the voyeur house

Casey and I were sitting in my parents’ driveway, drinking beer and proposing ideas for a short film whose premise was abandoned a long while earlier and replaced instead by increasingly surreal and unfilmable bits of nonsense.  This was typical of our conversations – we’d start with a practical concept, then stretch it far beyond the realms of sanity.  The alcohol helped, of course, but it was mainly the result of two creative people feeding off of each other until each one’s brain would awake fully and think to itself, “let’s take this a little bit further.”

“And that’s when the dog wakes up and attacks the giant sperm, dragging it by its flailing tail out of the house and into the alley . . .”

“Which is where the clowns are fighting.”

“Exactly.”

It was a typical late summer night in Tampa.  Even in the lateness of the hour, any pause in conversation would make us all-too-aware of the overbearing humidity that surrounded us.  So we kept on talking.  And we drank.  And we kept one eye focused on the house across the street.

________

A couple weeks earlier, I had moved back in with my parents after graduating from college in Orlando.  This was not an ideal situation for me, but it was a necessary evil that I was hoping would be very brief.  And it was still better than being in Orlando.  In the course of my three years there, I grew to despise the town and had no inclination to remain in Orlando any longer than needed.  Once they gave me my degree, I waited out the last couple months of my lease, quit my job, and headed home.

Moving back home was not all bad, of course – it did have some perks.  There was no rent to worry about.  All the bills that accompany rent – utilities, cable, etc. – were covered as well.  Twice a day, a substantially-portioned Cuban meal would be waiting for me in the kitchen.  With no bills to deal with, and absolutely no fear of going hungry, I was able to divert the little bit of money that I had towards other things, mainly beer.

And then there was the house across the street, which was filled with young, barely-dressed women.  That was a bit of a perk, too.

________

For the majority of the time that my parents lived at their house in Tampa, the house across the street from them was owned by a woman named Nancy.  When we arrived in the neighborhood, the house was occupied by her, her husband John, and their two kids, Johnny and Michelle.  They were Cuban, as were my parents.  They were also my parents’ age, and their kids were similarly aged to myself and my sister.  Those similarities were enough to make both families instant friends.

After a couple harmonious years, Nancy and her family began to fall apart.  John divorced her and disappeared from the neighborhood forever.  Johnny failed a grade and was showing increasing evidence that he would be living a life in which “asshole” would be the nicest word used to describe him.  Michelle entered her teenage years and somehow managed to become a very successful slut.  I say “somehow” because I thought she was ugly as hell.

As more years passed, and as each child left the house (in Johnny’s case, not entirely by choice, though he would keep finding his way back), Nancy started to act irrationally.  She would look increasingly strung out from partying all the time.  She also started to look different, as she began getting plastic surgery done on various areas of her face (probably other places, too).  At my sister’s wedding, Nancy creepily chose to latch on to me and start feeding me gin and tonics.  I was 19 at the time – she was nearing 50 but still wanting to party.

I was also in college by this time, having come down for the wedding, then heading right back up to Orlando afterwards because – at that time – my dislike of Tampa was even greater than my eventual dislike of Orlando.  It would be two more years before I would graduate and head back home.  On the occasional phone calls with my Mom in which there was no new family-related news to share, she’d dish a bit about Nancy and the goings-on across the street:  some new piece-of-shit, much-younger boyfriend that she was hanging out with; Johnny coming back home with a wife and newborn child; Nancy fighting in the driveway with her piece-of-shit, much-younger boyfriend.

About a month before my return to Tampa, Mom mentioned to me that Nancy was moving – she wanted a smaller place, so she was going to buy a condo and rent out the house.  Right before I closed the back of the U-Haul that would take me and my possessions back to Tampa, Mom called to tell me about the new tenants at the house across the street.

________

Voyeur Dorm L.C. operated their business from of a house on West Farewell Drive in Tampa from August of 1998 to June of 1999.  They had 30 cameras set up all over the inside of the house, including cameras in the bathrooms and showers.  One camera was set up outside, at the front door, to see who was ringing the doorbell.  For a monthly fee of $34.99, anyone could follow the goings-on of the attractive “college students” that resided there.   For an extra fee, one could chat with whichever girl was designated to man the computer for however-many hours.

The company claimed that only 5 women at at time lived at the house, but the amount of cars parked outside suggested otherwise.  The traffic that all these cars would cause led to their eventual downfall at West Farewell.  The neighbors started to complain.  And once the neighbors caught a whiff of what was going on inside the house, they complained some more, making the city aware that an adult business was operating in a residential neighborhood, violating zoning laws.  After the zoning commission determined that they were indeed in violation, the company and its employees were required to move.  They ended up in the Town ‘N’ Country neighborhood of Tampa, at a 3-bedroom, 2-bath residence on Paris Street with an unimpressive southward view of my parents’ house.

