Monday, September 21, 2015

Window to a World

It was the Friday after Thanksgiving. It is referred to as "Black Friday" in the retail trade. Traditionally it is the day stores have covered their annual expenses for the year and begin to show a profit putting them "in the black". I was up at an absurd hour to get to work and open a store at an even more absurd hour. As I looked out of my kitchen window, coffee mug in hand, I realized that mine were among only a small handful lights shining in the numerous windows in the cityscape before me.

Windows, to those inside they let light in and allow them to see out. To those outside they can allow us to see in. The artist Edward Hopper used windows extensively in his work. The patrons of  the cafe in "Nighthawks" are viewed through a window. A cash register and display risers can be seen through the windows of one of the shops in the background. In another of his works the scene he is conveying is shown through a window. You are on the inside looking out.

In Amsterdam we caught views of the residents through the windows of centuries old canal houses. The interior rooms of many of these venerable structures seemed to have been "vanilla boxed", clean white walls replacing the ornate, verging on fussy, decoration of restored rooms such as those shown in the city's Loon Museum. All we saw seemed to contain an abundance of books. Some contained a collection hung on the austere walls. I recall the mass of antlers displayed in one otherwise spare room. In Rome one sees painted wood beams inside ancient buildings. The windows of St. Mark's Square in Venice showcase massive crystal chandeliers. My husband caught on camera a tender, almost intimate moment. A father and son stood in their window watching the canal traffic pass by.

Along Chicago's Astor Street, home to some of the city's wealthiest residents, curtains are not drawn over the expansive windows of the late 19th century row homes allowing you to view the luxurious, antique filled rooms of the urban elite.  During the Christmas holidays trees festooned with lights and dripping ornaments become points of pride shared with one's neighbors in homes both massive and modest. In my neighbor hood a grand piano dominates the window of one apartment. I imagine the love of music which resides there. 

We once resided in a high rise which provided us with a cornucopia of private lives conducted in the high rise across the narrow street. I remain amused at the lack of modesty of the ample woman tidying up her dining room after a Seder dinner clad only in her bra and half slip. There was the beefy man, towel wrapped around his waist, drying his hair over his window sill radiator. On another occasion he restlessly paced back and forth while waiting for a date. There was the gay couple whose leopard print furniture was always covered with sheets to safeguard it from the fading effects of the sun. I began to suspect that the ornaments were hot glued to their artificial Christmas tree as they appeared to be placed in exactly the same spots year after year.

It was brought to my attention that as we can see these people they could also see us. A friend remarked that two friends he had in the building across the street referred to our aged pet as "the cat that doesn't move. She had a favorite spot where the sun streamed in the window creating a circle of warmth where she would lay for hours. 

In Costa Rica we were caught looking out at guests arriving for a party at the hotel we were staying in. Three handsome young teenagers, dressed in their best, looked up from the plaza in front of the room where the party was being held, saw us in the window and gave us a thumbs up. We probably should have remembered to turn off the lights in our room.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Degrees of Seperation - Patty Hearst

It was one of the great crimes of it's day, the kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst. She was taken from her apartment in the middle of the night half naked, although that detail was quickly hushed up due to her father's influence over the media of that time. Her abductors were a ragtag, misfit group of militant activists who had dubbed themselves the "Symbionese Liberation Army". Their ransom demand was that millions of dollars of food be distributed to the poor. This turned into a fiasco when a near riot broke out during the first attempt of distributing of a portion of the demanded amount.

Eventually Patty became a victim of  "Stockholm Syndrome" where a captive becomes attached to her captives and, in this case, sympathetic to their goals and ideologies. She had an affair with one member of the militant group during her time with them. Judging from photos he was kind of hot and, taking into account  her distressed psychological state I was not unsympathetic to her goals and ideology. Her full immersion into the group reached a zenith when we witnessed famous images of her, captured by security cameras, in military style beret, holding a machine gun during a bank robbery. I recall a Halloween party several years later when a friend of mine went as Ms. Hearst using the grainy surveillance photos, and later posed images of the heiress, as her inspiration.

As the back stories of the group were discovered one incident in particular stuck close to home. One member, Nancy Ling Perry, thwarted a burglary of her rented residence in my high school home town of Concord, California. As she kept the would be thief from ever entering the home it's interior was not a crime scene and the police, when they arrived, had no legal right to enter or search the house. Ms. Perry denied them entrance, perhaps, it was suggested later, because there may have been literature and arms stored there in anticipation of the group's later misdeeds. There was a news photo taken of Ms. Perry at the time standing in the front yard of the suburban ranch style home, her arms crossed, the expression on her face a mixture of defiance and anger. 

The majority of the SLA members perished in an inferno during a violent confrontation with law enforcement. Three members survived and went into hiding. Ms. Hearst and a married couple, both university professors, Bill and Emily Harris. The Harrises were taken into custody decades later, recognized by neighbors after being profiled on "America's Most Wanted". Patty was captured several months after the inferno. Police found her in a San Francisco apartment with militant activist Wendy Yoshimura. Convicted of armed robbery, her 7 year prison sentence was commuted by President Carter and she was released after serving 3 years. Eventually she was granted a full pardon by President Clinton. She appeared in several John Waters movies including "Serial Mom" where she is beaten to death with a pay phone by Kathleen Turner for wearing white shoes after Labor Day. Ms. Turner's character in this film took the rules of fashion quite seriously.

In my late teens I dated, briefly, a man living in Berkeley, California. True to Berkeley fashion he eked out a living as a psychic reader and trainer. One evening he and several of his housemates were discussing whether or not their names were on file with the FBI, a badge of honor among certain social groups in those times. The principal reason they felt that they might be "on file" was that Wendy Yoshimura had visited them in the house they shared, apparently more than once.

A few years ago I read an article on the offspring of several artists and celebrities regarding their career choices. Among those profiled was the daughter of Patty Hearst. There is more than a passing resemblance between mother and daughter. Remarking to a 20 something how much Ms. Heart's daughter looked like her mother the 20 something remarked, "I don't know who Patty Hearst is". It was one of those moments that made me feel really, really old.