Paranoia insists that people can see me when I’m enjoying my private moments, causing my eyes to dart constantly about insuring that the blinds are, in fact closed as tightly as possible. My activities are none too disturbing, mind you, but if I’m going to be dragging my sleep-deprived corpse across the bedroom floor in my pajamas to contort my inflexible frame into various explorations of agony I would just assume that my neighbors weren’t enjoying a laugh with their morning coffee while staring from across the street. By hiding my nose-picking and pathetically white dance routines from the world I have performed my function as a member of civil-society. These simple procedures of respect are the pressure valves that allow a critical mass of wildly different people to occupy the crowded urban environment of a city. Unfortunately San Francisco seems to draw from a deep well of repressed suburban migrants who were raised not to mind the open windows or the fact that half the block can see them changing.
My opinion fails to matter. “This is living in the city,” says Aaron, recently relocated from Small Town USA to the somewhat cosmopolitan Portland. His street is a quiet street, not the theatre of human tragedy which my window overlooks. There’s drugs being dealt, people smoke crack in doorways, you step over bodies to open your front gate; on warm nights the stench of fluids can be overwhelming, just as the banalities of normal conversation conspire along with passing buses to torment your attempts at burrowing in dreams. A normal city block where people live and die in each others faces and we all try to be polite enough about this inescapable situation. If anyone is ever laying out a scavenged living room in front of my building they always ensure I can access the door and if they’re smoking crack in the recesses of the laundry mat downstairs they’re apologetic about causing me any problems. Weekends bear witness to various detritus from outlying, less congested, neighborhoods or towns who speak loudly about stupid shit, get sloshed and run rampant but those of us who dwell on the corridor respect one another. We realize that the only thing which prevents us from knifing one another is that we’re aware of one other and try not to intrude as best as we can. Except for the girl who lives across from me who has a little reality show we like to call Naked Freakout.
Photo by Yasmine Chatila
The concept of Naked Freakout is a cheap derivative of reality TV and youtube. She storms around her room flailing arms about, she changes several times, she sits naked on the floor, she punches her mirror. My roommate caught an episode wherein our hostess changed several times before finally leaving the house. She was then observed walking down the street, disappeared around the corner, then immediately returning home. She then ripped all of her clothes off and took a shower. I tend to walk in on episodes when I go on the roof to smoke. Although you might think otherwise I find it rather upsetting when my private space is violated by a hysterical girl changing her clothes, wandering around her room topless and then punching the mirror. I stand staring off in another direction and pace in little circles hoping she’ll go away but this innocent posturing can’t alleviate the thought that, by all appearances, I’m just some pervert who’s come out on the roof to watch Naked Freakout record the Christmas special. I usually give up quickly and duck back inside; from my room I’m once again forced to have Naked Freakout marathons flickering to my right while I try and check my e-mail like nothing strange is happening.
Accidentally finding yourself exposed transitioning from shower to room or from naked to dressed is an all too common phenomenon. No one wants to be on either end of it but our proximity to one another makes it all but guaranteed. Naked Freakout isn’t the only show I’ve caught while flipping channels. The apartment above Naked Freakout was recently occupied and the first several nights I had the ill-fortune to catch random occupant topless, naked and finally having sex while seeming to be half asleep. When random occupant realized there was a pervert across the street on the roof watching she had the presence of mind to unpack her curtains and shield herself from prying eyes. We haven’t had any issues since. Similarly an apartment a couple doors down from Naked Freakout has also changed hands and I was violated IN MY OWN ROOM when I looked up from my computer and had random occupant staring out the window while some dude heimliched her from behind. I felt that by closing my blinds I would only draw attention to my perverse presence so I kept my seat concentrating on the computer. When I was on the roof not much later random occupant and random dude had moved away from the window which spared innocents passing by but did not spare me from further abuse. Thankfully random occupant was also keenly aware of the pervert on the roof and quickly installed curtains to spare us her tawdry encounters. The response to having been observed, or even the possibility of flaunting their private affairs to the world, was correct in both cases: show some respect and cover the fucking windows.
