Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Notes on a Peeping Tom

This is the neighbourhood I grew up in. A large subdivision built in the 60s, winding avenues and streets, cul-de-sacs and crescents. Sidewalks on either side, trees marking the way. Schools and parks and bus stops, a corner store devoted to each cluster. Streetlights dotting the pavement every 15 meters, telling us when it's time to come home.

My parcel of streets were named after famous explorers (Hudson, Cartier, Baffin, Champlain) and each house was one of 5 or 6 different designs. Tiny cubic bungalows, long flat ranches or some sort of back-split. I always loved a back-split, so many levels to explore, a series of squat staircases between them. Bricks were three or four different colours, shutters too. Bay windows were abundant and each had a little basement tucked beneath. While these houses seemed, at the time, so small and plain, their charm grows as they age.

Unlike Jeff's childhood (above: farmland, acres of trees between him and others), I grew up densely packed among neighbours. Peering into lit homes at night, I could insinuate myself into various scenarios; I'd ogle the new cabinetry in a kitchen down the block, or note the colour scheme of their Christmas tree baubles. I could see the flash of their TV screens, the steam from their clothes dryers poking through the vent on the side of the house. Secrets were certainly hard to keep, as played-out on any domestic sitcom, and the friendly wave was commonplace.

I have great and vivid memories of peeking through the crack in my bedroom blinds, across a mere 10 foot driveway, into the home of our newest neighbours, right next door. The Dad was muscled and looked a bit like Hugh Jackman, as I recall. His wife was doudy and plain, their children boring and charmless. I remember wondering about their conversations there in the dim light of their tiny eat-in kitchen. I can recall, with near-sociopathic detail, the man climbing onto a stepladder, reaching into the cupboard above the fridge, an unadulterated view of his ass all-but-consuming my 14 year old brain. (I know this sounds awfully intrusive, but the recollection is up there with some of the greatest memories of my life.)

This obsession with other people's lives is certainly tied to my love of television. Understand, my mind is chock-full of television show sets and exteriors. Growing Pains, Who's the Boss, The Cosby Show and Full House. Classic American homes, different styles, all beautiful. (Remember Webster? Good God, that house was incredible.) Apartments too - Will & Grace, Frasier, any and all characters from Sex and the City. I could sit in my house and stare, without the veil of plastic mini-blinds, into the lives of these strangers.

I'd watch and re-watch episodes, my mind wandering to the nooks and crannies never explored on the shows. I'd wonder about that kitchen pantry or the briefly-mentioned office behind the fireplace that was never shown on film. I'd build, out of Lego, near-exact replicas of these soundstages and recreate storylines with my little yellow people.

Instead of peering through windows, crouched in my darkened bedroom, I'd look down into these little houses through their open roofs, a world of my own creation, a place I could stare without ever being caught.


  1. What an awesome post, Jason! I thought I was the only one who pictured myself inside sitcoms. :) It's pretty bad when you can hear your own laugh track. Whoops.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. I grew up in a neighborhood similar to yours Jason. I can remember sitting in my bedroom and looking out onto my neighbor across the street. I had a buddy named Hamilton who lived directly across the street. He would open his window and I would open mine-we would chat late into the night about nothing. Good memories. Reminds me of the movie "Big".

    Great post Jason.