Friday, November 27, 2020
Wednesday, November 18, 2020
The house next door was perfectly quiet for the next few days. I suppose they were settling in, so there was no coming and going, but there also wasn't any noise. There's about three feet of space between that house and mine, except in the dining-room where the outer walls abut, so there's not usually a lot of noise, not like an apartment or a party-wall kind of arrangement; but still there had always been a low distant sort of lived-in sound when the last owners were there, and when the house was being shown. Even with my ear pressed against the wall that touched theirs (my head inside my built-in china cabinets) I could hear nothing, no footsteps or voices or music. It was a little eerie.
I also couldn't see into the house: the front windows had been covered by paper blinds all along, though they'd been kept open during the sale and were now tightly closed; but on the rare occasions that lights came on behind them, there were no shadows cast nor any other signs of life within; and then the back atrium windows had been completely frosted at some point between the sale and the move-in, as all three stories of the thing were now translucent white, though I could see the shadows of plants up against the windows all the way up; The Boy must've done it himself with cut-and-stick film, because there'd been no glass-men in, I'd have noticed.
I was quite dejected, unable to catch sneaky peeks of The Boy at home, from either my back yard or my front window. And as the days dragged on without a sighting of my obsession, my depression grew. I worried about him, wondering if he was even in the house still, or if it had all been some sort of mistake— perhaps The Diva had not liked the house and they'd left the same night as they arrived, sometime when I wasn't at the window to see them— and they would disappear to some more stylish neighborhood and put the house back on the market.
Or more optimistically, perhaps The Diva had caught a cold or something and was laid up in bed, The Boy assiduously tending her with pots of tea and bowls of broth. I just knew it could not be normal for her to stay at home for days on end, women like that are not shut-ins, as a rule. A woman who wears a Chanel cape and carries a Kelly handbag is not going to be indoors on her duff all day, she has to be out where she can be admired and envied.
It was more likely they were going out late at night, when I wasn't watching. Though I live in my window most of the day, after dark I tend to back off since I'm visible to passersby—mirrored glass requires it to be brighter outside than inside to work, and with no sun and insufficient streetlights it was the other way around. So I tend not to turn my lights on, and stay on the couch at night, where I can only be seen from the upper windows directly across the street, with my laptop and the television (and the occasional fire on the hearth) the only illumination to betray me.
I did sit at my desk later than usual, watching for my neighbors, but after about eight or nine o'clock, with uncounted strangers staring at me as they walked by, I couldn't stand it and retreated to the couch. I considered getting some of those DIY security cameras and mounting one outside the bay window, pointing at the house next door as well as one pointed at my front door and up the street in the other direction so it wasn't obvious that I was spying on that particular part of the sidewalk; but I wasn't sure I'd be able to install them and would have to contact strangers to get them set up—and then it would be spying again, tacky tacky tacky, so I dismissed the idea.
My next sighting came from an unexpected quarter: on my usual Thursday afternoon on the lam from my cleaners, immersed in a pile of "Lifestyle" magazines (you know the sort, rich people's decorated homes and rich people's fancy-dressed pastimes and rich people's luxury goods adverts, I'm hopelessly addicted to them and have been since the TV show Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous entranced me as a teenager in the 80s) I found my new neighbors in the new issue of San Francisco Social, snapped at a prestigious fundraiser in the Legion of Honor—one of those dinner and cocktails and silent auction affairs for vague catch-all causes that are so expensive to buy into that only the very rich can be bothered.
The Diva was stunning in a black sheath dress and an Egyptian-style gemstone necklace so vast it really qualified as armor, The Boy standing behind her to one side again and just toothsome in black tie with his hair neatly brushed and gleaming in the darkness. The two-by-two-inch snap was captioned Agatha de Momerie and Tristan Mallow at the Philanthropy Circle Fine Arts Gala.
Tristan. Tristan! Trissssssstannnnn— what a beautiful name, and it suited him perfectly. I wondered that he had a different surname than The Diva (I didn't have the nerve to say her name aloud), perhaps it was his father's name and she went by her maiden name? Or they hadn't been married? Or perhaps he wasn't her son, a nephew or cousin—or maybe not even related to her at all? A secretary or kept boy? It was a tantalizing mystery.
