All has been quiet on the western front lately (fortunately), giving me time to think back a bit about how I happened to move here.
I've recounted part of the story before, in my still aptly titled piece on this site, Goodbye Douchebaggery, Hello Hell's Kitchen. But I didn’t really go into detail about the precise catalyst for my move.
It was 6:30 a.m. on Christmas morning and the last thing I wanted to be doing was being up on the computer. I was in my holiday depression--not to be confused with my mid-winter depression that would soon follow—and just wanted to sleep the day away.
Before the sun rose, though, my cell kept ringing. I sleep with it in bed and the constant vibration woke me. I was struck with how odd it was for my phone to be ringing at 6 a.m. on a major holiday.
The number showed as "Unknown.” The phone kept buzzing and there was finally a message but when I listened to it, it was just someone listening for a minute before they hung up.
A few minutes after that I got an email. The title of the email was: Merry Christmas, Kelly! I assumed it was spam, as the email address it was sent to has my name, Kelly, in it, and as we all know, spam mail has the ability to personalize itself.
But when I read it, I realized it was anything but spam.
This was the exact email:
This will undoubtedly seem strange.... I live across the street from you and I've always wanted to introduce myself, but thought it'd be a little weird/creepy to just ring your bell. I often look out the window and see you...sometimes naked, other times clothed...on your bed or sitting down at what I imagine is either a desk or some kind of table. While I'm not a stalker or a peeping Tom, I do notice you in the course of doing things I normally do in my room--i.e. dressing/undressing, watching TV, taking on the phone, fucking, etc.--and find you rather attractive. I wonder whether you've ever seen me, and there've been times where I feel like you have. I won't be offended if you think the whole thing is just too crazy, but feel like getting to know each other might be kind of fun :)
Merry Christmas! Looking forward to your reply!
My first thought was, “Great! Now I have to move!”
I was tired and now my happiest place was ruined. I couldn't lay in bed for fear of being seen. I shut my curtains, pulled down the blinds and it was pitch black.
So apparently I'll be living this way for years, I thought.
I shut my curtains and kept wondering if this email and calls were from someone I knew who is trying to freak me out or if there really is a guy across the street who was staring into my window.
I interrogated anyone I could think of who might think this would be a funny joke.
I finally got dressed at 4:15 to walk the dog. Almost immediately as I got to the corner I got three more emails from him--but this time to my work email address. The first said:
Guessing by your closing your curtains that you don't want to explore any further :( Let me know if you reconsider.
I didn't respond and continued walking my dog further from the buildings.
Then I got this:
Sorry if my contacting you freaked you out--I won't again after this unless, by some Christmas miracle, you make it clear that you want to correspond. It just seems to me like you're alone a lot and I thought it couldn't hurt to make a new friend. I spent yesterday with family and today I'm home. I'm a normal guy in my later 30s ;). If you'd like to meet for a drink at a public place--Bailey's Corner perhaps--let me know. Merry Christmas!
Again I didn't respond and came home and raced into the apartment lest there be any freaks eager to meet in person.
Upon getting in there was a third email. (Didn't he just say he wouldn't contact me again?)
This one was the same as the very first but to my work address. I get that he was wondering if maybe I didn't check that AOL account and just missed his fabulous offer.
It appeared he really was across the street and was just a random creepy guy who could see into my window. I don't think it is weird to send an email to a neighbor about meeting up.
It's kind of romantic and sweet... BUT, why would any well-adjusted person versed in social norms mention they’ve seen me naked and f*cking?
NYC is a lonely place and people get wacky during the holidays. As if the holidays alone weren’t sucky enough now I had to have some guy who has seen me naked many times point it out.
Should I be annoyed? Worried? Scared? Amused?
My initial response was to say “thanks but no thanks” and to tell him that making note of the fact he has seen me naked is really disrespectful and he might do better to eliminate that in the future when trying to connect with potential objects of his affection.