Naked Freakout has no respect. At first it was almost understandable as she had just moved in and had no blinds or curtains. This doesn’t mean she couldn’t get dressed in the bathroom or even her large closet like any normal self-possessed person, but with so much change in her life it’s almost a forgivable lapse. However she eventually installed some sort of window dressing and as of now, several months into her occupancy across the street directly from my window where I am as visible to her as she is me, she has never once untied the mass of fabric and blacked her existence out of my life. Being the humanitarian I am I was willing to cut her some slack and assume she was so mentally insignificant that hers was a case of criminal negligence. It simply did not occur to her that a hundred people can see every moment spent in her room and carries on as though she were the only person on the planet. Then my roommate, a dedicated viewer of Naked Freakout who apparently spends time in my room when I’m not home, suggested that this display is definitely intentional. “She gets off on it”, she says to me. That was almost as big a mindfuck as the probability that Naked Freakout sees shadowy forms in my room staring at her while I’m at work and assumes that it’s the same person hanging out with the lights on.
My immediate prognosis was that Naked Freakout is an exhibitionist but the online resource Psychology Today has very strict standards about what constitutes this particular malignancy. Naked Freakout doesn’t sit on her desk in the window and masturbate or jump out of the closet when unsuspecting people are looking out their window attempting to startle with her nudity. Furthermore, according to PT, clinical diagnosis can only occur if the subject “Over a period of at least six months, has recurrent sexually arousing fantasies or behavior involving exposing the genitals to an unsuspecting stranger” or “The person has acted on these sexual urges or the fantasies cause marked distress or interpersonal difficulty in the workplace or in everyday social situations”. There’s no way I can actually prove either of these to be true and therefore it seems unlikely I will be able to convince the Department of Mental Health to remove this blight from the block and perform emergency electroshock therapy. I do enjoy the suggestions for cognitive-behavioral treatment, chasing sexual arousal with negative mental images:
“Covert sensitization entails the patient relaxing, visualizing scenes of deviant behavior followed by a negative event such as getting his penis stuck in the zipper of his pants. Assisted aversive conditioning is similar to covert sensitization except the negative event is made real most likely in the form of a foul odor pumped in the air by the therapist. The goal is for the patient to associate the deviant behavior with the foul odor and take measures to avoid the odor by avoiding said behavior.”
However, as Naked Freakout has no penis this would take some re-writing. The unfortunate fact seems to be that she is not actually a legal deviant so the law cannot be called upon for aid. I’m not admitting defeat, tho, in my reasoning that she suffers from severe mental illness. Being an attention-whore is just as valid, and probably far more pervasive, as any deficiency. A casual observer might see this girl kneeling naked before the mirror, several wardrobes spent around her like carcasses drained of blood, punching the mirror and think to themselves, “oh that poor girl has self-esteem issues” and feel sorry for her. I agree that she has self-esteem issues but suspect strongly that they stem from the new breed’s current multi-media saturation. With the flick of a switch you can become your own commodity across the internet, developing your own super-heroine personality with a couple mouse-clicks. You can read about the hot new bands and make them your favorites, read about the new edgy indie movies and declare your love for them. Shade the depths of your online persona with pop-culture references, graphics acquired through a nimble google search, and ironic attire captured perfectly with your cellphone camera. When the tried and true methods of bedroom celebrity no longer titillate as they once did, when the attention from reclusive Myspace addicts or flickr trolls no longer wet your panties, then you break into the big leagues with shameless videos on youtube. Or, on my block, you can refuse to close the curtains and have a big fight with your mirror, change several times and throw your arms up in the air.
Being a humble guy of no means I feel I can’t really do much to alter the direction of culture in this day and age. I can’t walk across the street, ring the doorbell, wait for Naked Freakout to throw on some horribly unsuitable outfit she can’t stand, and say,”Look, I can see you’re flailing around for your place in this vast world of ours. I’d like to hear about your feelings, maybe I can help you become more comfortable with yourself and stop looking for validation through juvenile tantrums and shock.” My roommate thinks that I ought to slip an anonymous note but my immediate reaction was to make a sign for my window: “Close your blinds, bitch!”. As this may very well serve only to further inflate the ego of Naked Freakout I’m considering posting on Craigslist.
Photo “the girl with horizontal blinds” by Yasmine Chatila from her series “stolen moments”
Excerpt from Psychology Today is unattributed.