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Because We Like to Watch


Nick Engstrom on his West 4th Street deck.  

What Engstrom Sees: “Let’s face it, looking at them reminds me that I live in an impoverished, crumbling townhouse.” Upstairs, a middle-aged man types at a computer for eleven hours a day. “I watch him write instead of writing my book,” says Engstrom. In the solarium, a woman knits “very large things. Always knitting. They’re always home. I have a relationship with their cat. He’s very inquisitive. He comes outside and stares up at me.”

Who Really Lives There: Laure-Anne Bosselaar, 63, and Kurt Brown, 63, poets. “  ‘The woman knits and the man writes?’ That is not what happens in this house!” says Bosselaar. Her writing room is in the front, where she writes from 4 to 10:30 a.m. daily. “And I only knit around Christmas. It’s a vest for my husband.” There are two cats, Soot and Snooze. “The two cats are so alike that he might think it’s only one.”

What They See of Engstrom: “That building changes all the time. I see window treatments, then darkness, then boxes, then window treatments again. We wave to the guy on the deck [Engstrom]. But the whole thing about such close proximity is that you don’t look.”

What Engstrom Sees: Middle-aged man and wife who cook a lot. “Nothing unusual.”

Who Really Lives There: Michael Ratner, 63, a human-rights lawyer, and Karen Ranucci, 51, general manager of “Democracy Now!,” a news-radio show. Ranucci hatches live turkeys, chickens, and ducks in the backyard. Ratner, a two-decade resident, is the ad hoc block historian. “Armand Hammer owned the three townhouses next to us—they were a compound. Minetta Stream runs under all the backyards, about six feet down.”

What They See of Engstrom: “I’ve always wondered about that window. Because it’s always open, in the dead of winter and summer,” says Ranucci. “And the television is always on. Always. What are they doing?”

What Engstrom Sees: “An apartment of women in their twenties who occasionally go on the roof and get drunk. I’ve never seen a man there. Could they be lesbians?”

Who Really Lives There: Ratner and Ranucci’s 16-year-old daughter, who sometimes simply sits on the roof with her friends.

What Engstrom Sees: “They just got new window shades.”

Who Really Lives There: Linda Honan, 26, advertising manager. “I moved from Australia five months ago. When I first moved in, I had no blinds, and I had to sprint naked past my French doors from the bathroom to my bedroom in the dark. They took months.”

What She Sees of Engstrom: “My window shades. It’s horribly dull.”

What Engstrom Sees: “I can see into the window, but I never see anything going on. Nothing.”

Who Really Lives There: Jack Farinhas, 34, radiologist and rock guitarist. “I’m never home, and when I am, I practice.”

What He Sees of Engstrom: “I see only the people directly across from me, and they’re pretty old. But one night, I was in bed and I saw this gaggle of people scaling my fire escape. Scared the crap out of me. I found out later it was the neighbor’s kids.”

What Engstrom Sees: A large white building. “I think it’s commercial.”

Who Really Lives There: Neighborhood gossips say it’s Philip Seymour Hoffman.


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