But something in my gut told me not to engage--that any little response will spark another message and increased dialogue.
He clearly had to come to my apartment building and look at my bell for my surname. Then he had to somehow Google that and my address to get my first name.
After which he had to Google that to find my email address and my number.
I can bet money he started reading my 3,000 mentions on Google and there are lots of personal things about me on there. I suppose I have a public persona---Twitter page, blog, some freelance writing, I am quoted in magazines, once had a dating column, a public firing, Flickr pictures. So this guy knew tons about me. And again, that's not creepy or his fault.
But it made me feel odd because he had not given me even his first name, had purposely blocked his number, and was using an untraceable email address. I tried to see it from his point of view---he doesn't know if I’m a psycho or want me to bother him, but still my gut told me this was not the holiday surprise anyone hoped for.
Friends implored me to call the cops, which I did but he hadn’t done anything illegal. There were no threats and the emails, albeit a bit unnerving seemed friendly enough.
They said he was probably just a lonely man and to keep all of them. So unless I wanted to keep my curtains and shades completely closed at all times so he couldn’t track my comings and goings, I figured I would have to move.
Even if he never emailed or called again, I’d still know he was there, watching. I really only had my bedroom windows which faced his as my back window had an air conditioner in it obstructing any light and view.
Then on January 5th he emailed again, and I simply told him to not contact me again. He replied saying he felt comfortable saying those sorts of things to me because he had researched me thoroughly and because I had once had a dating and sex column in the New York Press. (This was over five years before so he had clearly Googled way back!)
He emailed again to ask if I had changed my mind and had interest in meeting. I replied saying I wanted no contact and that he apparently knew everything about me but had not provided even a first name, anything about his job or interests, etc., to me.
He replied I’d have to meet him at the corner bar to find out anything about him.
It infuriated me that this person was making me feel scared, watched, and like he was in total control for knowing so much about me. Further, him saying I deserved rude emails because of a past job seemed delusional and asinine.
So I decided to turn the tables on him. I figured out fairly quickly which window was his, spoke to the mailman who confirmed that a man had moved into that apartment in August.
He wouldn’t tell me his name so I called his building's management firm and explained my dilemma. They were extremely nice and apparently had some complaints about him before. I explained that he merely signed his emails “S” so I assumed his name began with that initial and out of the top of my head asked if a “Sam” lived in that building.
Well, turns out his name is Sam. I quickly Googled him, found out a lot about his background and that ironically he was a real estate broker who also worked in an office in my neighborhood.
I felt much better once I knew exactly who this guy was and what he looked like. I no longer had to fear he was standing beside me at the grocery store or walking behind me as I walked my dog. Once he was no longer nameless and faceless I was no longer scared, just annoyed.
Still, it was a weird few weeks and keeping my window coverings sealed made my apartment seem as if a basement or tomblike. I hated feeling like my comings and goings were being charted and that someone was making note of when my lights went on or off. So I began looking for an apartment and seized the chance to live in Hell’s Kitchen.
Interestingly enough, thanks to my own sleuthing, I found out that he ended up moving the same week I did. Let’s hope it wasn’t to Hell’s Kitchen.
I am happy to announce I do not have any buildings across the street from my building at all so no one can look in.
Kelly Kreth, recently returned to Hell’s Kitchen, chronicles her misadventures in her tenement-style walk-up in this bi-weekly BrickUnderground column, Hell’s Bitchen.
Also by Kelly Kreth:
Hell's Bitchen: I vow never to move again
Hell's Bitchen: Meet my super, Aquavelva
15 things I've learned from 'Million Dollar Listing NY' so far
The 20 deadly sins NYC rental agents should never commit (but do)
Escape from the UES: Goodbye douchebaggery, hello Hell's Kitchen
Dear Neighbor: I am your worst nightmare
Living next to a bridge & tunnel club: KY Jelly wrestling, all-night noise, no regrets