The Urban Sherpa - a blog by Christopher DeWan

(is a strange old hermit who lives out beyond the dune sea...)

Read Work and Other Essays, a collection of nonfiction by Christopher DeWan.

For Crying Out Loud rating=3

File under: Anecdotal Evidence

I'm on my way to work, right?, minding my own business. I get in the elevator; there's a woman already in there. I press the button for the twenty-fourth floor. The door closes, and, as it does, this woman starts sobbing. She leans her head against the metal wall of the elevator and just wails. She heaves. She's crying, hard.

Twenty-four floors.

Me and her.

Feels like six hours.

I watch her for a while, as the floors tick off, 16 ... 17 ... 18. I watch her, this brazen trumpeter of human emotion. I don't offer her any comfort or kind words. I don't even offer a hanky. Instead, I wonder if she has a blog...

It's hard, in a place like New York, not to notice the disintegrating line between the private and public spheres. There's not enough room for privacy. In the restaurant, at the table next to you (six inches away), a couple argues about whether or not to have a baby. On the train, a man opens his his mail to discover he's being sued by collection agents, and you discover it, too. Out on the street, a loud cellphone talker announces, "I didn't mean to cheat on her. It just happened!" In the absence of privacy, people seem to compensate by assuming the whole world is private.

Dirty laundryAnd this was before blogs. Blogs: what funny things are you. Remember the quaint little diaries that girls kept in junior high, the ones with the locks? (At least on TV.) It was scandalous—scandalous!—to read someone's diary. Now it's scandalous if their blog gets less than a hundred hits a day. Who would have dreamt there'd be so much comfort in the airing of dirty laundry?

But sniffing it! That's even more startling. Who reads these things? What perverse thrills do these Peeping Toms get out of peeking into our lives?

And, is it really voyeurism if we choose to leave our curtains open?

I remember hearing once that a New York City man had been charged with indecent exposure for walking around naked inside his own apartment. The prosecution maintained that, with his neighbors in such close proximity, the man should be held responsible for the effect of his actions—for example, the trauma caused to his neighbors from over-exposure to his big hairy belly.

I might take that as cause to wonder what kind of responsibility I have toward my readers. I might, but I won't: I'm more curious about that girl on the elevator. I wonder what she was crying about. I wonder how long till I'll be able to get the image (or the sound) out of my head. I wonder if I can get her charged with indecent exposure, and hold her liable for the upset she's caused me. You think there's money in that?