Vol.2, No. 6 >> The Neighbours

THE NEIGHBOURS


Today it's cool—only sixteen degrees Celsius, according to the weather app on my phone—which means that The Male Model, who lives in one of the row houses that backs onto the alley that separates our dwellings, will probably put on a shirt today. He seems to only wear a shirt when it's either below eighteen degrees or, as A. says, “when mumsy is visiting.” 

The Male Model also sometimes forgoes clothing all together when he's indoors—especially when his lover is over. We see them parading their boring, perfect bodies across the open/glass-paned door of the bedroom, cupping their crotches like they are casually harbouring baby birds under their tented palms. 

Mostly though, it is just TMM, shirtless and smoking on one of his two terraces. And then for long periods he’ll be away doing, one assumes, a job that exploits his physique and allows him to afford a suite that goes for a staggering $4,000 per month. I know how much it costs because I’ve become real estate obsessed in my 40s and saw the listing online before he moved in. One of the photos accompanying the ad was taken from the upper terrace. You could see our tiny, recessed balcony on the fourth floor of our building across the way—identifiable because of the decorative ladder, which I think TMM might appreciate seeing as his own foliaged terraces could be featured in Canadian House & Home.

The sightlines going both ways, TMM can also see us, so I make a big show of fluffing the over-sized dove grey velvet pillows on the Victorian love seat under the window so that he knows that our home could be featured in a magazine too, even though it goes for the paltry sum of $1,525 a month and is filled with second-hand and refurbished things. Other times, if A. bends over in the living room to pick something up off the floor (books, usually) and TMM is on his upper terrace, I rush over and vigorously pretend to hump A. from behind to indicate that we are gay-friendly. If he notices, TMM doesn’t let on. He just continues to smoke.

The neighbours most similar to TMM are The Exhibitionists, who live two doors over from him. Individually, we call them Bobbi and Dick. We’d thought the CN Tower would be the most exciting part of our view until they arrived, shortly after us.  

Before they bought it, their house had been featured in the Globe & Mail because it had been given a schmancy renovation—including floor to ceiling windows. It was also the birthplace of the “late great Tony award-winning actress” Beatrice Lillie (who associated with the likes of Noel Coward and Cole Porter). Lillie once described her birthplace in Toronto as “a red brick house with a garden as big as a handkerchief in front and a yard the size of a postal card to the rear.” The Exhibitionists bought that little ol’ row house for over $1.2 million. 

The week The Exhibitionists moved in, I glimpsed a small blonde dog, bobbing up and down, desperate to look out the window. “The new neighbours have a dog,” I said to A.. 

After a moment of watching, A. said, “I don’t think that’s a dog.” 

“No?” I  took a closer look. At least, I’d got the bobbing blonde head part right. “They must not know we can see them,” I said, staring, which is when I noticed the camera and tripod pointed in their direction. 

For weeks, we’d look up and see Bobbi and Dick having an active sex life. One day, I remember running through our living room wearing a throw blanket like a cape. Likely I did this to amuse A., but was deflated when I glanced out the window and saw Bobbi—who has the body of a dancer—putting on lingerie, getting ready for Dick. 

In fairness, The Exhibitionists' sex life did not play out in front of their largest windows, but by their glass-paned door on the top floor (just like TMM's). When friends came over for dinner, we’d regale them with stories of The Exhibitionists and then we’d all be on high alert for a show. We did this neither out of moral superiority or as puritanical busybodies; we just thought it made our view special.

We also see The Exhibitionists doing other things. Once, Bobbi stood by one of the humongous windows and perfectly folded a fitted sheet, which was particularly galling because it’s something I’ve never been able to master.

Another time Bobbi and Dick were sunning themselves on their upper terrace and A. said, “They can’t be very intelligent people. They just lie there without any thoughts in their heads.” 

A. was particularly down on them around that time because they’d bought themselves a ridiculous new vehicle with unusually tall windows. A. looked the vehicle up. It’s an “impossible to miss” Mercedes G Class SUV. 

“It puts them on display as if they were on a float. I wonder if Bobbi waves as they drive down Queen,” A. said. 

Eventually Bobbi and Dick got blinds that they mostly keep drawn, partly because, like TMM, they’re away so much, no doubt at their second and third houses. All we have to remark on now is their latest patio furniture.

The newest folks on the block with money to burn are a couple who just moved into the top suite of yet another house that sold for over $1.2 million. “A truly bewitching triplex innovation that will undoubtedly impress and enchant,” the ad said. 

The New Neighbours set up quickly when they moved in. A few weeks later, they hosted a Canada Day party that took place mostly on the middle terrace and somehow looked more like an ad for a party than an actual party. 

We thought The New Neighbours were okay until a few afternoons ago. I was getting fresh air on the balcony when I saw the woman leave her suite with her funny little bulldog, cross the alley, and enter the gated area of our building’s premises where a small strip of lawn acts as our one collective piece of nature. Instead of being a pleasant place to sit and have a picnic, or play a civillized game of croquet, it’s where the dog owners in our building take their dogs to do their business. The grass doesn’t even grow anymore, so it is quite literally a wasteland. 

And there was The New Neighbour coming over with her dog.

I had a bad feeling, so I watched to see what would happen. She was oblivious, talking on her phone. Sure enough the dog knew the drill and squatted right away. Natural decorum meant I looked away until he finished. When I looked back he was still pushing. When he was done, The New Neighbour did not stoop and scoop. She just left.

“Excuse me!” I called from the balcony.

Either she didn’t hear me or thought I was apologizing really loudly for a fart she didn't hear from four floors up, so was ignoring me.