I hit the computer at a run when I got home later that afternoon, Googling Agatha de Momerie and Tristan Mallow to see what I could find out about them. It should not have surprised me that they had absolutely zero social media presence, The Diva didn't seem the type to post selfies on Instagram or muse over banalities on Twitter or share recipes on Pinterest; The Boy, though, was of an age that he should've been all over the place, but it was fairly likely he used a nom de guerre to mask his identity from stalkers— I mean, who wouldn't want to stalk him? I don't use my real name, either, I am Charlie Curmudgeon on every single platform, Charles Pugh only to my bank.
I did find some more fundraiser red carpet snaps of them, though, from society pages over the last several years. They were buried deep, underneath discussions of Dorothy L. Sayers' Murder Must Advertise, a million marshmallow recipes, and how to raise mallow plants (who knew that was a flower? I thought it was a sort of reed), but they were there in the archives of New York Magazine and Town & Country. The Boy must be older than he looks, though, for as old as some of those pictures were, going back as far as ten years—he had to be in his middle to late twenties, or else The Diva had been dragging him around in her wake since he was a child. A very tall and developed child, as they both looked exactly the same ten years ago as they did at the Fine Arts Gala. That presented a puzzle, but not as tantalizing as the other puzzles, so it slipped my mind.
However, these pictures I could share with my friends online without being a creepy creeper, they were more-or-less public domain and consent had been given.
6,694 Total Words
Thursday, November 12, 2020
The Diva made a subtle but perfectly intelligible gesture with her right hand, directing The Boy to open the door to the house for her; he rushed up the steps to unlock the door and rushed back down to grab a few of the bags off the driver; The Diva sailed into the house like a tall ship entering a harbor. The Boy followed and the uniformed driver, who incidentally looked exactly like Odd Job from Dr. No minus the lethal bowler hat, brought up the rear.
The driver emerged a moment later, drove the gorgeous pearl gray Rolls away, and the show was over. I sat at my desk for the longest time, agog, simply digesting what I'd seen. The Diva was just amazing, the kind of fabulous that you simply don't get in San Francisco— she was New York fabulous, Paris fabulous, and was as fascinating in her own way as The Boy. And far more puzzling: beautiful boys happen everywhere, but a glamorous woman like that simply isn't to be found on the wrong side of Market Street in the most provincial of the world's capitals. I couldn't imagine what she was doing here.
5,441 Total Words
I didn't see the boy leave that evening, he must've sneaked out while I was unavoidably forced to the bathroom, or quite avoidably detained foraging for snacks. And I didn't see him come back the next day, either, or the day after — despite staking out my front window from first light to sunset.
More interesting, though, nobody else came to the house: if the new owners were coming in, I would expect more workmen, as nobody ever moved into a new house without repainting or reflooring at least part of it; nobody came to take away the realtor's rented furniture, either, nor to clear away any of the staging; and most irritatingly, the decorator I'd imagined was The Boy's employer never made an appearance, crushing my fantasy of stalking a lovely young assistant through professional channels.
The lack of the mysterious decorator made me wonder if the boy was indeed a decorator's assistant as I'd surmised. What if he was part of the moving team, flying out early to get the house ready for moving in while the other two drove the truck across the country? Or if he was an employee of the new owners, a personal assistant or secretary? Or what if he was one of the new owners? Or a member of the family? What if he was moving in next door? I didn't think my heart would be able to stand having that boy next door permanently, I'd just die of the strain.
The new owner turned up on the Friday, and was as unexpected as everything else that had happened in front of that house. A pearl gray 50s-vintage Rolls-Royce ghosted up to the curb outside, disgorging The Boy (gorgeous in a dapper summer suit) and a uniformed driver the moment it came to a halt; then The Boy reached back into the car and handed out a woman of absolutely stunning chic: all long slim limbs and dramatic angles, with a broad semi-sheer black leghorn hat smartly tilted, a sharply tailored Chanel cape of tweedy bouclé, elegant gloved-to-the-elbow hands emerging from slits at the front, stiletto black boots up over the knee, and an unmistakable Hermès Kelly handbag of ink-green alligator hanging from her elbow.
Her face was even more arresting than her intensely stylish ensemble: a long aristocratic nose, high arched brows, bold cheekbones, great fathomless black eyes, incisively angled jaw, precise mulberry-glazed mouth, and flawless white skin so smooth it seemed to glow with reflected light. She was as artificial and magnificent as a Dior New Look model, or a black-and-white film star, graceful and majestic and too exquisite to be quite real.
