Monday, February 3, 2014

Downsized

{This is a story from a friend. I can vouch that he isn't a creeper, though he may be kind of strange. --Alone at Night Staff}

About two years ago I was downsized from my job at a community college. After a few fruitless months of applying for jobs, I was growing pretty despondent. Not only wasn't I getting any interviews, but I wasn't even finding many positions for which to apply.

My typical day would be as follows: wake up, go to the library to use their WiFi to search for and apply to jobs, go home for lunch, go back to the library and search/apply for jobs until dinner, watch TV until bed. After a few months of this, I was becoming progressively more restless at night and increasingly depressed. The warm winds of summer had finally arrived, so I decided to go for bike rides late at night, and usually with a few drinks in me.

I would start drinking with dinner and continue until I had a nice buzz on, and then head out for a ride. I'd wait until it was late at night, but not too late. I wanted to see people, their lives, in their houses. It couldn't be midnight on a Tuesday, because too many people would be in bed. 10pm, I had decided was the perfect time. It was late enough that people would be home, but not so late that everyone would be asleep.

Now, I want to make clear that I didn't want to see people in their homes for any explicitly creepy reason. It wasn't like I was hoping to see someone naked, or having sex or anything like that. I know that this will be difficult for a lot of people to understand, and it is difficult for me to explain, but I'll try. I wanted to see people living their lives, because I felt so much like I was just treading water in my own life. I was unemployed, seemingly without many options, and was increasingly worried I would have no future. I wanted to see what other people were like in their lives, but when they were alone and could be entirely themselves. Seeing people at the grocery store wasn't the same as seeing them at home. We all put on a type of mask when we're out in public, limit our actions and stifle our true selves. I was interested, I guess always have been even before I was downsized, in what people were like when they thought they were alone.

I know that sounds creepy and I just have to hope some people understand what I mean. I'm sure some people will just cross me off as a weirdo, and that's fine. Know, however, that I had no nefarious intentions, I promise. The best I can relate my desires to is to liken it to documentary films, or candid photography. My motivations were the same as why I read books. It's a way to get to know humanity in a way that is true and deeper than the casual facades we see in public.

So, I rode my bike through sleepy neighborhood streets late at night, and as I slowly rode down the street, I looked in windows. I didn't stop my bike, and I never trespassed on anyone's property. I just watched as I rode by from the street. It was like being presented with a shoebox filled with snapshots of people's lives. Slowly, but with a steady and unceasing pace, I flipped through the photos.
Some of the images that stuck with me almost seem mundane, but would drive my imagination. The images include an empty kitchen with an incredibly beautiful painting that I tried to ride by every night. I once saw an overweight man standing in his living room in front of his television wearing underwear and a white t-shirt, eating something from a bowl (he was standing in front of a large picture window, which I thought was funny) and I have no idea why this scene captured my thoughts as it did. I saw countless families in various rooms, usually watching TV or more rarely and, what was more special, talking. The scenes were lovely to me in some strange way that I really have trouble explaining.

However, I realized one night that, though I knew my interest was entirely harmless, if I was on the other end of my late-night rides, I might have considered myself exceptionally creepy.

I usually took a similar route on my rides, as I liked certain neighborhoods (safer for me to ride at night, less traffic, more neighborhood houses). After several weeks, it made sense that some people might start to notice me. One evening, I'm on my ride, and I decide to take an alley between two streets, just to see the houses from the back, and maybe see a new perspective on the people I felt I'd come to know in some strange way. The alley is dark, except for the occasional back porch light and I'm, per usual, a little drunk. I’m riding and contemplating my current life situation, the people in all these houses, and humanity in general, when suddenly I hear a kind of scream, more like a half strangled yelp, from nearby. I nearly startled right of my bike, and I see in the shadows a woman drop a trash bag and sprint off into her house. I hear her yelling inside about, "It's that guy on the bike! He's in our back yard" (I wasn't in the yard just to clarify. I was in the alley). Suddenly the backdoor slams open and a mammoth of a man emerges from the house.

My drunken brain realizes, slowly, that I'm in trouble. It's too late to pedal off, so I stop riding when the man emerges from the back yard and yells, "Blah blah blah, what do you think you're doing? blah blah blah" I remember trying to explain my entire back-story to him, about losing my job, being bored, wanting to get out of the house for a while, etc, but I'm sure I wasn't making any sense. I was drunk and startled. He did the obvious thing, and threatened to call the cops and to hurt me if he saw me again, etc, etc. I apologized for startling his wife – I was truly sorry, as I never meant any harm to anyone – and rode off.

I wasn't trying to be a creeper, but I guess to that lady and her husband at least, I was. Too many months later, I still hadn't found a good job, so I decided to attend graduate school. I still wonder what is going on behind the curtains and walls of people’s houses, and I still occasionally ride my bike late at night, but I do so sober, more because I have more hope for my life now than I did then then any other reason. Oh, and I stay away from that one house, too.

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