There are only a couple of neightbors that I notice, just a few. I notice them because something makes them obvious to me over others. Of course I notice the two colleagues that live in my building, the guy who was the AD on my first feature and the woman who's documentary will be taking her to Iraq very soon. I'm not talking so much about people that I know but about strangers that I recognize when I pass on the street, unknown to me save for their countenance and their proximity within the vast and wilting city.
There's the one I call "The Professor;" I don't know that he's an academic. He might not have finished grade school for all I know but he has that professor look about him, white pony tail, dusty, fashionless clothes and unreasonably thick glasses. He is always walking somewhere, newspaper in hand, with a haste that makes me wonder what could be so important. I've a dollar that says he smokes a pipe.
There's "The Fallen Faced Man." Though easily seventy years old, his body has not even begun to fail him. He strolls about with a powerful but leisurely gait and a wardrobe that belies years of physical labor and working class values. I would notice him no more than anyone else if not for the fact that his face does not seem to cling to his skull, as if he were wearing a rubber Halloween mask while sitting too close to a camp fire.
There's "Homeful Mike" who I did once talk to. I say he's "homeful" because, though he conducts himself with the small army of homeless folk that populate my part of the city, he has a modest apartment a few blocks over.
There's "Chinese Guy" who is black but wears a conical reed hat and rides a dilapidated bicycle, reminding me very much of an extra from any movie set in nineteenth century Shanghai.
There's "Scooter Lady," who, unlike The Professor, I'm pretty sure is an academic. I see her at the coffee shop most of the times I go in there but have never spoken to her. I only remember her because I have seen her pull up time after time on a four stroke motor scooter, though she seems to own quite a few of them as I'm sure I've never seen her on the same one twice.
Finally, there's "The Crackwhore," who's designation needs explanation only insomuch as I've noticed her wardrobe has, in the past year, gone from dumpster dive chic to Salvation Army vogue. She still has a dozen, obviously fabricated, stories as to why she needs a dollar. She still gets belligerant when turned down and she never has the wherewithal to remember that she's asked you for money twice a week for nearly four years and never had any success.
I see each of these people, on average, about twice a week. I wonder if they notice me or am I, unlike them, not obviously unique enough to discern from the vulgar mass. I wonder how many other people I pass each day, every day, and never really see. How many times have I stood in line, crossed the street, waited for the bus or shared a counter at the diner with the same handful of folks and never even seen them. Is there someone else out there that notices me each time I buy a cup of coffee of cut across the church parking lot, someone that has their own internal nickname for me and that I never recognize. Could The Professor or Scooter Lady pick me out of a lineup? I know that The Crackwhore probably couldn't.
The world may be smaller than we imagine.