More interesting, though, is that she had the same features as The Boy, the same eyes and nose and cheekbones arranged slightly differently, more refined and brittle, but undeniably of the same blood. Could she be his mother? She didn't look old enough, but too old to be his sister. Maybe an aunt?
She gazed appraisingly at the house next door, studying it without apparent satisfaction, while the driver unloaded a good deal of expensive matched luggage from the back of the Rolls. The Boy stood just behind her and to one side, nervously biting his lip and watching The Diva (what else could I call her?) as she examined the facade, obviously hoping for approval and fearing reproach.
Friday, November 6, 2020
The Boy lounged on the steps for a few minutes, scrolling on his phone, then stood up and looked up and down the street with a question-mark look on his face, as if trying to decide which way to go; then consulted his phone and took off decisively to the right, passing my window on his way.
As he passed, he looked directly at me and smiled slightly, giving me a hell of a start— the bottom half of my windows are coated with a reflective tinting, allowing me much needed privacy in nearly-street-level windows without obscuring my view; he couldn't possibly have seen me through what was essentially a two-way mirror between us.
Once I swallowed my thumping heart, I realized he must have been looking at himself: I frequently enjoy impromptu shows outside my window when people tall enough to catch their reflection will stop to check their look or try out a pose or two. His actually meeting my eye was just a coincidence, an illusion of the angle, and that sweet smile was meant for himself alone.
No matter how sternly I reminded myself that he couldn't have seen me, my anxiety flipped on and ramped up to a low-level panic— the sort of panic you get from narrowly avoiding a traffic collision rather than the panic of stepping into an empty elevator shaft, but still uncomfortable. It was part of my problem with people, the discomfort of being seen, which I had to brace myself against when I went out of the house. On top of the fear of being seen, though, was the sensation of being caught doing something naughty, which is what turned the discomfort into real fear. The illusory conviction that the Boy knew I'd been watching him threw me into a tailspin of guilt.
Comfort food and pointless exercise were my remedies for mild panic attacks, so I climbed my rather steep stairs a few times before grabbing a pint of dulce de leche ice cream and another cup of coffee, decaf this time. And all that took exactly how long the Boy was gone, as I'd just settled back into my chair when he came back down the street, a tall paper coffee cup in his hand, walking slowly and studying the spindly trees and occasional flowerbeds along the curb. My panic subsided immediately I caught sight of him, his extravagant beauty a balm to my anxious soul.
Not long afterward another big truck showed up, a moving truck rather than a delivery truck, blazoned with logos and contact information for a New York moving agency. So the Boy wasn't from the realtors' decorator, but the new owner's decorator!
I didn't know the house had sold, the listing was still active the last time I looked at it, a few days before. I immediately went into the realtor's website and found that sometime in the last few days, the listing had changed. And there hadn't been a "Sale Pending" period, standard for online real estate listings, when a prospective buyer puts in a bid and the sale goes into escrow.
That may easily have been a computer error, and the price listed on the sale had to be an error as well: a little less than half of the asking price! The price had been too high, certainly, but the previous owners, a couple of trust-fund-baby financiers who'd moved to the suburbs when the female half fell pregnant, had resolutely refused to budge on that price for nearly a year. I couldn't imagine they'd suddenly settle for half, way less than the house was worth, less even than I'd paid for my much smaller (if much nicer) house seven years ago. There had to be a mistake somewhere.
I watched the movers for the next few hours, paying no attention at all to my computer or my television so I didn't miss anything of interest; the two men were very handsome, burly Italian types, and they had those nifty motorized dollies that climb the stairs on their own, which was weirdly fun to watch. Not much furniture came through, quite a few paper-wrapped parcels that could be either mirrors or paintings, some mysterious and obviously heavy objects swaddled in blankets and plastic-wrap which I assume were sculptures, and a lot of big trunks ranging from Vuitton steamers to decrepit antiques like I'd seen the Boy carrying his second day; the rest was cardboard boxes, mostly wardrobe boxes with metal rods across the tops though quite a few smaller cartons that looked like books.
