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Wednesday July 10, 2002, 18:06

This must be what paranoia feels like. Wandering around the flat, overturning books, papers, blankets, pillows. Eyes blurry, head spinning muttering to myself and wondering how the hell I lost my sweater between the moment when I pulled it out of my messenger bag and when I sat down on the couch to put on my shoes. Somewhere in those several minutes I have the image of the black turtle neck sweater slipping off of something and firmly wedging itself somewhere else. Neither of those two places has come to light in the past twenty-four hours and while the room has stopped spinning for the time-being, my sweater has not yet appeared.

It is cold in London. Someone on the radio was claiming that the complaints that can be heard at night as the populace buries its collective head under heavy winter blankets are generally unfounded; this is normal weather for this time of year, there's just been abnormally nice summers for the past ten. This is of little comfort to me as I hear stories of the heat wave that is hitting home right now, home that is not here, that will never, really, be here. I was in the cinema the other night and stepping out, heard a song playing out of the tinny speakers above the popcorn bin. "I have that CD," I thought, "and I will play it when I get home," only to realize that I would have to wait several months before seeing my entire collection again. How does one choose the music that will suit ones' mood for half a year in one fell swoop? I think that the answer is that one does not.

A couple of years ago, I found myself a member of an exclusive group of people that was being written up in the New York Times. It seemed that city dwellers, so convinced of the importance of their lives, or so desperate for something resembling a connection of sorts in an otherwise unloving society, were opting against the inclusion of curtains in their dwellings. From dirty lofts to posh brownstones, people were airing their dirty laundry and more for the world to see. I was, at the time, living in Boston, and due in no small part to a personal thriftiness (of both time and money), I had opted for the exclusion of window dressing in my third floor apartment. I was relatively safe from onlookers, my windows facing only a parking lot and the trees separating me from the swimming pool that was part of the neighboring apartment complex. But I do remember watching a party take place outside my one side-facing window. I watched as conversations took place, and while I couldn't hear their content, I listened to the clink of beer bottles and imagined the rest.

Somewhere along the way, the trend reversed itself, and while my apartment in New York doesn't have a view of the urban soap opera that takes place every day in the windows of thousands of apartments across the city, I often find myself sticking my head out of the window and craning my neck, trying to catch a glimpse of it around the corner. More often than not though I am faced with a wall of blinds and curtains all shouting "leave me alone!"

The same is true in London, and while I can see no fewer than a dozen windows from my desk, the other night was the first since arriving that I saw windows open, lives exposed within. The red-walled living room has a halogen floor lamp casting its glow against the ceiling, and the apartment directly across the way and one story up from me has a sofa situated directly under the window where its occupants sit to watch television. Next door, a woman sat on the sill, silhouetted against a table lamp, and stared down at the street below. She threw open her window and I waved to her, but she was looking down at the man standing next to a scooter, putting on his helmet. She shouted down to him and he looked up. They spoke a bit, first about his helmet, then about the weather. The air was crisp and the sky was the dark blue of a summer night, when days are the longest they are all year. Clouds drifted lazily in front of the moon, and the world seemed still. On these old streets the smallest scooter sounds like a biker gang while the garbage truck sounds like an earthquake, but at this moment, there was nothing.

I watched her, laughing and gesturing, and I watched the man next door open his window and fiddle with the drawstring controlling the blinds. Nobody passed in front of the window of the apartment with the red walls, but it was as if the entire block was alive and smiling. As the man on the scooter drove off, the woman quickly shut her window as a cool breeze made her shiver, and she drew her curtains, blocking out the rest of the world. Her neighbor left his window open but, giving the cord one hard pull, dropped his blinds down to the sill with an audible crack. The light in the red-walled room went out and in an instant, the block went dead.

People will be returning home from work soon, first stopping off for a pint at the local pub. They will enter their buildings, check the front table for their mail, and walk up the stairs to their apartments. They will turn on the lights, drop their keys on the counter and watch television or read for a bit, perhaps catching up with their loved ones or planning out outfits for the following day. But it is cold out. Some say that summer already happened this year; it was on a Monday and we all missed it.

It is cold out, and so the windows will remain shut, the curtains will stay drawn, and the street below will go to sleep lonely and silent.

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