get older, I understand more and more this thing I've got for windows (in your mid-twenties everything has to have a phucking philosophical backbone). It's essentially the same thing I have for books: The ability to sneak up to something and open my eyes and see things completely unexpected, completely unlike the things I would create if left unprompted. In an empty yet decorated room, I get to invent stories using a cheat sheet. The stories are brief and incomplete, but they are stories nonetheless, built on a thousand tiny clues left unwittingly by the inhabitants of a reality I'll never actually interact with. So, in a sense, I get to make up a million little stories every time I pass by open windows. I see the soft glow of a Tiffany lamp, set against sage-green wall paint and stark, white built-in bookshelves stocked with encyclopedias and mass-market paperbacks, and I start to imagine the upwardly mobile middle-aged couple housed within, and exactly what they've got their TIVO programmed to snatch (American Idol, House, and Law&Order), and the kinds of toys their children have (cleanly gendered and probably name-brand). And then, perhaps, the next time I pass by that same open window and see that same Tiffany lamp and that same sage-green wall paint, I can invent an entirely different story. An elderly couple — professors, both of them — who are so proud of their great-grandaughter, the mass-market paperback author, that they buy every piece of dreck her publisher puts to market.

Every glance into a window gives me the chance to make up a new story. And the best part is, it never matters if I'm right or wrong or even close.

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