The Boy came out a few times to fetch boxes out of the truck, all of them marked "FRAGILE" though they didn't seem to weigh anything. Fine glassware, perhaps? Christmas ornaments? I had a lovely time watching the process, guessing the contents of the parcels and cases, ogling the movers and glimpsing the object of my obsession, it was better than any birthday treat I've ever given myself.
4,616 Total Words
Thursday, November 5, 2020
The Boy turned up again on Monday, in a taxi this time, and earlier in the morning than he had before, so early that I was only half awake on my first cup of coffee. But after a brief disappearance into the house, he came back outside and perched on the steps, just at the edge of my windows' view, and made a couple of calls on a slim little smartphone, texting or typing notes in between calls. Dressed in a pair of battered Dickies overalls over a faded browny-gray thermal tee and venerable work boots, like the world's prettiest machinist or farmer, his hair up in its adorable bun, he looked like he was setting out to do some manual labor, heavy lifting or painting or installing things, that I dearly wished I could watch.
I got my camera and set up a shot, waiting for him to turn his head more in my direction so I could get the wonder of his face in three-quarter profile, everyone's best angle; but he didn't look around him, he watched the ground at his feet, presenting the delicious line of his neck and the dramatic angles of his cheekbones and jaw, but it was just not enough. I took a couple of snaps of his lowered profile, enough to serve my needs as a desktop wallpaper for as long as this obsession lasted, but nothing I could share with my friends online to show them how beautiful he was.
Then I started feeling guilty for spying on him and taking pictures of him unawares, planning to share his likeness across the country without his permission or knowledge. Creeper with a capital C, and though it was astronomically unlikely he'd ever find out what I'd done, my sense of guilt is well-developed enough that I'd always feel like he had found out and hated me for it.
So I put the camera away — keeping the profile shots to remind me of him after he had finished his job and disappeared from my orbit forever — and just leaned my head on my hand and gazed at him over my coffee. I can't swear that I didn't heave a couple of wistful sighs while I was at it, and it's quite possible I ran my fingers over my lips imagining what it would be like to kiss him.
3,785 Total Words
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
The next day was Thursday, also known as Cleaning Lady Invasion Day, which I almost invariably spend out of the house. It's uncomfortable being in the way when someone is cleaning, and uncomfortable to watch someone else work while you're sitting around like an indolent slug; but more uncomfortable than being in the way and watching someone work is being in the way and watching them wash your dirty cereal bowls and launder your discarded underpants. On top of which, the ladies were loud and cheerful, a mother and daughter who chattered to each other in what I assume is Tagalog the entire time they were working; if I was there, they'd try to talk to me, so I made it my business to be elsewhere on Thursdays.
It's my only regular day out, especially since the grocery store started a delivery service, and I had my rituals for the day: lunch in a restaurant on Castro, a poke around in the shops, and the rest of the afternoon at a coffee-house with pastries and espresso and a new book. I always dreaded how much walking was involved in this excursion, especially in typically San Franciscan weather, but I loved the sitting part, and the people-watching couldn't be beat. There was always some pretty boy or handsome man in at least one of my stops, whom I could ogle and daydream about.
This Thursday, however, I was reluctant to leave the house for fear of missing The Boy, with whom I was already fully obsessed far beyond my usual voyeuristic yearnings. I hadn't been away from my desk window for any appreciable amount of time in days, keeping a weather eye out for him, all for a few seconds of drinking in his beauty. I was still dithering in the window, fully dressed for outside but for my coat, when Mesdames Herradura Senior and Junior arrived, surprising them more than a little…they had my keys so I could leave before they arrived, and hadn't actually been in the same room with them in over a year.
3,357 Total Words
Tuesday, November 3, 2020
On the other hand, I didn't really have any reason to conserve capital, it was just an instinctive habit...I didn't have anyone to leave it to; a bunch of social justice charities and scholarship programs would get a sweet payday but I had no relatives or close friends to benefit. No reason to not just live high on the hog and eat through the capital while I'm alive and can enjoy it--well, no reason except that I can't budget it, since I don't know how long I'll live. If the depression doesn't get me, and no major organs break down suddenly, I could live to be a hundred and one like Grandmother did; if I blew through all my money by the time I was eighty, there would be some pretty uncomfortable years at exactly the time of life you don't want to be broke.
[DickDover55] You don't have to hire them… just request an estimate. Dreamboy is bound to come with.
[CharlieCurmudgeon] That would be embarrassing tho. Wasting their time like that.
