If You See Something, Say Something? by Eric Nuzum

Photo by PoPville flickr user Tyrannous

The following was written by PoP contributor Eric Nuzum. You can read Eric’s previous contributions here.

Like Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense–I have a mildly embarrassing confession to make. But unlike him, I don’t see dead people.

I see naked people.

And I don’t know what to do about it.

When we moved into our rowhouse in Petworth in early 2008, the four-unit apartment building behind us only had one tenant. It was a guy, living alone. He kept to himself and didn’t seem to have a lot of friends or visitors. If it wasn’t for the occasional light on in the evening, you would think the whole building was empty. Eventually, he left to, and the building was completely vacant.

We’d heard from a neighbor that the building’s owner was somewhere in the vicinity of a thousand-years-old. Due to his ancientness, he didn’t have the time or energy to find new tenants. So the building just sat there empty with a for sale sign in front of it.

Unlike other vacant properties, it really wasn’t a problem. With the exception of someone once emptying a semi-automatic weapon into the air on the night of the Super Tuesday elections (no connection that I’m aware of), life in the alley that separates the empty building from us has been relatively quiet and uneventful. No intruders, no animals–just a big empty building seen from every back window in our house.

Then, one day this spring, the for sale sign was gone. Then we noticed some construction debris by the trash cans. Then, almost overnight, there were new tenants living in every unit. Lights on. People coming and going. Suddenly, the place was back to life.

Two days later, I was sitting in rocking chair calming my unhappy and awake newborn son, when I looked out the nursery window and saw the nude torso of the woman in the lower left unit. This wasn’t a passing thing either. She was standing right in front of the window, wearing only a pair of panties (well, she could have been wearing kneesocks and army boots, but you get the picture), lightly scratching her stomach.

I can understand how this happens. Though alleys are supposed to be more dangerous than the streets, when it’s your alley, you can easily get lured into a false sense of privacy and seclusion. All these residents have blinds and/or shades on their windows, but especially on warm evenings, don’t feel compelled to be all that militant about using them.

It was only two days until I saw my next exposed neighbor. I guy was coming back from a shower, dripping wet and wrapped in a towel, when he decided to remove the towel and bend over–thus mooning me while I was trying to change my son’s diaper.

When I was eleven-years-old, I was the same as every eleven-year-old boy: I was obsessed with naked people. My friends and I would steal copies of Playboy out of trash cans and sit and stare at naked bodies for hours. We treated these worn pages like holy relics. Now, as an adult, seeing strangers naked, especially those who I see clothed several hours later, is not something I seek out. No offense, but if I was in the mood to see naked people, it wouldn’t be them.

And it has continued. In fact, without ever actually wanting to, I have unintentionally seen a resident in all four apartments in some state of undress. Sometimes it seems like a colony of nudists has moved into the building in mass. The torso woman has repeated her naked scratching in front of the window on two other occasions. Last weekend I witnessed her next door neighbors fornicating in front of an open window at 4 a.m. (hey, kids wake up all the time).

At first, I was really embarrassed. I would close my window shades at the sight of a naked renter. But why should I be the one who needs to avoid looking out the window? Isn’t that like some kind of inalienable right or something?

Now, the question I pose to you, wise reader: What should I do? Should I say anything? Is this something worth caring about? (It apparently isn’t that big an issue to the tenants.)

At first I was tempted to leave anonymous notes saying, “When you stand naked in front of an open window, people can see your boobies.” But then I realized that since my house was the one directly behind their building, that they’d immediately suspect me.

Now I’m at a loss.

I feel I should be able to keep my window shades open without feeling like a creep or a prude.

What do you think? Should I say something when I see something?

94 Comment

  • What, again, is the problem?

  • huh huh, you said “fornicating”

    • Yes, I would normally offer the more preferred “boinking,” but I am trying to class this conversation up a bit. (“Fornicating” has four syllables, compared to “boinking”‘s two.)

  • of course washingtonians would be all bothered by this, as opposed to all hot and bothered.

  • let me refer you to the scene in ‘Old School’ when he gets into the back seat of the taxi and asks about the broken seat belt… “I recomend you stop acting like such a …. , you’re in the back seat”

  • They just haven’t gotten around to getting window treatments yet. Took my Husband and I a while to get ours, too.