Why my parents’ neighborhood?  Most likely because the neighborhood wasn’t technically part of Tampa – it was unincorporated Hillsborough County, where the clutches of the city zoning commission couldn’t reach.  They needed a new place fast – rather than keep on fighting the city or go about the impossible task of finding a neighborhood that also happened to be zoned for an adult business, they did the easy thing and moved operations just slightly out of town.  They made their way to Town ‘N’ Country and the “For Rent” sign on Nancy’s front yard.

________

As a graduation gift, my parents gave me a computer – a Compaq PC that would have come in handy during all those nights in which I’d have to drive to the computer lab on campus to start and finish a research paper that was due the next morning.  After setting the computer up, connecting it to the phone line, and setting up an AOL account, my parents asked me to do one simple task:  find the site.  My parents – strict Catholics, staunch Republicans, total perverts – wanted to see what was going on across the street.

It took me about an hour.  What was my method?  I typed “voyeur house” into Yahoo, then went into the “free preview” section of various sites until I found a photo in which I recognized part of the background.  The next step was to call my parents over to confirm.

“Isn’t that the same brown, paisley wallpaper pattern that Nancy had in her den?”

“Yes! Yes, that’s it!”

We hit paydirt.  We hit voyeurdorm.com.

________

Over the next couple weeks, I would check in sporadically on the site.  The “free preview” section was as far as I’d go, as I had no intention of giving them $34.99 a month, and my parents – though more interested in the place than I was – weren’t inclined to do so, either.  They were content with their own version of the free preview, which simply involved looking out the window.

One morning, my Mom was looking over there when the front door opened slightly.  A small dog came sprinting out and started yipping and yapping in the front yard.  Then the door opened wider.  One of those young “college students” ran outside, scooped up the dog, and ran back inside.  She was completely naked.  That was the first and only time that I’ve been jealous of my Mom.

________

The “free preview” section of the site was updated often with pictures of the new girls that kept making their way into the house.  Each new girl had their own subsection with pictures:  Erin in the jacuzzi, which – 10 years earlier – was the first hot tub I ever got into; Debbie taking her towel off, about to get in the shower that was in the bathroom in Nancy’s old bedroom.

And then there was a photo of a topless girl seated in front of a computer in that brown, paisley-wallpapered den.  She seemed out of place, mainly due to the fact that she was far-and-away the least attractive one featured.  Just before I moved on to better pictures (okay, I might have lied earlier about the frequency of my visits to the site), I realized something:  it was Michelle, Nancy’s daughter.

I hadn’t seen her since my sister’s wedding, so I called my Mom over to confirm.  She said it was definitely Michelle, then called Dad over to take a look.  Then my sister – who had dropped by for lunch – was called to my room.  Then my grandmother came in to see what was going on.  The whole of my family was in my room, looking at a picture of my naked neighbor, someone we had known since she was 8 years old.  I’m pretty sure my dog was in there, too.

________

The uniqueness of the situation reduced Casey and I to think like horny teenagers, hoping – just hoping – for any type of encounter with the women as they were entering or exiting the house (or nakedly chasing disobedient dogs, which – goddamn, why did I sleep in that morning?).  Just a talk with them would be nice.  Maybe offer them a beer and have them hang out with us in the driveway. Surely, that would be enough for them to fall for our charms.  Maybe they’d invite us inside to help them take their minds off of their studies.  Maybe someone out there in the world would see me on their computer screen as I got it on with one of the girls in the house.  Maybe they’d get off to it.  Maybe I’d finally be making their $34.99 a month worthwhile.

We were as successful as horny teenagers – nothing ever happened.  Occasionally, a girl would arrive at the house, look over across the street, and nod or wave hello.  That was it.  Casey and I were left alone with our beers, imagining scenarios as improbable as the ones involving giant sperms and clown fights in alleys.

________

After finally landing a job, I moved out of my parent’s place in January of 2000.  Not too long after, the voyeur house moved on – once again a victim to pissy, moralistic neighbors and their complaints, which found their way to the county’s zoning commission.  This time, the media got wind of it as well, so the hullabaloo was greater.  Camera crews and local news reporters were knocking on doors, compiling all the negative reactions from the neighbors.

One of these reporters knocked on my parents’ door.  They ended up interviewing my Dad.  He was the only neighbor who defended the voyeur house.

In his interview, Dad said he would be sad to see them go.  And it had nothing to do with the novelty or titillation factor.  Since they were trying to avoid local attention, the people who ran the website kept the house well-maintained, and the girls who occupied the house kept to themselves.  It was a relief to have people like that living in a neighborhood that was starting to see a sharp increase in crime and gang activity.  Because of that, my Dad told the reporter, he considered the girls of the voyeur house to be the best neighbors one could have.

Leave a Reply