The first time this act made me feel ashamed was when I noticed that underwear was on the floor by the bed. Have I taken this too far? How could she just leave them there for me to see? It wasn't like her to be so careless. I'm sure her husband or boyfriend (whichever) would hate this. It's a good thing he'll never know. I can't imagine that a man who sweeps his sidewalk daily and keeps his cars as clean as he does would want underwear just lying around on the floor -ever.
To take the edge off my shame, I rationalized: "What's the big deal? It's not like I don't know them; they're my next door neighbors. I know they have a boy, about 6, who scoots around on a plastic yellow wheel-horse. I know that a visiting grandfather prefers to eat cold cereal over the kitchen sink rather than sitting at the kitchen table like the others do. I know they are meticulously neat, with their shoes always left outside the front door. I know them. They're like old friends -sort of. We've just never met."
I couldn't watch them in their master bedroom. Looking down from the kitchen window of my second floor apartment, I could clearly see half of the dining room and kitchen. The master bedroom window revealed only a small part of that room if my nose was pressed hard against my window, if their curtains weren't drawn and if the time of day didn't bring that peep-prohibitive window sun-glare (between 3pm and 6pm).
Twelve years ago, when I took that apartment, I didn't know it would come with "scenery." I was simply excited about a dishwasher -finally. I soon discovered that peeping on the neighbors (who apparently disliked drawn curtains) was an option. Immediately, I reviewed my personal-privacy ethics, and then vowed to look in on my neighbors "not very often." I couldn't ban it altogether because I convinced myself that an occasional peep could one day save their lives if they needed help. And is it my fault they willingly chose a home as exposed as a postcard? At night it was lit up like a fishbowl -who wouldn't take an occasional glance? My selective peeps, I felt, were harmless. If I was a serious voyeur, I'd have binocular scratches on my window. In fact, I would have slipped downstairs to mount mirrors and drill peep holes after the whole family left in the car like they did at 7:30pm on any given Monday. But, of course, I'm not like that.
After moving away from that apartment I've yet to live adjacent to another neighbor so "open." But I've found a technology tool that provides the same thrill of seeing the homes and back yards of neighbors, friends and family all over the world -with more fun and less intrusion. It's called Keyhole (a company of Google) and can be found at keyhole.com. Keyhole delivers 3D photographic digital satellite imagery of the entire globe. The imagery is not live, but Keyhole will fly you with streaming photographs that zoom you from hundreds of miles in space down to within hundreds of feet above an address you've entered. Many metropolitan areas are shown in high-def photos with detail that is amazing. With the click of your mouse, you can fly from downtown Paris then through the streets of Tokyo and then to your own back yard all within a matter of seconds. The visual experience is extraordinary and geographically educational too.
When introducing it to my recent house guests, they are inevitably tickled to enter and fly to the addresses of their early childhood, first school, the lawn they used to have to mow or the fort they made "right there behind the house."
Keyhole is a great tool to use for both nostalgic entertainment and the practical scouting out of a new neighborhood or planned vacation spot. A list of checkbox options can help you overlay the imagery with significant markers such as hospitals, schools, grocery stores, etc. And since the imagery is in color, it is easy to see the level of urban vs. rural for any location.
No, you won't be able to look down inside the homes of your neighbors. Nor can you learn their eating habits or weekly schedule. But Keyhole will probably enable you to pick up the phone and describe your friends' backyards to them -even if you've never visited in person. And best of all there's no sun glare to interfere or feeling of shame afterward.