Rear Window

By Tina Traster

Humor

Lately, I’ve been feeling like Jimmy Stewart in “Rear Window” — but in the suburbs.

Why haven’t I seen the school bus stop next door? Why is there only one car going in and out of the driveway? What’s happened to the wife and teenage daughters?

On a typical suburban street, such a mystery easily would be solved by popping by or picking up the phone. At the very least, I could call another neighbor and ask what’s going on at so-and-so’s house.

But not on this road. I live on an undulating mountain pass — the kind you might drive along if you were apple-picking upstate. Traffic moves fast. There are no sidewalks. At least one other person besides me raises chickens. I wouldn’t be surprised if some folks tote shotguns.

It’s the kind of road for people who live in a bedroom community but who’d rather not.

Dwellers include a small-press publisher, two sculptors, a moviemaker, a yoga teacher and holistic healers. I’ve met some of these people briefly, but most of us prefer a reclusive lifestyle. That’s why we live on a road where there’s never a block party or a communal effort to get a fallow townhouse development knocked down.

I think back to the Brooklyn house I grew up in. It was on a tree-lined street with small lawns and tidy back yards. Houses were in spitting distance of one another. We could see directly into our neighbor’s kitchen.

I remember gazing through the window while we cleared dishes after dinner. The husband and wife next door would become quite animated sometimes, moving in circles around one another, arms gesticulating. Were they quarreling or cavorting? It was an intriguing mime act to decipher.

When I ask my husband what he thinks happened to the wife and girls from next door, he says, “Has anyone looked in the wood chipper?”

He doesn’t care. He doesn’t wonder about strangers who live 200 feet from us. I’m not sure why I do.

After weeks of concluding I hadn’t seen the family, I made an intentional effort to see if the school bus was still stopping at their house. It wasn’t. During the long, snowy winter, I’d only seen the husband outside, shoveling — and only occasionally.

Then I remembered something: A few months ago, I’d noticed a U-Haul in their driveway. I assumed one of the girls was off to college.

Like Stewart’s character, I am overcome with curiosity — and theories. Is the couple going through a divorce? Did something terrible happen? Is it temporary or permanent?

My antenna is up.

Meanwhile, another mystery is dividing my detective time.

Several weeks back, I saw my elderly neighbor from across the street brought home in an ambulance, on a stretcher. From my window, he looked very withered and old. He is, by now, at least in his early 90s.

When we moved in nearly six years ago, he tottered across the dangerous road and introduced himself while we were doing a fall cleanup outside.

He’d been living on this road for a half-century. He told us stories about knowing people up here who used to trap minks. He was here before the New York State Thruway cut through Rockland County and brought a stream of traffic to our road. He was amused by the recent installation of sewers. He complimented us on rescuing the dilapidated farmhouse we bought and bringing it back to life.

What I remember most keenly about him was how much he loved living on this mountain road; he treasured the wildlife at his doorstep.

That was the longest conversation we ever had. After that, he occasionally waved while he was picking up his mail. Over time, I noticed he stopped driving. He no longer ambled down his long driveway to collect the mail. His son who lives in a neighboring house does that now.

The other day, I saw an ambulance with flashing lights return to his driveway. I think this time it was taking him away.

As the tires crunched down the gravel, my eyes welled up, over someone I never knew. Perhaps that’s what made me sad.

Read more about Tina Traster’s move from the city to a rural suburb in “Burb Appeal: The Collection,” now available on Amazon.com.

E-mail: [email protected]

Pockets

By Brin Butler

Essay

I was watching a girl’s reflection try on a winter coat in front of a mirror the other night. What made her interesting was how interested she was in what she was doing. She was inside a bright, hygienically-lit department store with puddles of squeaky light gleaming off the ground beside her feet. The cosmetics section and a large window divided us. I was outside in the cold watching my white breath fog up the view against the window and frantically wiping it off while a street light hung over me on Howe Street, drooling its sad creamsicle-glow into a puddle in the gutter that’d be frozen before I’d get into my front door that night.

The girl’s reflection swiveled her hips a helluva lot of degrees in one direction then swung the other way just as far, and both times she looked over her shoulder with a downward glance that didn’t betray a result. I felt less cold when she took another crack at it and bit her lip. She stood on her tippy-toes and tucked a strand of hair behind an ear. She arched her back a little, leaned over; kept tabs of the results but never tipped her hand to me by the expression on her face. Without even once shoving her hands into the pockets of the big puffy coat she discarded it, returned it to the rack, and abandoned the whole mission for a few squirts of free perfume over in the cosmetics department and started talking up some cosmetics female atrocity of a salesperson and I went on my way.

Even a winter coat is all about a girl’s ass looking okay.

Don’t get me wrong, the concern has plenty of merit. My theory on fidelity is firmly planted in the conviction that a man needs a face he can marry and an ass roughly 36 inches beneath it that makes an enticing idea and practice to cheat on it with enduring satisfaction. Lingerie has a similar cheating element built into fidelity thing, too. It’s still you under there all right, but it’s covered in pink for the 3.4 seconds it takes me to see it and tear the motherfucker off. Next time blue! Shucks…

But the girl’s reflection kinda got to me. Mostly because I’ve never tried the pockets of a coat in my life when I was looking around for a coat to keep me warm when it’s cold outside. And I’ve never bought a coat other than when it was, that day, that hour, that minute, way too fucking cold to not impulse buy—in cold blood—a coat. I’ve gone for plenty of girls that were like coats without pockets. No comfy place. No foxhole to bury to cowardly depths.

That girl’s reflection kinda reminded me a bit of this girl I used to watch at night through a telescope when I had an apartment in the Westend. When I moved in I didn’t have a TV so I borrowed a telescope off a crazy neighbor of my mom’s whose dad was shot in the face with a 44-magnum and who for the last thirty years had packratted several lifetimes’ worth of various shit he mostly never got around to using.

One of those things was a really impressive, expensive telescope complete with a laser scope thingamabob.

To make the telescope into my evening entertainment I needed dependable story lines. Over a few evenings I cased about 400 windows for activity and bought some different colored pieces of scotch tape and made a constellation of all the interesting rooms on MY window so that I could easily point the telescope to the tape and, in turn, the room, and tune in.

I never once caught anybody fucking.

Which, at first, was VERY irritating. Until after some examination I discovered that I barely caught any couples even TALKING to each other. Even LOOKING at each other. Not too many people live alone, but everybody just ignores each other. She watches TV, you go on the computer; after a while, SWITCH, shower separately, phone call, leaf through US magazine, go to bed.

I’d kinda hoped there’d be something kinky out there in the world of apartment life, but nothing prepared me for how perverse the reality actually was.

Then it got way more creepy: this one girl became the star of everything. A Japanese girl of 20 or so who arrived home to her apartment around 1130pm and went about trying on 20 dresses or so from her closet in front of a tall mirror. One after another just working herself up and tearing herself down until a big fat breakdown against her bed, fists plunging into the mattress, bawling her eyes out. And all of it like clock work every weeknight (weekends I have no idea where she went). She always tried on the same red dress last every time.

But that was over a year ago. Maybe in another 15 minutes or so she’s somewhere or other near that red dress working her way up to it. Or maybe she’s wearing it right now with somebody she loves who doesn’t even suspect there’s any particular significance to what lies in her closet. Who knows. Not me. The stars were out tonight—and maybe hers’ were too—and I was just another pervert walking over a bridge to get home with the water calm and checkered like a dance floor, the moon fat as Orson Welles’ cheek buttering the sky.