Alas, I am no stranger to glimpsing naked neighbors from my apartment windows. And let me just say right off the bat, I most certainly do not enjoy the view. But like honey attracts flies and Justin Bieber inexplicably attracts tweens, it seems my lot in life is to attract naked neighbors.
Frequent nudie sightings, which I’ve documented in the past, became my unexpected ordeal upon moving into a 37th floor apartment in Manhattan. In NYC, my apartment looked down on a highrise filled with a veritable cornucopia of nude strangers who found it very normal to stand, lounge or splay out in their birthday suits in front of their floor-to-ceiling windows. They did so casually and with ease, day or night. They were many, and it was weird.
I felt alone in my ordeal until the New York Times published an article on the prevalence of exhibitionist neighbors that left me equal parts relieved, sympathetic and in a serious state of, “WTF?”
I never quite grew accustomed to throwing open my blinds in the morning or drawing them closed at night only to look out at the city skyline, sigh in wonder, then gaze down and see some dude and his junk splayed out in a window.
When I left NYC I assumed I left unintentional voyeurism behind. And for a year, I did. From windows in my various homes across the USA and abroad I’ve had keen views of lizards leaping in Miami, rose bushes in Santa Fe and crashing waves in Destin. It’s been lovely.
But my spree of luck would change.
I arrived in the urban behemoth of Buenos Aires in January, after long stints in relative suburbia, and was thrilled to have 2-story windows in my studio loft, as well as a small balcony overlooking the interior of my city block.
I had unfettered views of neighboring buildings, chock full of balconies, rooftops and windows, and many, many neighbors. I didn’t intend to stare, but really, that’s what there was to look at, and so stare, I did.
One sunny Saturday, I sat on my balcony sipping a cuppa tea, watching the world unfold around and below me. People making breakfast, reading, and one man tending to his laundry. In a shirt. With no pants.
Well, I figured, I guess he was just popping outside in his undies to grab a shirt off the drying rack. But no. I was wrong. He was not in his undies. He was bare-ass naked below the waist.
And so it began again — the return of the naked neighbor.
Of course, this phenom is most likely more prone to occur in cities, where all our humanity occurs very much in the face of one another. Particularly in a crowded metropolis like Manhattan, or even Buenos Aires where buildings are cluttered together in such close proximity. Where there are highrises, there are windows, and where there are windows there are people to be seen behind them.
Naked asses aside, there’s a deep comfort to be found in the ever-present pulse of a city’s population. I’m the millionth person to say it, but among the bodies, lives and livelihoods, there’s an energy in any city that’s palpable. It’s a sensation you can’t escape (for better or occasionally worse) when you’re forced to spend absurd amount of times inches from others in crowded subways or sidewalks, in shops, restaurants or buses.
Whether in Philly, Boston, New York City, Miami or Buenos Aires, I’ve always loved the stark reminder that among all the different bodies and faces surrounding me, there’s commonality among us — whether that’s in the shared disgust when the subway’s air-conditioning breaks during a heatwave, the joy (and horn honking and pot clanging) when your city’s baseball team wins the World Series, or the shared intent to help when one among us — literally — stumbles and falls.
It was a surprising relief to find myself in a city again, back in proximity to so many people and lives, bodies and energies. Being tossed, willingly, into Buenos Aires’s world of people — even oddballs who roam their very public balcony with their peter out — in turn filled me with a new jolt of passion. I wanted to know what it was like to live in this new city where these strangers lived, where every experience they experienced was, for me, fresh and shiny and offered something to learn.
There was much to love in that sprawling city’s crumbling beauty, in the civilized traditions of its cafes, but my stay there wrapped up days ago, and now I’ve moved on to the open spaces of Argentina’s Lake District. I see mountains and lakes from my balcony here, and they are startling in their beauty. But I already miss the scenes of people, of real, human lives.