The conditions of life in the world of furnished room are the direct antithesis of all we are accustomed to think of as normal in society. The exaggerated mobility and astonishing anonymity of this world have significant implications for the life of the community. Where people are constantly coming and going; where they live at best but a few months in a given place; where no one knows anyone else in his own house, to say nothing of his own block (children are the real neighbours, and it's a childless world); where there are no groups of any sort-where all these things are true it is obvious that there can be no community tradition or common definition of situations, no public opinion, no informal social control. As a result, the rooming-house world is a world of political indifference, of laxity of conventional standards, of personal and social disorganisation.
A man who lived in a North Side rooming-house wrote: "I found myself totally alone. There were evenings when I went out of my way to buy a paper, or an article at a drug store - just for the sake of talking a few minutes with someone." He goes on:
Worse, if possible, than the loneliness was the sex hunger. I had had a regular and satisfying sex experience with my wife. I began to grow restless without it. I thought of marriage-but the only girls I bad met were office stenographers I never would have considered marrying. The constant stimulation of the city began to tell, adding tremendously to this sexual restlessness, lights, well-dressed women, billboards advertising shows.
It got so posters showing women in negligee or women's silk-clad legs excited me unbearably. Many times I followed an attractive woman for blocks, with no thought of accosting her, but to watch the movements of her body. Though my office work was over at four, I frequently put off coming home until four-thirty or five, so I could get in the rush hour crowd on the street cars and feel myself crushed against the warm body of some woman. A girl in the next house used to undress without pulling down her shade, and I literally spent hours watching her. I had fantasies of sexual intercourse with every attractive woman I saw on the street.
The emotional tensions of thwarted wishes force the person to act somehow in this situation. His behaviour may take one of three directions: He may find himself unable to cope with the situation, and attempt to withdraw from it. This withdrawal frequently takes the form of suicide. There was a bridge over the lagoon in Lincoln Park, in the heart of the North Side rooming-house district, which was nick-named Suicide Bridge because of the number of people who threw themselves from it into the lagoon. Because of its sinister reputation the city tore it down. The map facing page 83 showing the distribution of suicides on the Near North Side indicates how frequently this seems the only way out to the persons of the rooming-house world. Or, again, the person may build up an ideal or dream world in which are satisfied the wishes that find no realization in the harsher life without.Harvey Warren Zorbaugh