The Downstairs Gays

Excerpt from this article:

…In a dozen keystrokes and two clicks, I’d gained access to more specific information about my downstairs neighbor than I have about most of the people I actually know. The extent of my hope in googling my neighbor had been to find out what he did for work, and to marvel at how he and his cohabitant could afford such an enormous apartment. I thought at most I’d find his Facebook, and maybe find out whether the two of them were married. Within an hour I’d learned they weren’t, but could pinpoint their upcoming nine-year anniversary within a matter of days. With a single scratch, I’d opened a gushing wound of auto-reportage, learning answers to questions I never would have thought to ask about a pair of strangers. Now that I’d found what I’d found, however, my curiosity was catching up to my knowledge.

…Under normal online circumstances, the notion of “stalking” as it’s commonly used—Facebook stalking, or Instagram stalking—seems to me overstated. It’s not a matter of hacking, or of breaking and entering anything; it’s often simply a matter of paying greater-than-passing attention to someone or something accessible through public channels, or at least channels to which you’ve been granted access, via friend request. Even the language we use—“friending” on Facebook, but “following” on most other platforms—underlines the stranger-based nature of the interaction. At a time when googling is standard operating procedure for a coffee date, how weird is it to follow the thread a bit further?

…In certain moods, I flatter myself that they might have been keeping tabs on me, too. That in my squirrelly unfriendliness, I might have inspired some malicious curiosity about just what I, with my ripped jeans and tote bags, was doing in their building, they of the Dual Income and No Kids. I wonder if some mislaid issue of the New Yorker may have opened me up to googleable scrutiny; I wonder, once this ode to the Downstairs Gays—my Downstairs Gays—is published, if they might find it, and whether they’ll recognize themselves if they do. If they can help being deeply disturbed, I wonder whether they might feel a tinge of sadness at my absence, and a well of gratitude that we can still know each other, without knowing each other, from afar.