I really want to go somewhere right now. Basically anywhere.
Alas, we cannot.
Instead let me take you on a tour of the apartment complex. And I’ll tell you about Mary,* while we’re at it.
As you get close to the building, you’ll notice a certain wildness on the sidewalks. This block has been described, not at all accurately, as the Times Square of this otherwise subdued city. There are lots of people milling around, hanging out in biggish groups despite everything, and engaging in all kinds of commerce. Sometimes there are other gatherings, too: book sales, religious revivals, heritage festivals, ad-hoc playgrounds for children, farmers markets,** etc, all happening in front of the more traditional commercial storefronts (your cellular companies, your ice-cream parlors, your nail salons, your fried chicken, your megabank).
Come around the side street and we’ll go inside. You’ll notice a leafiness about the side street as it bends away, making it seem like you’re miles away from the chaos out front. Odd, right?
We’ll just unlock the door and head into the lobby. As you see, the lobby is an explosion of…something. Maybe it’s ‘70s retro, but whatever it is, it’s very orange and there are a lot of circles.
For a few weeks I could swear that every time I came in, the sound system was playing Taylor Swift’s “The Man,” and it was always at the exact same part when I would come in. This made me wonder briefly whether I were living in a simulation, or if that’s just what it feels like to be exposed to Top-40 radio. Not sure if I have a straight answer for that one yet.
Anyway, follow me back to the elevators. You may notice their remarkably fast service. This building is a leader in the EPP (Elevators Per Person) index, and even in this dark time of social distancing we never have to share one.
The second floor: terra incognita. Best not to consider. I think maybe there’s a gym.
On the third floor, you’ll be overwhelmed with a mixture of scents often to be found in the soap aisle of a natural foods store. Basically, the whole floor smells like a Whole Foods. I don’t hate it. I’ve often idly wondered how to make my dwelling and body smell more like a Whole Foods. It is such a wholesome yet corporate smell, natural but not in a way that reminds you of that guy you met in college who only ever washed with tea tree oil. Completely acceptable. The vibe of a Fortune-500 board member who dresses ever so slightly like a therapist. Alas, I do not know how to make my own self smell this way.
My reason for going to the Whole Foods floor is typically to get to the inner courtyard, which is on this level. Dogs are banned, which means there are often lots of cute dogs running around. Little rascals!
There are benches and access to sunlight. (Remember sunlight?) The courtyard also presents an interesting view of other people’s windows. Some of the windows have curtains drawn tight against the natural light no matter what the time of day or weather, which I find strange. Others have the blinds fully open, and restless children peer out from them like desperate convicts.
Feel free to stay here as long as you like. I’m heading up to the fourth floor, which is home base. It has no noticeable characteristics to differentiate it from other floors, except some humorous local doormats and a service of process that has been taped to the keyhole of a neighbor’s apartment for an alarming amount of time.
The fourth floor also provides a great vantage point for watching whoever is out enjoying the courtyard. Not in a creepy way. Just, you know, Rear-Windowing the way we’re all Rear-Windowing these days.
More on that in a moment. But first, let’s finish up this tour.
Fifth floor: more terra incognita. I assume people live here.
Sixth floor: the roof deck. This has become terra incognita to me but I assume it still exists. It provides a great view in several directions. I should go up there. I haven’t looked in many directions lately.
Anyway, back to Rear-Windowing over the courtyard.
Remember back in March when everyone started isolating on a different day? Anyone who isolated before you did was paranoid, and anyone who did it later than you was reckless with public health.
Fortunately, I began isolating on the exactly ideal day.
But four or so days after we had begun hunkering down (although the local government had not yet told us to do so), imagine our dismay at seeing a gaggle of Youths having a party on the courtyard! They were drinking and talking and there were significantly more than ten of them, none of whom were keeping six feet of distance. I loomed over them, unseen from behind the fourth-floor window, covered in a blanket like a crone. I was hoping that if they saw me, they might be convinced I had witchy powers enough to give them some digestive issues or some curse on that level. Alas, I remained unseen, and tried fitfully to nap while they played their loud music! Youths!!
Anyway, at the end of the party, when only a few stragglers remained, two young men stood talking awkwardly in the courtyard. Clearly they were new acquaintances.
And in a bid for conversation reminiscent of a man ten or twenty years this kid’s senior, the kind of man who doesn’t miss or squander a networking event, this one kid asks in a ringing voice, with that particular East-Coast vowel sound that I cannot imitate, “So how do you know Mary?” To my feral west-coast ears, it came out “Maahry?”
This isn’t what you’d call a “great” story. But Mary/Maahry and her various friends are some of the only people we’ve seen in two months, after all. Mary frequently exercises in the courtyard. Sightings of her, or her roommate, or the various other courtyard visitors with their various dogs, are basically all we have going for us in terms of news or gossip. “There’s Mary!” we’ll whisper, and dart to the window to see something—anything—happening.
Which is all to say: perhaps all that is happening now is oscillating between looking up at other people’s windows and looking down at other people through one’s own windows. Maybe that’s what it’s like to live somewhere.
*Names and details changed to protect the possibly innocent. And because, as always, I can.
**Farmers market: apostrophe or not? If so, before or after the s? Apparently it is unknowable. Stay tuned for my investigative reporting on how many farmers there are and whether they own this market or not.