Friday, March 27th, 2020
Last night, my husband and I spent some time looking out the window. All around us, apartment buildings were full of light. Even the old, gray Communist block down the street–the one I assumed was condemned–had suddenly sprung to life.
A man in his living room did squats. A woman folded laundry. We saw people cooking, eating. A couple danced in their kitchen.
I thought back to a few months earlier when Luke and I were on an Alfred Hitchcock kick. We watched “Rear Window,” and the whole time I kept thinking, Why doesn’t anyone just close their blinds?
In case you haven’t seen it, the lead actor, Jimmy Stewart, is confined to a wheelchair–and in turn, his apartment. And because this came before the internet or even television, the only form of entertainment comes from watching neighbors through his window. There’s a dancer, an artist, several married couples… I won’t give away the whole plot; so I’ll just say it’s a Hitchcock movie, and Stewart sees something he shouldn’t.
It’s funny how quickly your opinions can change based on your situation. When we watched the film, I kept thinking, This guy is seriously creepy. Just read a book and mind your own business. But now, just 14 days into social distancing, I totally get it.
This morning, when I went downstairs to make coffee, Luke was already in the kitchen, staring out the window. “What are you doing?” I asked. “I’m just waiting for our neighbor to look over here. I want to say hi.”
Mind you, he has not once spoken to this neighbor, nor has he ever attempted to wave.
I chuckled to myself as I put the perculator on the stove. When it was ready, I poured us both a cup, kissed him on the cheek, and headed upstairs for another day of online teaching.
A fifteen-minute Zoom check-in with my advisory kids, then an hour of Zoom workshopping with journalism students. Then a 15-minute break before the next class. During breaks, I usually go to the bathroom, do some stretches, and maybe make a tea. But today, I found myself unable to look away from the man across the street.
From my office, I have the perfect bird’s eye view of his balcony–the one he built with his own hands just last year. It juts out from the attic and is filled with so much stuff it makes you wonder what the rest of the house looks like. Potted plants, a grill, several chairs and a table, gardening tools, paint buckets–and today, a work bench.
Hunched over, eyes focused, he carefully measured pieces of plywood, then placed them on the bench, perfectly aligned. He plugged in the power saw and began to slice with precision. Once he was finished, he sat down with one of the wooden blocks and a small tool and began whittling.
A Google Calendar reminder went off, breaking my concentration. Time to call my next class. One after another, all 20 students entered our Zoom classroom. Some had virtual backgrounds (think: outer space, the beach. One kid even had a giant frog perched behind him), while others displayed images of their bedrooms or their parents’ offices. Occasionally, someone’s mom or dad came into the frame–or, on the rare occasion–a younger sibling.
During the last two weeks, I’ve seen action figure collections, childhood treasures, and have met multiple dogs and cats. I’ve had one-on-one calls to help students create schedules and get organized. I’ve also been there to listen to many of them cry when it’s all been a little too much.
In the evenings, Luke and I have gotten into a routine: talk about our days, rummage through the fridge and cupboards to see what we can throw together, convince one another not to drink alcohol, plop on the couch, and watch the latest episode of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
I’d never really watched The Tonight Show before the quarantine, but when a friend shared a YouTube link to the first “at home” edition, I was hooked. Fallon’s wife operates the camera, his girls draw the artwork and take turns interrupting the monologue. Guests are interviewed over Zoom, and make comments about Fallon’s interesting home decor. Viewers get the rare opportunity to see celebrities on their couches, at their pianos, in their kitchens. Last night, Alec Baldwin rolled his eyes as his children treated his body like a jungle gym.
I guess it’s kind of like those “Celebrities Are Just Like Us” features in gossip magazines. You know, “J. Lo shops for her own groceries!” “Beyonce goes to Starbucks!” “Chris Hemsworth surfs at a local beach!” Only now, these people are working from home–just like many of us.
It’s been a strange two weeks, and things are only bound to get stranger. But it is nice to know that we’re all in the same boat. (Well, not the same boat. More like millions of boats, at least a meter apart from one another, out to sea, without a scheduled return date).