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This Airbnb Does Not Avert its Eyes
I'm up at 6 a.m. writing this review. I was awoken by the sound of an axe being dragged slowly and deliberately across the hardwood floor. Further investigation revealed rather disappointingly that it was someone taking out the trash just outside the bedroom window.
I see you took pictures of the living room from certain strategic vantage points. Perhaps it was to obscure the bustling gas station across the street from your building. I see no reason to have done this - Gas stations are the Italian piazzas of America. The bay window in the living room facing the gas station's southern corner has become my hang-out spot. I sit there like an old Italian man drinking espresso and reading his newspaper on a crisp summer day in Tuscany. Instead of a newspaper, I have a 2020 M1 Macbook that I mostly use to send emails. I drink Nestle instant coffee instead of espresso.
The southern corner of the gas station, painted beige and with a transformer in front of it, is a bustling economic corridor. Two employees, a man and a woman, spent about an hour scrubbing and hosing it down the other day. A few hours later, a homeless man wandered across my vantage point. He had a half-eaten slice of pizza in his right hand. When he got to the southern corner, he paused and carefully placed the pizza exactly where the two blue-clad employees had scrubbed and hosed down. Then he left. It's as if he knew the economic cycle of the corner.
This corner attracts a lot of women. On the weekend, I was awoken from my mid-afternoon slumber by the distinct rumbling of a car stereo and the high-pitched laugh of young women. I peeked to find that they were dancing in an otherwise empty parking lot. I suppose being young makes you unaware of the constraints of the physical environment.
Last Wednesday, I noticed a cackle of elderly Asian women beneath my perch by the bay window. They all looked alike. No, not in a racist way. They were wearing the same outfit - bucket hat, long sleeve shirt, flared pants, and everyone carried a little steel trolley. I couldn't make out what they were saying, and they did not speak English, so I decided to investigate. A block south is a brick building with the letters "Telegraph Baptist Center" inscribed on a fading semi-circular silver plate. In front of it was a long queue of Asian people, all dressed exactly like the people under my bay window. I approached a black woman manning the door to the building and asked what’s the good news. She told me it's a food bank. Actually, she yelled at me it's a food bank. It seemed as though she had no ability to speak in a lower pitch. Perhaps because she was used to people who did not hear well or understand English. She kept telling me it's a food bank and that the trucks come in on Wednesdays and Fridays. Having got the information I sought, I backed away slowly down the steps, which caused her to speak even louder. "It's a food bank. Bring your friends ... bring your friends ." I said thank you and turned away, and as I walked, I heard it again: "Bring your friends on Friday." So, you should let your Airbnb guests know there is a food bank right next door.
Why is that only the elderly Asian people know about the food bank? That question still remains unanswered. The homeless man who scorned me for not buying him a $5 coffee should know about this.
Here's another question - why is your apartment complex orphaned from the rest of the block? It is the only housing complex on this side of 55th St. It is cut out from the rest of the neighborhood by a barricade of trees and a sign that reads "End of the road." Did your HOA not appreciate the gas station piazza? Your home values must have taken a slight hit as a result of this alienation. In his book City of Quartz, fellow Californian Mike Davis wrote about the battles of HOAs to be part of the neighborhood that maximizes home value. Seems like you lost that battle or did not fight it.
A few months ago, on a serendipitous Saturday morning stroll in San Francisco with my friend H, we walked into the former house of artist David Ireland. The house had been turned into a museum, just as the artist wished for before his death. He had lived here since the 1970s. It was filled with eclectic furniture, sculptures, and odd objects that he had collected or created. In one of the rooms on the second floor, we found a series of cassette recorders stacked on a table. Opposite it was a window that faced the street, which had been boarded up with rectangular wood blocks. One of the caretakers explained that the window was broken sometime in the mid-70s by a man who hurled a brick from down on the street. David Ireland used to look out that broken window and comment on things happening below on the street. He recorded it on those cassette tapes. "It sounded like he was auctioneering items on the street," he said. Unfortunately, the tapes are damaged now. "We don't know what happened with the window; maybe one day, he just decided to board it up."
You can imagine David Ireland woke up one day and decided that part of his life was over - the cassettes, the broken window - nothing had come of it. He decided to look inward instead. He coated the saffron color interior walls with multiple layers of polyurethane that create striking effects of light reflection. "I reached a philosophical point where I realized that the lively presence I was looking for in my art was here on the walls, as I stripped away and cleaned off the surfaces," Mr. Ireland said in a 1981 interview. Instead of experiencing the natural effects of light, Mr.Ireland turned to his walls to experience it through them. It is some kind of allegorical Plato's cave, albeit an aesthetic one. As a sacrifice for this, he decided to avert his eyes from the street. This seems highly attuned to the rapid suburbanization of the US in the 70s and 80s. Now, a lot of streets in San Francisco and Oakland seem easier to look away from. And so I'm glad the bay window that I got acquainted with in the last couple of weeks does not avert its eyes.
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