  • Oh my gosh.. Hilariously written article! I’d feel weird if I saw naked people all the time as well! Not that it would be a problem, per se, just… uncomfortable. I’d say just stare relentlessly at them. Maybe they were told it’s two way glass or something, so they think they can’t be seen!

    Very strange.

  • What’s your address? I’ll bring a bottle of whiskey, do some surveillance, and let you know when to stay away from the windows.

  • Get over yourself.

  • How very American! It’s just a naked body…get over it.

  • Take pictures and post on a neighborhood blog. Pretty sure that would get them to stop. Maybe blur the faces out if you’re scared of getting sued. Of course, then you’ll be ‘that guy’ – the creepy dude in the neighborhood that goes peering in people’s windows taking pictures of them in their homes. I think this is one of those live-and-let-live moments.

  • Most people have to pay good money for something like that. Live it. Learn it. Love it.

  • Man, everyone is cranky this morning. Seems like if you don’t have any sympathy for how awkward this guy feels, just don’t comment.

  • okay…and? Is this the product of some creative writing course assignment?

    Sit back and enjoy the show.

    • Yes, actually. The assignments was: “In 800 words or less, write something that will inspire a lot of people to write in and make even lamer jokes than you make.”

      I’m hoping for a “B.”

      • Based on the resulting comments, I give you an A+!
        And to the “just get over it (or yourself)” comments: sure, it’s just a naked body and who cares? Well, not all of us want to see the moon rising over the back alley! Not my kind of scenery.

        I sympathize, but I’ve got no answers for you, man…

        • This right here is strange:

          At first I was tempted to leave anonymous notes saying, “When you stand naked in front of an open window, people can see your boobies.” But then I realized that since my house was the one directly behind their building, that they’d immediately suspect me.

          If it really is a problem, man up and say something. You can either try to get them to stop OR remain anonymous. You can’t do both.

  • Put a note on your window, not theirs. Something to the effect of “If you’re naked and are reading this message, we can see you.”

    • Haha. Funny you say that. When I first noticed this was going on, I thought one thing I could do was hang a banner outside the back of my house saying, “If you can read this, I can see your junk. And by junk, I don’t mean your trashcan.”

      Obviously, I talked myself back out of that as well.

      • So talk yourself back into it. That’s what I was going to encourage anyway! Word it anyway you want, but the way your idea is phrased is super fun. Chances are these people just don’t realize what they’re doing (with the exception of the stomach scratcher). I’ve found myself walking around naked and then realizing that my blinds are open and feeling pretty stupid. It’s especially easy when it’s dark out and your lights are on inside; you can’t even see out!
        And as for them knowing the note is from you, so what? You said it yourself, looking out your window is an inalienable right or something. You aren’t a pervert if you glance out your window and see someone. You really aren’t a perv if you try to remedy the situation so you CAN’T see naked people any longer.

        Sorry, that was long winded. I might actually be late for work now..

  • Internet ruled apply here:

    Pics or it didn’t happen.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    I felt awkward looking at my neighbor do the dishes…

  • So it comes down to this: you saw a female’s breasts and a male’s buttocks? Neither are really offensive, and neither break the law.

    In fact, under DC law, a female can walk around the city in public view without anything covering her breasts (genatalia must be covered).

    Get over it, and stop staring in their windows if you don’t want to see them.

    • Okay, let’s clear something up. Breasts and butts don’t bother me. It’s the awkwardness involved in the whole situation.

      You see, Anon, I’ve really been struggling with this but, well…tonight, when you are getting undressed, look out your back window. The guy waving from across the alley–that’s me.

      I’m sorry, I really didn’t know how else to bring this up with you. Please close your window, or cover yourself when in front of the window. Seeing you naked isn’t nearly as exciting as you probably would like to think it is.

      • Well, I think that answers your question. You asked “Should I say something?”

        You just admitted that it’s the awkwardness that you have a problem with, not the bodies. Well, then that’s YOUR problem, not theirs. What’s next, that neurotic vegetarians ask the local BBQ-fans to stop grilling because the smell of cooking meat makes them feel “awkward”?

