So you wake up and you’re living in a high rise apartment building with everyone you’ve ever known. Every now and then, you throw open the window and shout something random into the air. “THAT SURE WAS A GOOD HUMMUS, PICKLED HERRING, SALSA, JALAPENO SANDWICH I HAD FOR LUNCH!”
A half hour later, you hear someone else yell out their window: “Sounds like one of those sandwiches that get you banished to the barn for airing out.”
You recognize the voice. It’s a friend of a friend you’ve known for a long time, but never very well. You haven’t heard from him for months, since the last time he yelled a response to one of your hollers.
Or maybe you hollered a response to one of his yells, or commented on one of the photographs he hung out the window on his clothesline for the rest of the high rise to see.
“Cool picture, huh?” he yells.
“LIKE!” you shout.
A half hour later, you holler back: “Maybe that’s why the dogs wanted out!”
It’s a strange place to be, with all this random call and response among friends and families and people who barely know each other, or used to, 20 years ago.
Every few minutes, you hear some other acquaintance shouting something out their window: “You should read this article: ‘How man lost his penile spines’ from the BBC.”
It takes an hour for a response, but finally it comes: “You don’t have penile spines?”
Sometimes a whole chorus erupts, over the course of an afternoon: “LOL!” “IKR!” “WTF?” “LIKE!”
When you live in the high rise, some of your best friends are those you know the least — someone you met on a college trip, a long time ago, and lost touch with for a decade. Some near stranger whose shouts and hollers make you grin or think or feel.
Others, you could live without, but fortunately, you don’t have to listen to everyone who lives in the high rise. Even if they’re “friends,” you can just push a button, and you can’t hear them anymore.
The drawback, of course, is that you don’t know if anyone’s listening to you, either. So you shout again, something designed to get a response from the kind of people you like to get a response from — your friends as opposed to your “friends.”
Half the time, there’s no answer. Your words die in the empty air. But then, in the middle of the night, when you can’t sleep, you hear a laugh, and then a shout. “That’s a good one, Brett.”
Here in the high rise, even your real friends aren’t necessarily your real friends. You may hardly know them and never see them in the flesh — only their pictures in the photo album everyone leaves lying outside their apartment door. It’s nice to page through their photos without them watching.
The high rise is great, but the old days weren’t bad either, before we all lived together. Back when we’d go to the post office, lick a stamp and drop a letter in one of those big metal boxes.
Back when we’d call each other and arrange to get together. We’d clink our glasses and look each other in the eye. We’d hug, shake hands, walk side by side down a trail. Share an orange. Sometimes cry.
I like the high rise, but as with friends, there’s degrees — “like” and like and really, truly like.
There’s nothing wrong with a disembodied voice and a reflection of yourself in the window. But real life is the smell of an orange, the clink of a glass, and the gleam in a true friend’s eye.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.