Secret Pop

Aug 26, 2003

Wherever you don't happen to look

I sometimes forget that you can get surprise glimpses into other people's lives when you go out and walk around at night. With their windows open to the summer night air and the drapes pulled back, you can see your neighbors busying themselves with their evenings, and it feels secret and wonderful and you like them more than you normally would. Like when you look at a child while he sleeps. No matter what a terror he is in the waking hours, you can't help but coo over him when he sleeps.

So, tonight, I was taking my temporary doggy for a walk, and I saw one of my neighbors playing the cello next to a grand piano in the portrait window of a very grand house that I don't think I'd ever noticed before. He had art on the richly-colored walls and a handsome fireplace and soft, warm lighting. One of the upstairs rooms was painted a deep green. The lights were on. I wondered what happens in that room. It looked like a nice place to read.

For a moment, I thought about what I would say if I bumped into him during the day. I might say that I play the violin and noticed him playing his cello, but then what? It's a peculiar triumph you feel when you realize you have something in common with someone. It's like a bit of armor. Something to protect against the sharp edges of awkwardness and estrangement. It's why my mom makes friends with people just because they are Chinese. They've got that in common. Who they voted for isn't important. Besides which, my mother doesn't vote. Shame on her.

So, I live on the same street as this fellow. And we both play stringed instruments. And we both walk upright and many other things. But the chance that we will ever be friends? Slim, I suppose. I only saw him in profile. I don't know that I would even recognize him on the streets. Unless he was carrying his cello. And wasn't also Yo-Yo Ma.

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