        Live and let live. Don’t ask other people to adapt to your own admitted hangups. Claustrophobic people don’t ask others not to crowd the elevator, they just get off and wait for the next one.

  • I have my own “ugly naked guy” (think Friends) that lives in an apartment building across the way. He enjoys walking around with his windows wide open. But his window does not face into an alley–it faces the street!

    He could be wearing knee socks and army boots, as well, but all I can see is his naked, beer-gutty torso. Sometimes we sit out front and wait for him to appear–it’s a house activity. A few times we have seen the nude torso of a female as well.

  • When I lived in The Kenmore years ago, I had to deal with a similar incident. The building is in a U shape and I was on the inside of the U, meaning my studio apartment looked into 2-3 apartments across the U. One of these apartments was home to a mid-40s overweight couple that liked to boink completely naked, with all the blinds open and all lights in the apartment on. The first time I saw this, I was watching a baseball game and at first, enjoying dinner. I see this out of the corner of my eye, lose my appetite, and rush to shut my blinds. This continued about once every 2 weeks. I was too horrified to say anything to them when I saw them on the bus or grocery shopping.

    I never said anything to them, although I wish I had. While it makes for a good story, I feel badly for the current residents, whoever they are!

    • ah

      Curse those naked boinkers! They really should have the good sense to stay mostly dressed.

      • That’d be impressive, and undoubtedly less gross.

        I was advocating for more curtains, or at least more complimentary lighting (harsh white on pale flabby skin is not an image you want in your head).

    • My friends live across from the Kenmore! There is a girl on the Legation side that walks around topless with all her windows open!

      I actually think it’s weirder to never lower one’s blinds than to occasionally see a neighbor nekkid. I’d prefer to see someone topless over clipping their toe nails, or landscaping their nether-regions.

  • I think on one hand, people need to not be overly prudish about seeing their neighbors dangly bits every once in a while on accident, but also, need to maybe not stand naked next to the window in plain sight. I mean, sometimes you gotta just get from the bathroom to the bedroom and the blinds happen to be open, but there is no need to intentionally display yourself, unless you are really hot.

    I like the idea of putting a sign outside your window.

    • Heh. Growing up back in Kentucky, my mom decided to go back to college. She would park off campus next to the same house every day and the dude who lived there, almost with out exception, would stand in the window, bare ass naked, for my mom to see. She never saw his face, just a torso.

      She talked about it all the time, but never stopped arking there. Heh.

  • Eric – I’m trying to be sympathetic – really I am. But there’s really too much \I\ in your story (and you also seem to be blaming a lot on your kid, for some reason).

    Dude – either grow the stones to at the minimum go over and drop a friendly note under the doors of everyone concerned (\Hey neighbor! your apt isn’t as private as you evidently think it is – how about some curtains?\) or just realize that it is really YOUR problem, and regardless of the awkwardness or who’s to blame, or whatever, get your own curtains so that it doesn’t bother you. You’re taking a very limited view of curtains if you think they’re sole reason is for others not to see you – there’s no harm in admitting that it works both ways. There’s no law that says you have to enjoy what you see out of your windows, especially when the offending parties are doing nothing more than living their lives in their own apartments. Take some control already – everybody concerned will be much happier.

    • +1.

      Only in DC would some nerdnik complain about seeing a naked body. And God forbid that little baby nerdnik should be exposed to nudity. This guy seriously needs to move to Frederick County.

      • Nah. I hear Frederick County is full of people who refer to themselves as “Knucklz” and use words like “nerdnik.” I’ll still with my naked Petworth neighbors, thank you.

      • i feel uncomfortable agreeing with man named Mistr Knucklz, but dammit, he’s right.

    • First, he’s not blaming his kid. He’s describing the scenarios in which he happens to be looking out that particular window, which is clearly in the nursery. It’s not bad enough that everyone wants to paint him as some kind of Victorian prude, you gotta imply he hates his kid or something? Douche.

      Secondly, why should he have to huddle in his apartment with all the shades drawn, crawling on his belly below the window sill so as to avoid seeing something he shouldn’t have to deal with in the first place?

