Who among you onliners has not Google Mapped your own address? The satellite bird’s-eye shots are thrilling enough, especially when you see how your neighbor’s yard looks like hay while yours is a plot of emerald. But city folk can make street-level swoops up and down stoops and even jaywalk without being mowed down by taxi or bike. You may guess in what season the image was grabbed by checking trees and clothes, though NYU “boys” in my East Village nabe wear fetching shorts at all times, even in the snow.
The other day I typed in my Manhattan tenement address and whirled the Google eye to one of our two street-front windows. Let’s see how close I can go … there’s the air conditioner, the tree branch blocking a shape …
You can see what I saw in the image above. Is that me looking out, being caught by some Universal Intelligence and now being observed by another me?
It sure does look like my suit-and-tie Gravatar at the top-right of this page. But if that is indeed my face, or any face, why is it so pale? Isn’t that the way a ghost, my own ghost, a Google ghost, would appear?
It’s a normal, unthreatening block I live on, as the less magnified Google shot below makes clear. The street’s not obviously haunted, although decades ago, standing at that same window, I saw a man I knew from the neighborhood plunge a knife into another man on the sidewalk directly across from me. The guy I recognized may have been defending himself, I couldn’t tell, and I don’t know what happened to the victim. The one with the weapon was led away by police.
Now I see that once handsome man-with-the-knife behind the counter of his own Polish luncheonette, fat and gray, dishing out kielbasa.
Soon after we moved in to our tiny place, my spouse wrote a sad short story called “The Previous Tenant,” about the traces such a young, possibly gay, probably disturbed presence left behind. John had found some wrenching journal scraps, some scrawls on the wall. Where did the poor fellow disappear to?
For that matter, I discovered a small stash of creased, black-and-white snapshots buried in the drawer beneath the apartment’s only closet. Each one showed a drab older lady in a Ukrainian-style babushka, no expression on her face. The photos could have been taken in the 1920s, the ’30s, it was hard to know. No expression, no telling details, a record of life that’s no record at all.
Do you know the end of James Joyce’s “The Dead”? It too looks out a window, after husband Gabriel hears wife Gretta, for the first time, recall and weep over “delicate” Michael, her long-lost love:
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
After Halloween, we know, comes the snow. Even with Google off and curtains drawn, we’ll never want for ghosts at the window.
Each of us is poised to be haunted by our very own.