Janet Malcolm once famously suggested that all journalists are engaged in a less-than-savory enterprise. In fact, suggested may be far too weak a word to describe her lede: “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.”
With somewhat less vitriol but with perhaps more undeniability, I’d argue that every New Yorker who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that part of the allure of the city is the opportunity it affords for … well, for casual voyeurism. (Which, in the SMITH world, should be construed in taking an optical interest in other people’s personal narratives.)
A case in point: North and a few floors down from our apartment is a line of brownstones, where a variety of rooftop activities provide social interaction of a sort. One of the buildings, for example, is inhabited by friends of ours, who have been known to holler and wave if they see us on our own terrace. That’s nice.
Another rooftop, dubbed Fort Ticonderoga (see photo above), is surrounded by a wooden fence painted the painty equivalent of redwood. Currently the site of occasional weekend folk-music jams, it was once the domain of two Pomeranians that would hop onto the abutting roof to conduct their crappy business, which led the owner of said litter box to erect a comical wall of chairs and other outdoor furniture in a futile attempt to keep the dogs at bay. That’s kind of funny.
Lately, though, a more interesting story line has developed. Each evening at Golden Hour (you’ve seen Raise the Red Lantern, yes?), a man comes out onto one of the rooftops accompanied by a cat on a leash. He lets the cat loose, and the cat inevitably strays onto one of the neighboring rooftops. Just as inevitably, he goes after the cat, spending lots of time on the neighbors’ rooftops, striking poses and inspecting their outdoor furnishings. After a half hour or so, he grabs the cat, climbs down the ladder, and disappears, a la John Locke, into his hatch. That’s meta-voyeurism.