If I?d known my new apartment came with naked neighbors, I?d have gladly paid an additional tax.
Image for illustrative purposes only. This is not my actual view. The owners of these homes are never naked.
The first week after moving from Central Manhattan to slightly-east of Central Manhattan, our new apartment was a maze of cardboard box towers.
For my children, then 4 & 1, it was nothing less than an intricate labyrinth that lead to nowhere ?which was proved time and time again when we?d lose them for a short while ? only to discover them whimpering in a closet or a bathroom, trying to find their way back to the living room.
They get their sense of direction from me. The apartment simply isn?t that big.
On the 2nd Friday in our new place, a couple moved into the apartment directly across the street ? and to my delight, I could see they too had Tetris-ed 100 moving boxes into a space that could comfortably fit 11.
The distance between our apartments can be described like this: If they were Billy Joel, and I was a ticket holder at one of his MSG shows, I?d have ?really, really good seats.? Probably Floor B, Row J.
Plus, they have floor-to-ceiling windows.
So I decided to communicate, via poster board (Love Actually-style), ?LAST ONE TO UNPACK HOSTS BRUNCH??
I realized my family and I were at a disadvantage given we had double the boxes (and two of our un-boxers regularly crawled into the boxes we were emptying?making it imperative to recheck each discarded box BEFORE we threw it in the trash shoot) ? but raw ego had me believing we could power through; that our two-week head start leveled the playing field, and that this would be a fun, sitcom-ish way to meet the new neighbors.
That Friday I decided to work from home, so every few hours I?d look out the window to measure my progress against theirs and see if they?d responded by signage.
I have no idea if they ever read my note?maybe the glare is particularly harsh from their side of the street?but they moved with the efficiency of the famed Toyota Production System.
My neighbors, unpacking.
They gracefully leapt over and around boxes like majestic gazelles, continuously talking with each other, communicating and agreeing on the placement of things with a fluidity I couldn?t help but envy. On our side of the street, my wife and I passively argued about which kitchen drawers were the right kitchen drawers to put the pans in vs. the Tupperware.
Within 36-hours, they ? the svelt, athletically-built, mid-to-late 40s, child-less couple, were fully unpacked.
My one year old had been missing for 2 of those hours, and when we found him, he was drenched in make-your-own-slime.
By comparison, the couple across the street was drenched in Scandinavian Modernism.
So at 9:15am, on the Sunday after they moved in, I flashed a new sign to them acknowledging the win. It read ?DID YOU EVEN BREAK A SWEAT?!??
?And then I saw them having porn-star-level sex.
I don?t mean to get too erotica here, but they did it every which way you can google image search; from the front, from behind, against the wall, over the couch, on the coffee table, on their console table and on the floor.
He put his Restoration Hardware in her Pottery Barn and she took his Crate & Barrel in her West Elm?so to speak.
Clearly my poster board message needed to be revised.
But there was no time for that because ? while the couple across the street celebrated the openness of their new living space ? I had to cook someone an egg sandwich without the crust, prepare a bottle, navigate the AppleTV to find an episode of Dora the Explorer, hand feed someone the egg sandwich and figure out the right way to put my eldest?s karate gi on him.
By the time Dora climbed tallest mountain and retrieved Map, my naked neighbors were in the shower?probably doing it again.
In the coming months, I?d notice the couple across the street dozens more times.
8:30pm on a Tuesday, 10am on a Sunday, 9pm on a Thursday. 7:45am on a Friday?
Always with the window shades up.Always with the lights on.Often strategically positioned in a friendly spot for voyeurs?
?Voyeurs? is pluralized here because I?d like to imagine there were other people, just like me, a few floors up and a few floors down, who also ? in between in-depth conversations about the vaudevillian antics of Mr. Noodle on Elmo?s World, and who was bringing whom to school in the morning, were also casually eyeing the neighbors, trying to gleam something maybe they could bring into their own bedrooms?
?Positioned? was modified by ?strategically? here because, for the life of me, I still can?t figure out why, while he was lying on his back, with his profile to the window, she needed to be squatting on him, facing away from the window, effectively mooning us?the accidental(?) asstronomers.
I started to get the feeling I was part of their thing ? that I was not a bystander, but a minor-yet-necessary character in their ritual. Don?t these seem like weird times to have open window, shades up, lights-on, marathon sex?
For the record, I never took any pictures or video, but I?d proudly show every person who came over where my naked neighbors lived. I?d describe, in staid, respectable detail, the incredible sex life I was now part of.
Text and email correspondences would often end with questions about how the naked neighbors were doing, and I?d gladly indulge them with the latest comings-and-goings-on of the couple across the street.
?and then one day she didn?t come home.
The next time I saw her in the apartment there was a travel suitcase by the door. I assumed she?d been on a business trip. He was no where to be seen.
A week or so later, at about 10pm, I watched them have a fight ? their arms waving, both of them yelling ? it all ending with him resigning himself to sleep on their couch.
A month-and-a-half later and she hasn?t been back. His closet, which he keeps wide open, is half empty.
Every night, while I have dance parties with my now-2 year old, and color pictures of The Avengers on close-to-but-not-quite-empty moving boxes with my now-5 year old, I catch glimpses of him???the dude across the street???just sitting on his couch, watching TV. He?s in bed reading a book by 9:30p every night?and, no joke, he?s started wearing old school, matching top-and-bottom pajamas.
It?s a little sad, so of course, I found myself compelled to write something on a poster board and flash it across the street one more time?but what to say?
What?s an appropriate requiem for a relationship you never had?
Last Sunday, before my family woke up, I climbed through our dwindling cardboard metropolis, over action figures and stuff-animals and the Tupperware my kids love taking out of the bottom drawer, and placed a final handwritten sign in our window, with words artfully borrowed from the great Liz Gilbert:
?EMBRACE THE GLORIOUS MESS THAT YOU ARE.?