Privacy — can it be found in New York City? With more than 1.6 million people crowding the streets, transit, and buildings of Manhattan alone, this is hardly a place where anyone finds solitude.
I seek quiet and comfort on the inside of my Upper West Side apartment. I close the windows, draw the shades, and in moments I’ve magically escaped to a more peaceful place. Tuning out the world of Gotham beyond my windows is a necessity for me while living in this ‘city that never sleeps’. For others, exposing their personal side to the world of New York is a conscious choice, and there’s no shyness about it.
New Yorkers should memorize the common sense rules. But really, are there any documented laws about window flashing and peeping in NYC? Perhaps these laws to live by may have begun in Manhattan-based sitcoms such as "Friends,” when the entire cast wrongfully stared at the ‘ugly naked guy’. But he was a nudist, and it’s perfectly acceptable to invade someone’s naked privacy when they advertise it. Or in “Sex and the City”, when Big visited Carrie in her freshly painted apartment for the first time and caught her naked neighbors humping, only to be inspired to ‘top’ their erotic behavior.
As a person who’s always tried to obey the rules, I’m well aware of the most stringent codes for multiple dwellings: “Don't walk around nude or partially nude in front of your windows, or partake in activities that involve being naked, or in any form of indecent attire in front of your windows.” Along with this — Don't stare into another occupant’s windows for extended periods of time. Respect your neighbor’s privacy.”
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Here’s the catch. Even I, as a law-abiding citizen, break the rules on occasion. Sometimes it's nearly impossible to NOT look when someone’s pulling the ‘look at me’ card. This happened recently. I just happened to walk through my living room as a woman pulled her pants on in the apartment directly across the street. All lights were on and windows uncovered. Not only was she stepping into her jeans, but also she neglected to wear a shirt — no tank top or camisole either, just a pointy black bra instead. I glanced quickly, and then walked into another room, doubting what I’d just seen seconds earlier. I returned, but was barely able to watch much longer. I drew the shades before the final bow, which could’ve been hours later.
Was I at fault? This view on my window wall couldn’t have been avoided. When looking out onto 88th Street to check the weather or assess the umbrella and outerwear situation, I couldn’t help but notice her approximate D-cup bust line accentuated by underwire and lace. Hmm —was it Maidenform or Playtex?
What was she thinking? Was she oblivious or flaunting it? More importantly, was a citizen's arrest in order? Surely I could ride the elevator eight floors down, dash across the street and into her building, grab her doorman, report the offense, and demand that she halt her half-nude romp, or threaten to call the police before she clothed. Or could I? What if the NYPD arrived and the entire incident appeared as if I had a wild, somewhat risqué imagination? Keeping this in mind, I decided to be neighborly and do nothing — vowing to never look into those windows again.
On the flip side, if I had a chance meeting with that woman on the street, I wouldn’t recognize her from the half-bare-body strut in black skivvies. She’s one of the many middle-aged women with dark shoulder-length hair and a medium build on the Upper West Side. Nor would she remember my face (if she even realized that I took a quick glimpse), which was more than 50 feet away across 88th Street, and viewed through double-paned glass. This is an example of anonymity at its best. Vertical living in the Big Apple does have its advantages.
Privacy may be scarce in Manhattan, but on an island of more than 1.6 million, semi-privacy and hidden identity can be found all over town. And to apartment dwellers — let this be a lesson. When you think no one is looking, think again.
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