remarks and observations

Dead Houses

I take my dog for a walk every day, and I’m fortunate in that I live in a very nice, safe neighborhood. I rarely worry that I’ll come to any harm —even when cars drive too fast through the sidewalk-less 25-mph zone.

I have a big dog (shepherd mix) so we walk for about 40 minutes, wandering through all of the nearby neighborhoods. I enjoy looking at the houses and gardens, speculating who the people are that live there, and noticing the changes as the year progresses.

Yesterday I was walking through one of the newer neighborhoods —with houses that average probably 4000 sq. ft.— and I noticed that two houses, side-by-side in a cul-de-sac, had all of the shades pulled down. My first thought was that there were two families that must be out of town. But the more I walked, the more I noticed how many houses, not just the huge houses, had that blank, nobody-home look. Into my head came the phrase, “dead house.” These shuttered houses are weirdly similar to houses with boarded-up windows, except here I can’t help but imaging the inhabitants cowering inside under their artificial lights.

This reminds me of a documentary I once watched —I have no idea anymore what it was— in which a NYC taxi driver (an immigrant) was talking about Americans. The thing the driver had noticed most of all was that Americans were fearful. That observation has stayed with me all these years.

As a child of immigrants, I like to think that I am not a typical American, so I hope that I’m not fearful like everyone else. We keep our curtains open during the day and don’t even have curtains on most of our windows, but I wonder, curtains or no curtains, am I fearful? Is there a baseline fear that I’m living with that I’m not even aware of?

I don’t want to be afraid. I don’t want everyone around me to be afraid. What are we giving up —sunlight, for one— in order to feel safe? I dream of a time in which people choose to trust rather than to suspect the stranger, to worry less about who might see in and take time to enjoy the view more.

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