After escaping the summer-camp of Mills campus living I moved into the Avocado Kingdom in West Oakland.
Construction paper decorations lined the halls of the student apartments on campus. As security guards let me into the building (due to the non-working keys I had been given) I was faced with an army of Winnie the Poohs. The flatmates in my “apartment” had added extra rules to the already middle-school-esque list, such as “No Drinking.” Apparently taking out the trash wasn’t a rule however, as the place stank like a restaurant dumpster in the sun.
I used someone’s cutting board on my first day. The next time I opened the cabinet the entire thing was papered, angry sharpie exclaiming: “DON”T USE MY STUFF W/OUT ASKING!” Every time I entered the space whatever roommate was out and about would scurry away, slamming the door behind them.
The Avocado Kingdom is built in Victorian style, is over a century old, has a great view of the Port of Oakland and rent there was less than half price of living on campus. I lived with Vas, a Stanford PHDcandidate and rhetoric teacher focusing on animal rights, his wife Debs who had studied physics and art and works a 9-5 on environmental regulation, moonlighting as a torch-singer, Karem, an anthropology PHD candidate at Stanford who is taking time off soon to protest in Egypt, and Tina, a mysterious woman who seems to work at a school in Oakland. To juxtapose the last group of souls with whom I inhabited shared space, my new roommates would feed me vegan ice cream sandwiches and roll on the floor laughing at my jokes. We rotated who’s avocados would be used based on which ones were ripe and If they took one of my beers they would buy me a six pack.
In my neighborhood there’s a liquor store on every corner where there isn’t a Baptist church or a beauty supply warehouse. At one juncture the former two stand next to each other, “True Light Church” is white with black lettering and has the same dimensions as “Sav-Mor Liquor” which is black with red lettering. There are projects, newly developed modern apartments, industrial leftovers and current industry. Mostly there are old Victorians in various states of repair – formerly suburbs for San Franciscans at the turn of the century.
Whenever I would mention that I take the bus from West Oakland people would express their concern over my safety walking home through such a “ghetto” area. At one point I was walking home late at night and a van began to follow me slowly. A middle-aged man rolled down his window and with genuine concern said: “Are you alright walking this late at night?” Once I got to my block a shiny sedan tailed me for an uncomfortable distance. The driver of this vehicle seemed to have more malicious intentions than the first concerned citizen. He said “Why are you out so late at night?” I commented that he seemed to be insinuating that it was dangerous for me to be out and noted that he was responsible for said danger. I commented that if he stopped being a threat there wouldn’t be a threat and continued on my way. I started carrying around a mirror shard so that if something like that happened again I could hold it up and say: “You’re dreaming” but it never did.
The “Lower Bottom” is a neighborhood’s nighborhood where gentrification is discussed in community meetings by gentrifiers and non-gentrifiers alike. Our block is filled with people who watch out for each other, bringing one another food and chatting on porches. Everyone’s favorite neighbor is probably a man who goes by “Pee Wee” and takes it upon himself to weed everyone’s yard and tend the grass at the little park on the corner. He does this all for free but whenever we would catch him tending our yard we’d make sure to give him a beer.
One of the best things about my block is that it dead-ends into a vacant lot that’s filled with big metal pipes. I spent a lot of time recording the resonant properties within the pipes, and stopping by late/early in the dark to sing. One day I was shooting video in the tunnels and was surprised to see some hipsters on a stoop nearby. Later I found a note on my car saying that I was: “Super cute” and asking to hang out. After I had finished two of my theses I finally had the time to kick it on the porch with fellow skinny-jean wearing, vegetarian-
hipsters holding requisite Pabst-forties. It’s too bad I had to leave to NM at the end of the semester, because my new neighbor was also “super cute.”
The best porch drinking experience I had was shared with my roommates. I came home to tell Vas that I would be heading home at the beginning of the summer and he poured me a third of a bottle of his fancy tequila. When Debs got back from work we broke out my shitty tequila and invited every neighbor who walked by to join us. I took everyone on a field trip to the pipes, but only Debs made it, as the others became engaged in conversation with Pee Wee. She promptly began torch singing (nice pipes in nice pipes hee hee hee) and eventually we discovered that the others couldn’t find us and had encountered some mishaps, so perhaps the tunnels can only be seen by wizards. This point is further illustrated by the fact that one day I saw about 2 dozen people with bikes emerging from the pipes, causing me to infer that it’s a hipster-portal.
My roommates half jokingly offered me free rent at the end of my time in Oakland, and we came up with a money making scheme so that I could continue to live there: A vegan ice cream cart called “Polar Bear Sex” (because it’s cool and ironic ). Our music would cater to our demographic and consist of vintage video game jingles done ice cream truck chime style.
At the end of my stay in the Avocado Kingdom my sibling and I infused the neighborhood with our music, taking pictures powered with AA batteries, and getting ice cream for dinner at liquor stores. If only Polar Bear Sex did exist – I wouldn’t have to break my veganism for the sake of irony.