      I like the idea of a polite note. They may figure out it’s you, but so what, really?

    • Yes, you are right. I blame my kid. It is all my kid’s fault. If I didn’t have a child, there would not be unclothed people in the apartments across the alley. Why didn’t I think of that?!?!

      In all seriousness, you make an interesting point about the purpose of curtains. You should really edit your comments to remove such insightful observations–the others will make fun of you!

      • Sure Eric – I hear ya. Just go back over your writeup – just about every time that you mentioned seeing these people you also had to say that you were doing something with your kid each time (“I was sitting in rocking chair calming my unhappy and awake newborn son, when I looked out the nursery window”; “I was sitting in rocking chair calming my unhappy and awake newborn son, when I looked out the nursery window”; “Last weekend I witnessed her next door neighbors fornicating in front of an open window at 4 a.m. (hey, kids wake up all the time)”). There’s some kind of weird connection between this and your kid. The two things should be completely unrelated, yet you keep joing them. It isn’t that you’re seeing naked people – it’s that whenever you’re with your kid you’re seeing naked people. Would the naked people situation be as bad if your kid wasn’t involved? Who knows? But at least the way that you’re telling the story, the two are inextricably linked.
        So sure – make fun of my observation if it makes you feel better. But remember – all I’m doing is repeating what you wrote – and for some reason, it seems important to you that you seem unable to talk about this without ensuring that we all know that you’re taking care of your kid at the time. You guys wanna call me a douche – have at it. I’m not the one hiding my complaints behind an infant.

        • “You guys wanna call me a douche – have at it.”

          Thanks: Douche. Double douche.

        • Again, it has nothing to do with my son. Time to drop that one, Freud.

          It is the ROOM, silly person. The ROOM. The nursery is in the back of the house. The reason I’m seeing all these people is because I am in that ROOM at odd hours.

          There are plenty of times that I’m caring for my son in other parts of the house–and I see no naked people. It is only when I am in the NURSERY that this happens.

          Any parent of an infant will tell you: you do EVERYTHING while caring for your child. When I watch TV–I do so while caring for my son. When I go to Target..I do so while caring for my son. When I do laundry…I do so while caring for my son.

          And, in this case, when I see naked people, I do so while caring for my son.

          Again, this is all offered with a sense of humor. Please find yours before offering any more insights into my attitude towards my child.

          • funny – you want us to take it with a sense of humor – but when we offer up as a sense of humor that you’re blaming it on your kid, you suddenly don’t seem to get the humor. Oh well. To each his own. I still recommend that you buy yourself some curtains if you don’t have the balls to tell your neighbors to get some for themselves.

            (and I might think about seeing a professional about this obvious strong linkage that you have between your kid and naked people – that’s probably something worth looking into! Hee!)

          • DeepDarkWhatever–

            I’m sure all this attention from me is very exciting from you, but I think this thread of the conversation needs to end here.

            You are right–I do suggest people take things with a sense of humor. But when you repeatedly insist on looping my infant son into this–that isn’t funny. It’s actually kinda creepy.

  • Just change your wifi network to icanseeyounakedthroughthealley.

    Problem solved.

  • Find some subtle way to get them to notice that they can see in your windows too. Get naked?

  • The simple fact of the matter is that there are probably more exhibitionists out there than you would like to know about. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them aren’t exactly what we’d like to see when we look out the window.

  • mid city guy

    Tried to think of something pithy to say, but coming up blank. So thought I’d post that this totally reminds me of the brouhaha over the Standard Hotel in NYC which overlooks the new skyline:


  • People, people, people.

    First off: I have no problem with nude people. My delicate sensitivities have survived much worse.

    Second: The uncomfortableness of the situation isn’t really about me–it is about how bad I feel for those people. The woman I’ve seen topless in her window would, more than likely, be mortified if she knew how easy it was to see her naked. if I feel bad for anyone, I feel bad for her. If there is any quandary here, it is trying to figure out how to let her know what is happening. To be honest, I really don’t care if I (or my son) see naked people every day. Well, perhaps not THOSE naked people.

    Third: Lighten up. This is all for fun. Life is too complicated and occasionally hard not to have a little fun arguing over nothingness like this.