“Excuse me! Lady in the blue shirt!” I said even louder.

She turned. It may have even been the first time she took in that there are people in this building. 
 
“Are you going to pick up after your dog?”

“It’s too runny. He has a bad stomach and I can’t pick it up,” she said, which was clearly a lie because the poop looked perfectly formed from four floors up and I’d seen the dog strain. 

“You don’t even live here!” I said, followed by a short lecture about pet etiquette.

“Alright,” she said and kept walking like nothing had happened, but I could tell she felt something because she wouldn’t look up at me. 

Yesterday, The New Neighbours came out of their apartment with the dog. I watched to make sure there wouldn’t be a repeat incident. There wasn’t. The woman walked up the alley, dragging the reluctant dog on his leash. The man followed, riding a device that looked like a cross between an electric skateboard and a Segway without the handlebars.

“There goes The Runny Dog Shit Couple,” I said to A.
 

[To be continued...look for Part Two in the October 16th issue. Until then, the mini-mag while be on a break while this gal travels for a month!] 


 
 

THERE, THERE // Infidelity & Empathy


My boyfriend loves me, but he doesn’t lust me. Frankly, it’s killing my self-esteem, and my sensuality. How do I allow myself to flirt outrageously with other men and not feel guilty about it?
~ Fembot Who Doesn’t Get a Lot


Dear FWDGAL,

In my twenties, there was a guy who came over to smoke a joint and stayed for eight years. He didn’t lust me either (and I’m not so sure he loved me). Self-esteem killer is right. I left the relationship feeling like a cactus that had been dying of thirst.

Your question indicates that you’re struggling with values (i.e. flirting is wrong) versus behaviours (i.e. flirting feels good). I know you said “flirt with” and not “sleep with”, but, in my experience, one can progress to the other quite quickly when you’re thirsty.  

Infidelity is a hot topic right now because of the Ashley Madison hack. Some of the best writing on this hideous debacle has come, not surprisingly, from Dan Savage (there are a bunch of articles, just Google "Dan Savage and Ashley Madison"). He’s brought something to the conversation that has been missing: empathy.

It’s so much easier to judge people for their infidelities than to try and wrap our heads around the complexities that might be involved on a case by case basis. Anyone who’s been cheated on or whose life has been effected by cheating (e.g. people whose parents split up because of adultery) might have a knee-jerk response and feel like cheaters are getting their just desserts through the hacker’s actions. There are also those who experience “puritanical glee”, as Savage calls it, from cheaters getting caught. Sure there are the Josh Duggars and other arseholes (and dumb people)—both male and female—who’ve used Ashley Madison, but a lot of essentially decent folks have too. They, like you, FWDGAL, might’ve been in sexless relationships, feeling their senses of self erode from the inattention. They may have been curious about what an affair might feel like, what the attention might feel like. A lot of Ashley Madison users have been writing to Savage and it’s not black and white, it’s very, very complex. 

I know you’re talking about flirting, not sex, but I think it might be prudent to think about what infidelity means ahead of time, in case you find yourself on a slippery slope.

There’s an excellent TED Talk by psychotherapist Ester Perel called “Rethinking Infidelity”. She defines infidelity as a secret relationship, combined with an emotional connection, and sexual alchemy (which can either be real or imagined). Those, I’d say, would be your warning flags, however you proceed.

Perel says this:

Affairs are acts of betrayal and they’re also expressions of longing and loss. At the heart of an affair you will often find a longing and a yearning for an emotional connection, for novelty, for freedom, for autonomy, for sexual intensity, a wish to capture lost parts of ourselves, or an attempt to bring back vitality in the face of loss and tragedy.

She also says the victim of an affair is not always the victim of the relationship.

And that affairs are often “death knells for relationships that are dying on the vine.”

I wonder how those statements make you feel? 

There is such potential for pain in your situation. I think, FWDGAL, that it may be time for more investigative questions than the one you asked.

You have my empathy. I also hope you get laid regularly again soon. 

Yrs. Ever,

JM
 

To submit a question, confession, or concern to There, There all you have to do is visit this link. Go on, spill your lovely guts.


 
 

THREE THINGS // Inbox Treats

Here are links to three other inbox treats that I think are worth subscribing to. I look forward to them every week. (I feel that it’s quite big of me to share them because the first two, and sometimes the third, come out on Fridays too.)

1 / TinyLetter Forwards
 “One great TinyLetter, picked by the folks at TinyLetter, delivered to your inbox every week.” 

It’s fascinating to see how differently people use TinyLetter. Added bonus: having them forwarded to you this way makes you feel a tiny bit like a voyeur.

(The mini-mag is sent to you via TinyLetter. Two weeks ago, Vol.2, No.5 was chosen as the TinyLetter Forward of the week, so I’m returning the favour.)

2 / The Ann Friedman Weekly
 “Get on my level.”

This much-loved-by-many newsletter is put together by freelance journalist Ann Friedman and includes links to her writing, writing by others, animated GIFs, pie charts, ladyswagger, and more. It’ll make you feel smarter and give you enough Internet to last you through the weekend.

3 / Everything Changes
“The Awl newsletter changes in theme, format, and frequency every week—that’s why it’s called Everything Changes—so we can’t give you a good sense of what it’s like or how often you’ll get it. You are signing up to be surprised. That’s the deal. Hopefully you’ll like it.”

Originally a TinyLetter offering from Laura Olin, this newsletter was picked up by The Awl. You might get anything from illustrations of Beyoncé doing thing like flossing her teeth (by Hallie Bateman), to crowd-sourced thoughts on the personality of numbers.