[DickDover55] You embarrass way too easy, dude. Never gonna get laid that way.
[CharlieCurmudgeon] Je suis, je reste.
Monday, November 2, 2020
The Boy turned up again two days later, much to my delighted surprise, this time arriving in a hotel-airport shuttle and carrying an ancient steamer trunk, which had to be either empty or full of throw-pillows by the way he carried it. He was dressed more expensively this time, as well, a dark cashmere turtleneck with artistically distressed jeans and Edwardian-style ankle boots, his long hair pinned up in a messy man-bun exposing more of his incredible bone-structure.
He's the new decorator, I surmised, bringing in another repurposed piece of battered jetsam to pose as a coffee-table. Or more likely a decorator's assistant, as he couldn't be old enough to be a professional decorator, or a professional anything yet — nineteen at a guess, though really he could be anywhere between fifteen and twenty-five, it's hard to tell with the waifish ones. But still as dazzling as last time, and I was so dazzled I forgot to take a picture.
My guess as to his role at the empty house was borne out when a large delivery truck pulled up, blocking the light in my window and the traffic on the narrow street. The Boy came out briefly to give the delivery men (not a looker among them, more's the pity) instructions but disappeared again before I could bestir myself to reach for the camera. I watched the delivery men for an hour or so as they unloaded brand new furniture and decorative objects into the house. It wasn't enough stuff to fill the house, and nothing else came out, so I had to assume that they were adding to rather than switching out.
When the truck left, it stayed quiet next door for a few hours, I suppose the Boy was arranging the new decor; but then another Lyft stopped outside, it's pink faux fur mustache glaring in the bright sunshine, and the Boy flashed across from the house to the car so fast I didn't even get a good look at him, much less snap a picture. I was extremely annoyed with myself for this failure to capture my fleeting wild creature on film, but hoped he'd return again— maybe next time with his employer, in a car with a logo on it that I could look up and track down online.
I built a fantasy where I could find out what firm he worked for, hire them to do some decorating in my house, and thereby have a chance to see him again, meet him and look at him up close. My fantasy didn't go beyond seeing him, though. My imagination is not strong enough to conjure up something as ridiculously unlikely as a friendship or flirtation developing with him. But just knowing his name and hearing his voice would keep me warm at night for a while.
Turning around in my desk chair, I examined my rooms to consider what I might have a decorator do to them. The long narrow living-room, or front parlor as I liked to think of it, was already perfect: plaster walls painted a warm creamy beige, the parquet floor mostly covered by an old Persian rug of muted browns and reds, overscaled leather couch and chairs that I'd bought to fit my overscaled frame and coordinating with the Chippendale-style antique reproductions from Grandmother's house, bookcases and side-tables and matching etagere and secretaire, all arranged with perfect symmetry. The desk I'd bought to fit into the bay window didn't match, being a modernist wood and steel thing from a kit, and the desk chair was a space-age monster that actively clashed with the room, but I liked them the way they were.
The dining-room/library could use some work, since I've never once eaten in there and the table has become a resting-place for heaps of books, giant art books and paperback novels and glossy magazines in teetering stacks, and I never sat in the leather wing chairs by the pretty cast iron fireplace. But I couldn't imagine what else I could do with that room, aside from putting up more shelves for the books. It was just an extra distance on my way to the kitchen, and a place to set books down when I was done with them.
I couldn't really afford to redecorate, anyway: I've got enough money that I don't have to worry about it, but not enough that I can throw it around willy-nilly. When my parents died, less than a year apart, I inherited a trust fund made up of Mother's family money and Father's investments and share in his law firm, plus the sale of our house; it paid a quarterly income for my schooling and upkeep during my minority, and then a more substantial income when I turned twenty-one; and though I had full access to the trust after turning thirty-five, I never bothered the capital and just kept on drawing the income—not an extravagant sum, just enough that I never had to work for a living. I did work, all through my twenties and thirties, but at fairly low-paying administrative jobs at various nonprofits and charities…and I had no living expenses, since I stayed with Grandmother, so I never needed the capital.
When Grandmother died, I inherited her entire estate, but aside from the sale of her house, I didn't touch that capital either, just adding it to my own trust fund and letting it be. The thing with trust annuities is they don't always keep up with inflation, and tend to suffer from market losses. Two recessions and a couple of Wall Street panics in my lifetime had resulted in an income that would have been a princely sum thirty years ago but was now just enough to live on comfortably. Any incursions on the capital would reduce the income further, and I was not willing to do that.
