I spend a lot of time writing about all the fun and exciting things I got to do as a kid growing up in the city. Like most kids though, I hung out at home a lot. Home just happened to be a 21-storey apartment building.
One of my closest friends lived on the second floor in the front of the building, and I could yell up to her living room windows and invite her out to play. I lived on the fourth floor, in the back, so I could also look across and down the airshaft from my dining room into her bedroom. We made elaborate plans for tin-can telephones and baskets on pulleys that would deliver notes back and forth, but nothing ever materialized: her father was a painter and mine a businessman, and I suspect neither would have had the faintest idea how to rig up such an apparatus. And surely the building’s management would have frowned on the project. But it was lovely to imagine a thin thread connecting us, two lonely only children watching each other like animals across from one another in the zoo.
We developed ways of communicating, bits of sign language and words written on paper held up to the glass. We tried paper airplanes, but air currents were unpredictable. I lobbied to move into the dining room so that we could be in touch all the time.
The airshaft was an endlessly fascinating space, dark and lined with windows giving onto the lives of people I knew by name. Things dropped down the airshaft had a tendency to stay where they had fallen, undisturbed. The bad kids in the building, teenagers, seemed to get in trouble regularly for throwing or dropping stuff out of their windows: bottles, cans, bits of clothing, one never knew what one might see by leaning out and looking down.
When I finally saw Hitchcock’s Rear Window it struck a deep chord — all those hours I had spent leaning on the window sill I had half expected to see something awful. The people I saw seemed alone, and smaller, but generally benign. I did once see my friend being hit by her mother, an angry woman who thought hairbrushes were for disciplining children. Once she was alone and sobbing on her bed I wished for a can she could pick up and cry into, but we were only eight, and didn’t know how.