    • If you really, truly felt bad for the chick, you would just go ahead and tell her or have your wife/s.o. tell her. This would have been much for fun as, “Nocturnal Observations of a Sleep-Deprived Man”

      captcha: venomous some


  • Most worthless post/discussion ever. It’s like a bad Seinfeld episode.

    You can’t argue with crazy; crazy wins every time.

  • I’m with you, Eric. Good for you for taking the hypercritical comments so well.

    I never realized the PoP community was such a harsh voyeuristic bunch. I guess men exposing themselves on the Metro is okay, too. After all, it’s just a penis, right? And who needs stalls in public toilets? Urinating and defecating are natural bodily functions! Get over it!

    Captcha: yukking and

    • Holly–Thank you for saying that, but comments are just part of the gamemanship of it.

      I would offer one bit of correction. I would not equate the comments of these asshats and kookbots as representative of the Pop community. Every time I meet someone who reads PoP, I find they are an interesting person–that is much better indication of the PoP community.

      Some people just say crappy things because they want other people to be as miserable as they feel. It doesn’t really work though. If I was that thin-skinned, I wouldn’t write deliberately goofball stuff to begin with.

  • People just don’t understand the need for window treatments. When I see someone’s brightly lit living room filled with shiny new electronics and there are no curtains or any effort to hide their stuff, I think, ‘you gonna get robbed.’
    Write a note, and you’ll find out if they are exibitionists or clueless nudists.

  • I have a question, do they realize that anyone can see them?

    I have come to the opinion that there are a lot of narcissistic people out there. They may not care if you see them naked, but more likely is that it never occurred to them that an uncovered window lets people see in. Yes it seems obvious to reasonably intelligent people, but many people aren’t reasonably intelligent.

  • I completely sympathize with this – there’s nothing wrong with a little nudity- but i believe it should be something you elect to see, not somethign that presented to you at an unsuspecting time. In many ways there is little difference between this and flashing – which is considered a sexual offense.
    The folks in the other building don’t realize how exposed they are – pun intended, so I wold just put up a sign in one of your back window that says ‘I don’t want to see you naked.’ The problem will stop and you won’t be confronted by anyone, cause having seen them naked = upperhand.

  • We caught an across-the-street neighbor of ours punishing his unit while sitting in the drivers seat of his parked car last fall outside our condo. All we did was go to a window where he couldn’t see us (we are on the 3rd floor), and blew a marine air horn we have (don’t ask why) out into the street. He immediately jumped out of the car and hopefully finished up his business inside his home (and hopefully behind curtains).

    • Punishing his unit? That is just trrrrible. Hopefully your downstairs neighbors have shades on their windows. Maybe what they thought is bird mess is really this neighborhood punisher.

  • Instead of a banner, get some big graphic eyeballs and put those on your window.

    Or put a mirror in the window facing your neighbor.

    They’ll figure it out. Or, we’ll get some posts next week about someone’s “weird neighbor with a mirror and eyeballs in their window”

  • i think the answer is obvious – set up a webcam and run chatroulette.

  • PoP,

    Is pimping this guy’s blog like this really necessary? I mean, it’s one thing to pimp restaurants, and condo complexes, but this is just self-aggrandizement for a guy who’s kind of immature and looking for attention. This whole thread is a link from his blog about himself.

  • hmmm. everyone seems so cranky and humorless. case of the mondays, perhaps?

  • eric,

    i thought this was funny as hell.
    and thanks for playing with the trolls. that was entertaining too.

  • Hahaha, Dan you’re never in your kitchen, but we don’t mind waving over the dishes.

  • If you are in DC, the topfree lady is perfectly legal even if she were outside. Breasts aren’t genitals.

    As for seeing “junk”, that is pretty harmless, but it could get your neighbors into trouble with busybodies (which I don’t count you to be among). But as long as only you and your open minded neighbors can see, no harm, no foul.

    “What about the children” is not really a problem. No child has ever been harmed or psychologically scarred by seeing nakey people going about normal activities like doing dishes, scratching or toweling, despite the hilariously over the top pronouncements of bluenoses. In fact they could benefit from it if they see what real people’s bodies look like rather than the fake images they are bombarded with by Hollywood and the media – causing unrealistic body image issues that lead to feelings of inadequacy, eating disorders, and body dysmorphic syndromes.