Sunday, November 1, 2020
The first time I saw The Boy, stepping out of a Lyft car right outside my window, I literally choked on my coffee. He was that beautiful, startlingly beautiful: you just don't expect such beauty to appear in real life — in a photograph or movie, perhaps, but even there it would surprise and delight — and the shock of it makes you gasp, inadvisable with a mouthful of coffee. By the time I stopped coughing up a lung, he was gone.
He reappeared a few hours later, coming out of the vacant house next door and stepping into another Lyft car, and I greedily memorized him: the flash of huge soulful eyes, puppy-dog brown with exceptionally clear whites, framed in shaggy dark lashes; then the noble bone-structure of the face, delicately squared jaw and exquisite cheekbones, a Roman nose just big enough to add patrician elegance, perfectly centered in impossible symmetry; a sumptuous rose-petal mouth arranged in a gentle smile; a remarkably lucid complexion, ivory tinted with gold and rose, a childish blush to the smooth cheeks; all framed in a soft mop of loose chestnut curls, long enough to brush his graceful long neck; beautifully balanced shoulders, neither broad nor narrow, just precisely the correct width with curvaceous shoulder caps; a long loose-limbed body, willowy rather than skinny, tall but not dramatically so, a stately posture that was about halfway between a dancer's proud strut and a skater's feline slouch, dressed in narrow jeans and an oversized sweater that somehow clung to his supple frame. I didn't notice his hands, which are a particular fetish of mine, but I did take particular note of his ass, which was unexpectedly pert and round for such a lanky body type.
Pix or it didn't happen, my friends declared when I rhapsodized about this sighting of extraordinary beauty on the message-board that made up the bulk of my social life. Also a number of suggestions for what I should do when I saw him again, ludicrous scenarios where I could approach him and engage in flirtation with some seemingly innocent ruse—which I had to protest I would never do. I'm much too old for that sort of thing, and too fat, and too ugly. No beautiful boy wants to be approached by a flirtatious toad, and I couldn't bear to inflict myself on one.
Nevertheless, I set up my camera in the window-sill so I could quickly touch the buttons to turn it on and snap a photo in case he ever turned up again. I felt like a terrible creeper, plotting to photograph the boy from under cover like wildlife in the woods; but I wanted proof, for myself more than my message-board friends, that such beauty really exists, that I didn't hallucinate him or exaggerate his appearance in a fit of romantic yearning.
I didn't really expect him to show up again, though. People had been in and out of that house almost daily for nearly a year: an ever-changing cast of realtors, each one different in age, gender, ethnicity, or class but identical in their unnatural good cheer and leather-bound portfolios held like a shield against their chests, chattering loudly to dubious young WASPs and tech-boom hipsters while struggling with the electronic lockbox; there were decorators, too, and delivery men, as the realtor representing the sale was constantly replacing the staged furniture in hopes that a different reclaimed industrial dining table or sack-cushioned sectional would get the property moving.
I'd been following the sale in its online listing, and thought it might never sell, despite the housing crunch: they were asking too much, for one thing, a good half-million above what anyone would pay for this neighborhood—gentrification may have reached all the way into the deepest slums, but you still can't put a Pacific Heights price-tag on a Noe Valley side-street; for another, it was unforgivably ugly, a gloomy Italianate gutted for a modern faux-industrial interior, badly designed for the most awkward possible floor plan, with all its rooms opening onto a heat-sucking three-story atrium overlooking nothing more inspiring than a sunless back yard. It would've been great up on a hill, or a southern beach, but pointless and expensive in a damp hollow.
I had been lucky with my house, a tall and extremely narrow Victorian with original floors, turn-of-the-century molding, 1920s bathrooms and a 1950s kitchen, bought with cash for less than what I'd got for my grandmother's big old Piedmont house, during a brief dip between real estate bubbles; and it gave me a gloating sort of satisfaction to peruse real estate ads as the prices kept climbing to ever-more-astronomical heights, spending so much time monitoring the housing market that it pretty much counted as an official hobby.
