remember how things used to be, back before everything changed?
back when you lived in centerville, or thomasville, or millerville?
you knew who the neighbors were, and they knew you.
the neighbor was mrs van schwort, who watched the street all day but only went out once a week to go to mr watson's store.
or the neighbors were the smith family, who had five kids just like your own, including jimmy smith, who you played catch with, and his little brother kenny, who followed you all over town.
or the neighbor was stuck up mary fenderson, who always raised her hand in class, and knew all the answers.
and you know, if you lived in a big city like chicago or st louis, things were pretty much the same, in some neighborhood like irish town, or polack town, or wop town, because you sat on the front steps and watched the world go by, and everybody knew everybody else.
and it was the same, even if you lived in a tribe in the amazon jungle, or in the kalahari desert, or the hills of borneo, or the steppes of central asia.
you knew who you were, and who everybody else was.
some say the change started with henry ford, or with william randolph hearst.
or maybe it was hitler, or roosevelt, or al capone or amelia earhart.
whoever or whatever it was, things are different now.
now you live in apartment 17-c, and when you get home from a long day at the office doing things you could never explain to anybody who didn't work in the same office, you pass the doors of apartment 13-c and 14-c and 15-c and 16-c, but you don't know who is behind them, do you?
yes, if you pause there in the corridor, maybe you can hear something from behind the doors, but what?
can you tell if it is people talking, or the radio, or maybe one of those new television sets ?
pretty soon everyone is going to have a television, you know that, don't you?
and you think you will be watching it, but how do you know it won't be watching you?
do you ever wonder what is going on behind those doors?
the doors of your "neighbors" ?
come on, let's look behind one.
we can hear sounds coming from 20-c, we will look behind that one.
nora had had enough , she had to call jack.
"operator, give me central. 8 - 6753"
"no, jack, it's nora. i just had to call you -"
"nora, i told you never to call me at the office! i'm expecting an important call."
"but, jack, it's timmy -"
"he's the next to youngest one, not counting -"
"i don't care who he is , don't be calling me!"
"he fell down and broke his - "
"did you get him to a doctor?"
"yes, he's in the hospital, but bobby - "
"then what is the problem? i'm going to hang up now, nora."
"jack, please -"
"how many times do i have to tell you, i'm dealing every day with people who are trying to destroy me? people who can have me killed ? if you can't handle these things yourself, nora, why do you think i married you in the first place?"
"i'm sorry, jack - "
"have my belt ready when i get home. the narrow one, with the sharp edges."
nora put the phone down in its cradle.
she looked over at bobby, the oldest of her four children, who was lying on the couch with a thermometer in his mouth, reading a green lantern comic book.
when bobby realized nora was looking at him, he took the thermometer out of his mouth and looked at it.
"i'm feeling better."
"good." nora went over and sat down slowly on the chair beside the big radio. the fifth child which was due in four weeks settled in her lap and she looked longingly at the couch bobby was sprawled on.
"maybe you can still go to school. that way, you'll only miss half a day."
"i don't feel that good." bobby turned the page of the comic book.
i need to rest a bit before i make lunch, nora thought. "i think i'll go lie down, " she said. i should check on joyce first, she thought, she is awfully quiet, she must be into something.
bobby didn't answer, and nora started to get up.
suddenly there was a knock in the door.
who can that be, nora wondered. the neighbors never called, and salesmen hardly ever came into the building. mister nabonski, whom the children called mister nasty, usually caught them and threw them out, especially before they got to the fourth floor.
nora got up and opened the door.
a man was standing there.
nora thought he was the nicest looking man she had ever seen.
even though he had a slightly greenish tinge to his pale face.
his gray suit fitted him perfectly, and his red and blue tie was precisely knotted. the gray fedora which he took off and held in his hand when he bowed slightly to her looked brand new.
his hair was nicely combed and parted on the side, and he was perfectly clean shaven without a hint of stubble, which jack almost never was.
and when he smiled at her, his teeth were even and pearly white.
"good afternoon, madam."
"i'm sorry, if you are selling something - "
the man continued to smile at her.
"my husband handles all the money, so, so i can't buy anything even if - even if i wanted to - "
"i am not selling anything, madam. i have a proposition for you. a business proposition."
"i am just a housewife. i don't know anything about business."
"please. may i come in? i won't take much of your time."
nora knew it was wrong, but she felt an overwhelming urge to talk to the nice man, just to be able to talk to somebody.
"all right," she said. "but just for a minute."
nora turned to bobby, who was looking at the man with a perplexed expression.
"go to your room, bobby. let this gentleman sit on the couch."
"joyce is in there." the four children shared one bedroom.
"good. you can keep an eye on her."
bobby didn't move. "i don't think dad would -"
"don't you be telling me what dad would do - go to your room! right now!"
bobby slowly got off the couch. "i'm still sick, you know. i might give joyce my germs."
"go - to - your - room."
"all right, i'm going." bobby looked at the man in the gray suit as he headed for the children's room. "he looks like a martian."
nora pretended to laugh at this . she wanted to tell bobby not to be listening at the door but that might just give him ideas.
nora smiled at the man when the door closed behind bobby. "kids these days -"
"yes, i know."
"would you like a glass of coca cola? i don't think i have any ice."
"that would be nice, thank you. i prefer it without ice."
"won't you sit here." nora indicated the couch.
but he sat down on the chair beside the radio. he smiled at nora. "thank you, but i think in your condition you should sit on the couch."
what a gentleman!
nora smiled at him. "bobby has a vivid imagination. probably from reading all those comic books."
the man laughed, showing his perfect white teeth. "you mean calling me a martian? well you know, he was not that far off."
nora smiled nervously. "you mean you are a martian?"