Anne's Diary

Dirty Windows (and Lights Out)

As I write this, the US is just beginning to recover from Hurricane Irene, which swept up the East Coast. While it flooded many small towns in upstate New York and Vermont, and closed down the subways in New York City, a lot of people (especially in NYC) complained that the danger was exaggerated--that it was only a "media storm." This is a term I first heard after the great "non" hurricane in New York City years ago.

First, our radios and nightly TV news began to broadcast warnings of the high winds and rain. If you switched on the TV, you'd see a beautiful blonde female forecaster standing in the bright sunlight, wearing a raincoat with the collar turned up, talking excitedly into a handheld mike about the impending storm, while the sun shown brightly in the background. One of the things we were advised to do was to put an "X" on all our windows with duct tape, to keep them from shattering as they rattled in the wind. Most of us didn't bother, since it was pretty clear by that time that nothing was going to happen, but a few people did, and Whitley and I noticed that these were generally people who had never done anything ELSE to their apartments in their entire lives--certain not wash the windows! Years later, if you were walking along the street and happened to look up, you'd see apartments with rows of filthy windows, all with duct tape X's on them.

Maybe I shouldn't blame them: window washing is a big deal in a city like New York. I was told by one of my Super ("Super" is short for superintendent--the man who lives in the basement and cleans up, runs the boiler, takes out the trash, etc.)--that you used to be able to "dry clean" windows by rubbing pages of the New York Times over them, since the ink had a cleansing effect, but then the Times changed its ink and that was over.

I remember walking along a Madison Avenue block in the 50s, looking up and noticing that a small building across the street appeared to have windows etched in a style that looked like Lalique. The windows were very dirty, so it was hard to tell for sure, but there was definitely something there. Then someone bought the building and wanted to tear it down (aside from the windows, it was very nondescript), but they were stopped because someone in City Hall looked up the deed and discovered that the windows WERE Lalique, so the building was immediately landmarked (and the windows were washed).

Speaking of "Supers," I remember the Super who lived in the basement of the building where Whitley and I first lived when we met up in New York City. He was married to a rather dumpy wife and had a couple of troublesome kids who used to run up and down in the alley behind the building and shoot off fireworks until tenants threw buckets of water down on them, the same way they'd dump water on the alley cats who used to "sing" at night. We once saw this super crossing the street arm-in-arm with what can only be described as a "floozy"--in teased, coiffed hair, wearing a tight, low-cut sheath. Since he was no looker, I can only surmise that she hoped to take him for every penny he had (but he didn't have much, so I'm sure it was soon over).

That neighborhood was a slum when we lived there, but it's quite gentrified now. But in our day, there was just one high-rise building nearby--around the corner from our street--which New York Magazine identified as housing the biggest concentration of prostitutes in the city. I did notice that when I went into the drug store on the street level, all I could find were about 100 different styles of false eyelashes--there was nothing practical, like Band-Aids, on the shelves. There was also a small building nearby that we called the "Whore Store," since women would sit in the windows at night and wave to passing men, giving them come-hither looks. Later, reading a history of Manhattan, we discovered that our neighborhood had been home to "houses of disrepute" for at least a hundred years.

The windows there were a dirty too, so it was hard to see inside clearly, despite the fact that the women were "on display." One night, as we were walking by it, we saw a strange scene: a curtain, hung in the middle of the room, was blowing straight out and two little blue men were racing back and forth underneath it. They appeared to be "kidnapping" a man who was there. It was an odd sight, but we figured it was a fortune teller plying her wares (along with the whores) by tricking her customer with special effects provided by two dwarfs dressed in blue uniforms. It wasn't until years later, when we bought our cabin and Whitley came face to face with some little blue men, that we understood what might have really been going on.

Our building Super was Puerto Rican (as most Supers in New York were then), and spoke heavily-accented English that was hard to understand. The elevator kept breaking and when it did, a girl in a wheelchair who lived on an upper floor had to be carried down the stairs by firemen or the police. We finally got so frustrated with his unintelligible explanations that the tenant calling the authorities said, "Send over a SPANISH-speaking cop." They did, but when a group of us crowded around and asked him why the elevator kept breaking, he shrugged and said, "I don't know, I can't understand the Super." "But you speak Spanish!" we all cried. "But HE doesn't. He doesn't speak English and he doesn't speak Spanish--I don't know WHAT he speaks."

Later, this Super was caught red-handed pulling out the elevator cables with a wild look on his face, probably in retribution for being mistreated by the landlord. After that, he was gone, and soon we were gone too, to a more respectable neighborhood and an apartment with clean windows.

The recent (September 8th, 2011) blackout, stretching from Mexico through San Diego and up to Arizona, reminds me of something else: The New York City blackout of 1977. The San Diego area power failure was caused by a maintenance mistake, but 1977 was caused by a lightning strike. Suddenly the power went out all over the city. In some areas, people went sedately outside and ate ice cream with their neighbors (before it all melted), while in others, rioters looted shops. But the really funny thing about the whole episode was that, 9 months later, there was a huge "bump" in births in the city. What's the message for us here? If you want to control the population explosion, keep the lights on. This would be even more true today, when people have computers and all sorts of other electrical gadgets. Without power, there's nothing left to do but have sex (hmmm, not a bad idea!)

When I first wrote this diary, I said that the windows in the buidling I saw on Madison Avenue were by "Faberge." I suspected that was wrong, and it kept niggling at me, then we went to a magic show in Beverly Hills and when I got out of the car, I looked up and there in front of me was a store with a large sign saying "LALIQUE" on it and I instantly remembered who had really etched that glass. A "message" from beyond or just another synchronisity? In One Corinthians, 13:12 the Bible says, "For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face: Now I know in part, but then shall I know, even as also I am known."

Our neighbor feeds the gulls, which then shit all over our windows. I need to call the window washer.


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