The best part of my house, better than the bargain-basement price, even better than the gay-Mecca-adjacent location, was the deep bay window in the front parlor, a few feet above street level and so close to the sidewalk that I could almost reach out and smack passersby in the head. It made for an excellent people-watching post, and I spend most of my day there, as nosy and observant as any Mrs. Kravitz, ostensibly working (though more often playing) at my computer with the big-screen monitor angled so that I could take in the whole street with the merest glance to the right. I memorized the comings and goings of my neighbors, making up names for them and trying to suss out their relationships and activities, and delighted in flashes of beauty and the overheard conversations of visitors walking up toward the Castro from whatever parking-space they'd managed to find in the residential streets.
That was not how I'd intended to spend my days when I bought the house, else I would have bought a much smaller place on a busier street. No, I had intended to live graciously and entertain frequently, to give smart dinner-parties to a slough of new friends, one of whom would fall in love with me and be my boyfriend, move in with me and maybe even marry me. I'd thought I would spend my time reading in the wing-chair or writing at the head of the Queen Anne table in the combination dining-room/library; lounging with crossword puzzles and lemonade in the tiny garden dominated by a spreading oak tree; futzing about with recipes and jams in the roomy kitchen; sharing intimate moments with a special someone in the big master bedroom upstairs.
I'd intended, in short, to break out of the lonely semicloseted shell of my life with my late grandmother, with whom I'd lived since I was orphaned at age twelve until her death seven years ago.
Grandmother was an extremely kind, gentle, and generous woman, but unfortunately strictly religious and of a generation too mired in tradition, and she could not wrap her mind around open homosexuality. She accepted it, she knew I was gay, knew that it was something I could not change, and she loved me no less for it; but she could not countenance talking about it or seeing evidence of it. To be fair, she wouldn't have been able to talk about or see evidence of heterosexuality, either, outside of the sanctity of marriage. Her religious scruples were consistent and sincere, and the only alternative to traditional marriage for anyone, straight or gay, was celibacy.
And since I loved my Grandmother extravagantly, as I believe she loved me extravagantly, I accepted celibacy as a way of life to please her. Well, not just to please her: complete honesty bids me admit that I received no offers in all those years to relieve me of my celibate state. Aside from being cripplingly shy and unable to so much as flirt with a man unless I was falling-down drunk, I had an uncanny knack for only being attracted to men who could not be attracted to me. And rather than address my own neuroses, or admit to myself that I'm just not physically or personally attractive, I laid the whole issue at the foot of Grandmother's religion and absolved myself of blame.
But then she died, and I was all alone for the first time in my forty-five years of existence; I was still young enough to build a new life; and I was awash with money, Grandmother's tidy competence and the the sale of her house added to the modest trust funds I'd had from my parents. With nothing to hold me back, I could finally have the kind of life I'd fantasized about all those lonely years. I moved to the City, as close to the center of gay life as I could get, a perfect little old house that was gracious but miles away from the stuffy neo-Georgian I'd grown up in, and set about decorating as I'd never been able to do at home.
What I hadn't reckoned on, however, was the pathological shyness that had kept me isolated all my life—it was not dependent on my grandmother, in fact it got worse without her around to force me to interact with people. Nor had I reckoned on my depression, a progressive condition I'd inherited from my mother and had been struggling with since my mid-thirties. These followed me into my new life and sewed me up tight in my pretty little house, where I had not one guest in seven years. I only left the house to go shopping for groceries, sometimes for books or clothes, and to hide in a cafe when the cleaning ladies came in twice a week.
My entire social life was conducted online, as it had been before, though moreso now that I had no Grandmother to talk to. But it was a pretty rich life, connected through my keyboard to people all over the world via a couple of message boards, a virtual reality world, and a succession of online video games. I felt really comfortable opening up and talking to people in chat rooms and forums, clattering away at my keyboard with nobody able to see my increasingly overweight body or hear my ridiculous voice, hidden behind the freeing mask of digital avatars.
After the first year in my new home, I gave up on the idea of ever making face-to-face friends and ever having smart dinner parties, accepted my solitary state, and moved my desk out of the upstairs study to the bay window in the front parlor—mostly on the advice of my psychiatrist to expose myself to more natural light, but also because I realized I am a voyeur at heart, fascinated by people I'm terrified of speaking to but perfectly happy watching from behind glass, whether the glass is a TV screen, a computer monitor, or a window on a busy tree-lined street.