I See You (and You’re Naked?)

The neighbor kept peeking in the bedroom window of this young couple’s rented bungalow, which is pretty ‘Psycho’ right? Like Norman Bates in the family motel dressing up in his dead mom’s clothes and sniffing around poor Lila Crane as she got ready to take the most famous shower in history.

I read about it in Dear Abby. A lady named Lilo from Costa Mesa told it this way:

Many years ago, soon after my husband, Klaus, and I arrived as newlyweds from Germany, we rented a small bungalow in L.A. There were seven of them in two rows behind our landlord’s large home in the front. Between our little house and our next-door neighbor’s was a brick patio that extended from our bedroom window to her back door. Not long after we moved in, the woman began looking into our bedroom window on weekend mornings, pressing her nose against the glass. Because we were guests in this country, we didn’t want to say anything, but we knew we needed to stop her.

BUT, she went on to say, her husband came up with the perfect solution:

He placed a large mirror in the window frame. Sure enough, the weekend came and she peered into our window. Seeing her face reflected back, she dashed into her house and never looked again.

I love this story for the perfect symbol it offers of what we all do when we put the focus on others instead of ourselves. When I was 21 and a first-year teacher, a famously grouchy fellow teacher in the math department marched up to me and began yelling, yelling, yelling in my face because I had not hurried down to the cafeteria fast enough with those Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate cards that schools used in those days to ascertain enrollment in the classes. (Remember those cards? They were for those old-time computers that took up a whole wall.)

Anyway, she gestured and shouted and made herself fearsome and terrible. And I was so cowed about being castigated in front of all the other teachers I went mute. My position was too junior for me to try yelling and gesturing back; anyway that would be opening a second front in this ‘war’ she was waging so… I just looked at her.

Later, in the faculty parking lot, the nicest teacher in the school approached my car and leaned in the window. He could see I was still shaken.

“That was about her, you realize. It wasn’t about you at all.”

I had never heard that perspective before and I have never forgotten it. And so even today I think of  this man, who left teaching six years later and went to his own personal mecca of San Francisco, there to live happily and then die young, one of many who died young in the dying years of the 1980s when on ‘principal’ (?) the country’s President made sure not to let even the word “AIDS” cross his lips.

I could have been like Lilo’s husband; I could have just held up a mirror to that mean teacher so she could see how she looked yelling like that and getting all red in the face. As it turned out what I unwittingly did was almost as good. Turns out when someone is screaming at you and you keep silence, they eventually hear themselves. They hear what they are saying and they ‘see’ how they look and then … they stop. I find it works every time.

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6 thoughts on “I See You (and You’re Naked?)

  1. Oh, If you only knew how well this fits in a situation some of us find ourselves in working at the local soup kitchen, hahahahahahah!!! Printed it off and am going to pass it around. hahahahahahah!! You always have just the right word at the right minute. Somebody must be sitting on your shoulder giving you hints. 🙂

  2. This would have been a great solution for the 4 characters in the play I saw last evening at the Marin Theater Company, God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza. If only these folks had had a mirror. But then we wouldn’t have had such a good comedy.

      1. Sadly, no. I knew nothing of the faculty’s private lives (with the possible exception of my uncle, John Joyce). I bumped into one teacher in a bar in the late seventies, but his name did not begin with L.

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