Before the pandemic, when I was still taking the bus now and then, a man sitting across the aisle told me, on the way up Sixth Avenue, that Liz Taylor had given him brain damage while cutting his hair. There was definitely something not quite right about this man, and I would have liked to hear more details, but he got off at the next stop. 

The nice thing about the bus is that you don’t have to walk. In New York the bus is no faster than walking, really, it’s just that you can sit instead. I’ve had all kinds of things said to me on the bus and one of them, not all that long ago, was something that signaled my being a little on the old side, when a young woman saw me and stood up and offered me her seat. I wasn’t offended. That would be ridiculous. If everyone who sees me would offer me some perk because of my age, I would feel pretty lucky. I remember the actual moment I knew I was a grown up lady with absolute certainty because of things people were saying. It happened in Italy, where I used to go quite a lot. For the longest time strangers in Italy who spoke to me always called me Signorina. And then, on this particular visit, I was suddenly Signora. To everybody. There was no disputing it. And I liked it. I felt as if I’d been given a promotion.

While sitting by my window just before dark yesterday evening, I looked across the street just in time to see a man at his window, wearing exactly nothing. Before drawing his curtains closed, he paused, to look out on this very gray and foggy late afternoon, unclothed in the same manner as the lady two floors below, when she opens her curtains in the morning, wearing nothing. Those little glimpses always feel a little thrilling to me in the way that it feels thrilling to see a humming bird, or a moose in the wild. There’s such an innocence to it. On occasion, in big new buildings with big windows, I’ve seen a naked person standing there obviously on purpose. Some of the newer buildings are full of horrible exhibitionists. Once, from the street, I looked up and saw one standing in a window of the Standard Hotel, “stark naked” as the saying goes, and if I ever wished for a spear gun, it was then. 

I’ve always been a prude, I will admit it. I don’t think anyone should go naked anywhere in public, and they especially should not go naked in a nudist colony, which in my opinion should be outlawed. But the little glimpses in New York City windows feel different to me, up above the street, and more akin to some of the paintings in the Met, where in the intimacy of their little worlds from hundreds of years ago, people sit alone in their rooms undressed. 


One of my friends told me some time ago that at three in the morning she went out into the common area on her floor to put the trash in the incinerator, completely naked, without thinking. She realized what she’d done when she heard the click of her door locking behind her, and had to wake her neighbor and let him see what he would see. She’s not too squeamish about things like that, but even so. 


I remember a derelict building I used to see from the window whenever I went upstate on a Metro North train, just after leaving the elevated 125thStreet stop. It was a slender brick building of the kind built in 1900 or so, five or six stories tall with an ornate fire escape and decorous cornice, completely empty. The windows had no glass and through one of them, at the top, I could see into a bare room,with peeling wallpaper as the train pulled out. In an open closet was a suit jacket on a hanger, the whole picture in shades of brown. For years I looked for the suit jacket from the train, and there it always was. I wondered about the person who had lived there once, and left it. The sight of it felt private somehow, as if it should never have been seen and wouldn’t have been but for the elevated train. Eventually the building was demolished and now a bland new building stands on that spot.

Not far from where I live is a very old and crumbly trio of buildings where at the top is a window that was always kept open with a globe of the earth or a cello propped there. I watched birds going in and out of that window as they pleased, both pigeons and doves, but I never saw the person who lived there. I always imagined it being a man. Now those buildings are wrapped up in plywood getting ready to be torn down. I wonder what became of the globe and the cello and whoever it was who owned those things. 

Across the street is a well-kept building of about five stories. I would imagine that the people who live in the upper apartments would have been able to look into the window kept open with the cello or the globe, and see the person who lived there with the birds. Somehow I can’t imagine whoever that was being unclothed near the window, and why that is I do not know. I’m not the type to walk around the house unclothed myself, but this is New York. Sometimes even I come out of the bathroom after a shower and go into the bedroom to get dressed without closing the curtains. There is always the chance that someone across the street might look over and catch a glimpse of una Signora in her birthday suit, for better or worse. I hope it hasn’t happened, but I won’t die if it has.

2 January 2022 







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