February 22, 2006

In the Fetish District

From his bedroom Mr. Lawson can see the window display of the bondage store. Every night he strains his eyes squinting for a glimpse of whips and leather corsets, chains and buckled leather masks, telescopes and silken cords. Next door to that, the shoe store specializes in steel-toed black work boots and impossibly high-heeled sequined sandals. At the spiritualist church down the street, a few straggling souls drive in from all over town every Sunday morning to communicate with the dead. From the gutted frame of the turreted Victorian on the corner, you can hear boom box music and inconsiderate laughter late at night.

The mail carrier wears thigh-high boots on her route; she chats like old friends with the man whose home is furnished exclusively with Christmas decorations all year long. Mr. Lawson has never spoken to any of his neighbors, but he likes it when he gets the chance to nod at them at the downstairs mailbox. Sometimes he wants to ask one of them a question, but he never has. The answer might reveal new worlds spread out all around him, and he’s not sure he’d like that.

The other day he saw two men, strangers to each other who met in midstreet as they walked their dogs, stop and chat and point with gossipy gestures at the dogs’ attempts to mount each other, and then walk off side by side, the dogs on their leashes still leaping and bumping. Once he saw a man slap money into another man’s palm in exchange for a wrinkled brown lunch bag.

He remembers when he first rented the apartment. “This neighborhood is full of interesting, creative people,” the rental agent said. All he wanted at the time was someplace small and cheap – but now he realizes how true that was.

He leaves the neighborhood as little possible these days. When he has to go to the supermarket or the mall, he stares around in disdain: “What a bunch of squares!”