I read some kind of article about how your favorite section of The New York Times tells a lot about you. Some of the people interviewed in the article talked about how the op-ed page was their favorite; this showed how serious and intellectual they are. Others — the rebels, the bon vivants — admitted their unhealthy, yet chi-chi addiction to the Styles section.
Nobody ‘fessed up to my own favorite section. That’s because people like us lurk in the shadows. Who wants the world to know you’d sideswipe a great-grandmother to get to the Saturday Real Estate Section? Who wants other people to know you’re so superficial, so covetous, so lacking in gravitas?
Oh, hell, I don’t know. All I know is, I’m sick and tired of being ashamed of my little addiction, which isn’t hurting anyone else, as far as I can tell.
Saturday morning comes — and if some lowlife hasn’t stolen our newspaper, it’s thick and fat and promising. I glance at the headlines on the front page, then delve into the bulk of it.
The fact is, you shouldn’t make fun of the Saturday Real Estate Section if you haven’t read it as avidly as I have. You have no idea how psychologically deep and searching it is. There’s always an article about someone who’s searching for a great place and almost makes a bad decision. Maybe he got dazzled by the rococo details — and failed to notice the rodent population. Maybe she really thought a two-bedroom with five roommates was really going to work out. Maybe they didn’t take into account that a dimly-lit apartment, however cheap, would render them psychotic in January.
Fortunately — in this venue, at least — they are saved. They somehow find the perfect apartment that’s only slightly unaffordable. They learn that, with ingenuity and hard work, they can create a dazzling refuge in what others might term a large walk-in closet that’s as cozy and claustrophobic as a postage stamp. They realize that a fifth-floor walkup saves the expense of a gym membership.
Yes, but these little human mysteries and morality tales are only the appetizer course. From there, you can learn about high-rise dwellers who are a little too involved in their neighbors’ lives, their cooking, their coming and going, their most intimate moments. (Rear Window, it seems, may have been closer to a documentary than you’d suspected.) You read about how having a big patio with upstairs neighbors may not be as idyllic as you thought it would be when partygoers above you hurl down cigarette stubs that immolate your patio furniture and suicidal cats slip from the 30th floor and crash onto your terrazzo. You hear about the pain of neighbors who quarrel loudly, then reconcile even more loudly in the bed that’s a few feet below you.
Well, I could go on. I could tell you how I linger over the color photographs of recently sold condos and coops, how I calculate the dizzying sales prices, how I peer into lives and places that I can see my husband and me fitting into oh-so-seamlessly if we were only billionaires. But that would cheapen the experience and make me out to be a voyeur of lifestyle pornography.
No, as usual, I prefer a more flattering summary of my little obsession. I am interested in the human condition. The best way to understand life in New York is to go vicariously where other people live.
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about Why I Hate Casual Fridays