You would not have thought it but just looking out a window could not only become a hobby, it could also provide a treasure trove of information. Some of this information you might not wish to be privy to. Remember Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window? What he observed almost got him killed.
In the old neighborhood this activity, looking out the window, became an event just short of Olympic. It was called ‘Hanging Out the Window’. Maybe it could eventually become a triathlon event. The three legs being, Endurance for hanging out observing, Endurance for kneeling on a footstool, Endurance for resting on your elbows. You needed to be proficient in all three to do it correctly. Time engaged in this activity could determine the winner. I knew some champions. They were in fact members of my own family.
Oh, you also needed an apartment that faced the main drag, 116th Street. Besides the window having to face in the right direction several old pillows were necessary to cushion the hard foot stool, and the window sill.
Watching out the window there were so many stories on the city streets unfolding all the time. Walter Winchell use to open or close his show saying there were eight million stories in the big city (New York). One city block, with its tenements and brown stones, housed as many people as a small town. And like a small town everyone knew their neighbors’ business.
There was the town crier in the person of Mary. She would wash windows inside and out for twenty-five cents each to supplement her home relief (welfare) check. Mary knew every Goomada (Mistress) on the block because they were the ones who could most afford to have their windows washed. She knew who was keeping them, who the gentleman was married to, and when they had a fight. She was quick to share all this information with anyone who would listen.
However, any ordinary window hanger knew who the Goomadas were. They were easy to spot. They were the curvy women who strutted in their high heels walking their toy poodle. They either had shoe polish black hair, or unrealistic platinum blonde. (The Goomada not the poodle.) The hair was teased high, the dress form-fitting, and the stiletto heels backless. The obvious ladies would cause a buzz among the housewives when they sauntered passed.
Sometimes you would see a good fist fight between a Mistress and a Wife when the irate wife had finally had enough and reclaimed her man by pulling the hair out of the head of the Mistress in front of the people on the street, and the window hangers. There were occasions when upon the end of the physical disagreement there was loud, spontaneous applause from the on lookers. This when the wife won the battle, and the Goomada had been really making a spectical of herself by rubbing the wronged wife’s nose in the affair. There were rules and everyone was supposed to keep to their proscribed roles.
Once in a while the husband/lover would have to get involved and separate the two loves of his life before they did some real damage to each other. Then it got really good because they usually turned on him. At that point other women who were watching from afar would jump in to save the man before the ladies in his life killed him.
Another fun activity was to trace the steps of the number runners all day and all night. In and out of buildings and stores they would take the bets. After the ninth race, and the number of the day was determined, these entrepeneurs would run around paying off the winners. They were all neighborhood guys and you often wondered if it wouldn’t have been easier to get a regular job for forty hours a week then to do all that running around for the numbers game, and having to run from the cops too.
From the window you could watch young toughs turn into would be gangsters or real gangsters. Those men would eventually disappear from the landscape. Either they got killed and their bodies dumped in the Bronx, or they would go to jail for a period of time. Women wailing for their lost sons could be heard when you were hanging out the window. At those times everyone wept for the mother’s heartbreak.
There were happy events to see as well. Brides taking pictures in front of the building where they grew up, new Moms and Dad’s pushing a sparkling baby coach and people congratulating them and cooing over the new addition, kids jumping rope and playing hopscotch, soldiers returning from the army, children in their communion outfits, and families all dressed up going to church or visiting relatives.
We saw all of life while hanging out the window on 116th Street. Who needed a television?