    Kids from nudist families are actually better adjusted, less likely to have eating disorders, and usually wait longer before they become sexually active. I’m not saying you should join a nudist club, but don’t worry about the kids seeing real people’s bodies, it would be a healthy break from the unhealthy sexually charged nudity and fake bodies they will see countless times from the media as they grow up.

    But, it IS a problem when the neighbors have sex in the open. That is a major legal problem for them, not to mention … dodgy behavior, and a good neighbor should give them a gentle warming. Why not invite them all over for a neighborhood party, where they can happen to see how well you can see into their apartments?

  • this was seriously the best day.

    and to top it all off, my captcha says “cutest democrat.” why thank you.

  • easy… Laser Pointer!

  • I was on the other side of this scenario a few years back. I rented a house that had a large window positioned directly behind the toilet in my first floor bathroom. When I moved in, there were no window treatments, so I figured it wasn’t necessary.

    About 3 weeks after I moved-in, while using the bathroom, I happened to glance out the window and see a large sign staring back at me (in my neighbor’s window) that reads (in big block letters) “WE CAN SEE YOU PEE!”.

    I found it to be pretty hilarious and slightly embarrassing. It was also highly effective– I went out and purchased some blinds then next day. It also turned out to be an interesting way to meet my new neighbors. I asked if they had a similar problem with any previous occupants of the house and they said no… all the previous tenants had been female..

    • When I first moved into my apartment, I didn’t think blinds were necessary for one of my windows either. I figured that as long as I was not back-lit, I was invisible to the other tenants since my windows are high up on the wall, paned, and perpendicular to the main stairwell (the most obvious vantage point). Turns out I was wrong. I would never have known had my boyfriend and I not been _occupied_ when someone in the stairwell stopped and locked eyes with him. I think a cute note would’ve been a far more pleasant way to discover that I desperately needed a window treatment.

      Fitting captcha: “gesture unveiled”

  • Oh boy here we go. You seem to have a bit of a peeping tom issue going on here. I assume you have window blinds or curtains too. You know you can close yours instead of trying to tell others how to live. However if you just can’t stop yourself from looking maybe you should seek therapy.

  • Pardon me for going back to the orginal question: “Should I say something when I see something?” My view may be a bit prosaic since I am, as Sting might say, a “legal alien” living in DC and hence bring imported attitudes. But for me the demarcation on whether to speak or not is “state-of-being” versus “specific activities.” If neighbors are merely not wearing clothing, I’d just treat it as state-of-being, as them just being informal at home. Any fashion choice from Armani to nude is valid in one’s own space – no big deal. If they are actually doing something specific, something sexual or you’d be tempted to put up something akin to the “we can see you pee” sign, then it is probably worth a neighborly word of alert on that specific activity.

    In the close quarters of an urban environment, it’s best to get to know neighbors so that daily interactions can be fine-tuned without drama — maybe discovering that your neighbor is French so not at all self-conscious about you seing her topless, and/or so that she knows that it is not commonplace for you and should be avoided at all costs when your mother-in-law visits. But meanwhile its probably better overall as a first reflex to err on the side live-n-let-live and save “saying something” for things that actually intrude on your space or somehow materially impede your own “pursuit of happiness.” Otherwise, for things disconcerting, suprising or merely not done as I would, I’m more likely to start humming Neil Diamond’s “Beautiful Noise” and let it go at that.

  • First, leave them a note saying that you have seen them and it’s making you uncomfortable. If they continue, then take lots of pictures with a camera with a BIG flashgun on, so they know what you have done. Then send the pics to any interested party, including the landlord, police, local papers etc.

    These are very rude and inconsiderate people.

  • amybindc

    Charge admission. Pay for the wee tots college education.

  • I still think it has a lot more to do with your infant son than you would like to believe. Perhaps he is emitting some sort of unusually strong pheromone or supernatural energy field that invites perfect strangers within a certain range to take their clothes off.

Comments are closed.