I was unaware that the definition of voyeurism is inherently sexual in nature. I’ve used the word voyeur in place of eavesdropping and spying for years. Thankfully the term voyeurism has evolved over the last few decades to include nonsexual phraseology as well. Of course when I stopped and really thought about it, isn’t all voyeurism perverted, it may not bring you sexual arousal but it’s still perverted.
I recently watched the documentary film Shut Up Little Man, about the audio vérité recordings the became an underground phenomenon. The not-so-subtle recordings were made from the profanity laced alcoholic quarreling between Peter J. Haskett and Raymond Huffman, by their neighbors, “Eddie Lee Sausage” and “Mitchell D.” Overtime the tapes were dubbed and passed around to thousands of people. It led to a series of tapes/CD’s released by Matador Records, a perverse play, a horrible film, and a million viral interpretations. The documentary focuses mainly on the journey of those private recordings that became very public. At it’s heart this documentary is a mystery, who were Peter and Ray?
I first became aware of Peter and Ray during an episode of This American Life, which featured an excerpt from one of these tapes. It was this wonderfully mysterious recording concerning these two older men who argued and violently threatened each other constantly. I wanted to know who they were, where they came from, and how they ended up living together. There is a moral question raised concerning ethicality of spying on these men and releasing recordings of them. Can it be justified, even for the sake of art?
I must admit that I myself am a voyeur. Not in a sexual way, I just like to know what’s going on in those hidden places, what stories are occurring that I’m missing out on. I vividly remember visiting my Grandparents condo in the city. They lived on the top floor of a twelve story building, from the rear it faced another building, three blocks away. To me this was fifty little television screens all displaying a unique live story. As the sun went down they all lit up, people cooking, reading, watching T.V., and being naked.
It didn’t matter what was happening, it was all fascinating to watch people being their most honest self when they thought no one was looking. I can remember one evening in particular when five separate apartments were all watching the same TV show, I joined in and marveled at the idea of six sets of people all watching the same thing individually, each unaware that anyone else is watching the same thing, except for me.
Another unique quirk of my Grandparents condo was the lobby channel. It was a direct feed to their television from their buildings security cameras. Why it was there I don’t know, but I lost hours of my life to that mind numbing channel, just waiting for anyone to enter the picture.
You would think that between Seattle and Los Angeles, the latter would have generated more note worthy subjects to spy on. Even more so when you consider that we lived across the street from the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre. Once a year they had their big gala event and my wife and I would sit on our balcony and watch for hours as Maseratis, Bentlys, and Aston Martins pulled up to the red carpet. Then we would watch the festivities from our vantage point overlooking the high ivy covered walls. You could call it people watching, but what is the difference between people watching and spying?
The building across from us was certainly full of stories. I once caught the woman on the top floor feverishly making out with another woman, practically eating her face. For whatever reason the couple below her never closed their blinds, including the bathroom which didn’t have frosted glass. After two years I’d created complex story lines for these people, despite rarely seeing them beyond the window frames. My wife has often called me Mrs. Kravitz, and though I like to deny the accusation, I know she’s right. If there’s something going on around I have to know.
But it wasn’t LA that generated the most noteworthy characters to spy on. Oddly enough it was my apartment in Seattle’s University District. Thursday to Saturday night was a voyeurs delight, as the University students descended upon “the Ave” and often found themselves stumbling drunkenly down the alleyway behind my apartment. The building itself had a fascinating troupe. Our upstairs neighbor didn’t realize that there were other records beyond the Beatles Abby Road. Every morning at 6 am, Come Together wafted into our bedroom.
Of everyone in the building it was our landlord and his wife who lived in the apartment next to us that provided the most bizarre and cringe worthy story. When they first took over as landlord I ran into them in the garage and thought they looked like your typical middle age couple. A few nights later I was laying in bed when I began to hear groaning. Everyone’s had to endure the sound of neighbors screwing, I’ve never lived in a building without that symphony, but this was different.
This was groaning, but it was also grunting and it was always preceded by a slapping sound. Not skin against skin, something else, leather against skin? Wood against skin? I don’t know. This went on for hours. Occasionally I’d hear the familiar sound of a banging headboard or a squeaky box spring. But the following night their disturbing S&M sex would return. This is where Eddie and Mitchell would have turned on the microphone and caught this whole perverted situation. They could have become the famous S&M landlords.
I started spending less time in the bedroom and more time on the couch. It’s not like I could knock on the door and ask them to keep their ass paddling quiet. I began operating under the notion that if I couldn’t hear it then it wasn’t happening. Abby Road was no longer an annoyance, it had become my savior.
Some people can look at an open window or hear voices through the wall and disregard them. I cannot. I am more like Eddie and Mitchell, except when it comes to the sound of S&M bondage.
I live out in the suburbs now, where there is little eavesdrop on. Occasionally the next door neighbors will fight loudly on their deck, but in order to hear them I have to go outside myself and that always shuts them up. Sadly, I miss living in the city with a million little windows into a million lives. I’m not proud to admit that I find watching or listening to other people live their secret lives, but I do.
The emotional denouement of Shut Up Little Man comes when Mitchell D locates Tony, the sometimes roommate of Peter and Ray. Tony reluctantly answers a host of question pertaining to the infamous couple and the nature of their relationship. In a way it’s Tony’s testimony that justifies the exploitation of Peter and Ray on the tapes.