An Anecdote for you
As you may know, I write comic books and as such, sometimes have to go to conventions and try to convince people to buy them. It is both fun and mortifying in equal measure. One of the big conventions, Emerald City Comic Con, was in mid August and completely threw off my schedule despite my, you know, knowing about it for months. Who could have foreseen this!
As such, there was no update last week when there should have been and I’m still not quite ready to send out a new one. SO! We’re having an interlude and I’m sharing a little mini-essay I wrote a few years go about an old neighbor that I never ended up posting anywhere. Without any further ado, here is Naked Neighbor.
I tend to assume that everyone has watched every episode of Friends roughly four times, like I have, and perhaps that is an erroneous assumption but in a world of Netflix and Twitter and globalization of culture, maybe it's not.
Anyways, that was just a long way of saying, surely you remember Ugly Naked Guy. He lived across the way from Monica and Rachel's apartment and the gang would always see him out the window, doing a variety of ridiculous activities (offscreen) that would elicit some sort of reaction, mostly 'ew.' It was a strange sort of humor for a show that was mostly about relationships between the main cast and others around them but this unseen character sometimes gave them something to bond around, something to gaze at together and collectively go, 'well, at least we're not him.'
When I walked into the flat that was to be my home for the next year while I did my Masters, two things struck me: this was the smallest room I had ever seen and man, did it have a beautiful view. I had rented the flat sight unseen (other than, in retrospect, some rather impressively manipulated photographs) and walked into a room with a single burner, a chair, a shower and a futon that, once I figured out how to convert it into a bed after three days, basically became the floor. It was cramped, I couldn't invite anyone over, but it was surprisingly cozy.
After I figured out how to stuff all my nonsense into the various nooks and crannies, I found that I was rather fond of my tiny room. There was something pleasant about being able to roll about my bed from the closet to the tiny fridge to the bathroom. My mother, on Skype, laughed aloud when I went "One second, have to put this away" and reached over to shove a pint of ice cream into my freezer, never leaving the screen.
There were only two problems with my tiny apartment. The first was that it was a fourth floor walk up. For the most part, that was fine, just annoying but I have a weak left ankle and I badly sprained it in the spring so it was a nightmare for a few months.
The harder to deal with problem was the temperature. I had a single window that looked out onto the street, a view I really loved, but unfortunately, turned the tiny room into a greenhouse even during the winter. I always dressed for weather much warmer than the actual temperature outside and I found myself sweating in the room throughout the year.
Pretty early into my residency I realized there was more to the view out my window than I realized. I was so high up that if I was far enough from the window, people couldn't see me from the street so, in my mind, I was invisible. I got used to walking around my room in just a bra and underwear since it was so hot most of the time. I drew the curtains during the day to try and keep the sun out but I liked to have the curtains open at night to enjoy my view and wave at the BT Tower.
It was during one of these evenings that, while standing up to grab something off my counter, I turned around and locked eyes with someone. This was completely unexpected, I think for both of us. I sank down onto my bed and tried to take stock of the situation. How could I make eye contact with someone from four floors up? Slowly, I peeked over the windowsill and saw something I saw every day but had never really noticed: there was another window, directly across from mine, on the building across the street. And that is how I met my Naked Neighbor.
Naked Neighbor lived across the way, always had his curtains open, and had an apartment twice the size of mine, judging by the fact that he had two windows to my one. He also never wore a shirt. Not once in the whole year I lived across the street from him. To be fair to him, I couldn't see below his torso so it is completely possible that he was wearing trousers every day but for some reason, I'm fairly certain he wasn't. At most, he was in boxers. And, unlike the Ugly Naked Guy of Friends fame, my neighbor was fit.
Because of the tininess of my flat, no one was ever over and thus, Naked Neighbor was something uniquely mine. No one else ever saw him. Sometimes he had over friends who were just as shirtless as he was. He never had women over (that I saw) and after awhile, I stopped caring about the likelihood of Naked Neighbor seeing or caring about my state of undress. I suppose I had become Naked Neighbor's Naked Neighbor. Neither of us cared.
At class, out with friends, I'd tell stories of Naked Neighbor's adventures. He cooked the other night. He'd had a Naked Friend over all weekend and it looked like they'd had a lovely time. He seemed to have gotten a new plant for the window on the other side and it was really pretty. My friends enjoyed the stories, always laughing when they remembered my unique neighbor. But at the same time, they never saw him, never interacted with him. He was just an image I painted for them, fun to remember but easily forgot.
But for me, there was something comforting about him, much like the cozy flat. The little flat was a cocoon and Naked Neighbor was the presence that reassured me that everything was okay. We never acknowledged each other, even though I know we were aware of each other and made awkward eye contact every once in awhile. We were just a comforting spirit, a moving image, cooking and smiling and laughing and living across the way.
I lived in that flat for twelve lovely months but I had to move the next September. I couldn't afford to stay and was shipping off to a cheaper place which I did not yet know would be absolutely terrible, made bearable only by the presence of two amazing flatmates. At the time, though, I was frantically making sure everything was in bags, the futon back in couch-form and things pushed towards the door for when the taxi I'd rented for the hour came to pick me up to drive me over.
When I took one last look around my tiny, cozy flat, my eyes were inevitably drawn out the window and locked once again with Naked Neighbor, just like that first night. Only, instead of quickly turning away as was our habit, both of us kept looking. The side of his mouth quirked up in a half smile. I raised my hand in a small wave. He waved back.
Down on the street between us, the taxi had arrived.
The Friends are united in their disgust and pity for Ugly Naked Guy. He's an undesirable and left out of their circle. For me, though, every time I'm looking for a new apartment, I glance out the window and investigate my view. I know I'll never have another Naked Neighbor but that won't stop that feeling of nostalgic hope that grows in my heart every time I spot a window across the way.
Book Mail will be back in two weeks with a book review, like you were probably expecting. Until then, happy reading!
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