City scenes seen from street level

My former offices - on Wall Street, in downtown Manhattan - afforded me grand views of New York City. What they lacked, as I came to realize only after I moved to a second-floor office in SoHo, was the human dimension. By moving, I exchanged skyscraper views for people-watching.

On most mornings, at the corner of Broome and Greene Streets, Jack arrives with his truck. He unloads a variety of objects on the sidewalk, his rent-free showroom.

I gaze at his day's display from my office. Mannequins. (I have no need for mannequins.) A chandelier. (Ditto.) A coat and hat stand. (Yes, just what the office needs.)

I go downstairs. We haggle. I pay Jack, and bring the stand upstairs. A jacket, Panama hat, and umbrella now adorn it.

The windows need washing. From my desk, I spot a man cleaning the windows of a nearby store. I rush out to the street before he disappears and point to our eight windows. Negotiations ensue. He comes upstairs and washes them. Thus is business transacted in the world's financial capital.

SoHo attracts filmmakers. I see them at work on the street. The owners of a loft apartment across from us rent out their place for use as a film set. On occasion, we are paid by production crews to keep our lights on at night and over weekends.

The neighborhood changes before my eyes. Workers climb up and down ladders, cleaning and painting. Elegant shops open. Downstairs, I can buy a bathtub for $6,500.

My office building is a six-story cast- iron structure put up in 1870. One pane of the original glass remains. Through 19th-century glass, wrinkled by time, I look upon a 19th-century scene: cast-iron buildings and cobblestone streets.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I learn that the French painter, Édouard Vuillard, found inspiration simply by looking out of his Paris apartment window. Between 1909 and 1928, he painted 60 views of the Place Vintmille.

At my desk, I both see and am seen. From a half-block away, visitors approaching the office see me from the street, head bent over papers. Yes, on occasion I do shift my eyes away from life on the street to papers on my desk and manage to get work done.

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