A view from the top
A cleaner rooftop these days
We've been in the same apartment here in San Francisco for five years. Unheard of really in this town, unless you have a rent controlled place.
When we first walked in we were wowed by the hardwood floors, the original 1912ish tin punch walls, the plaster moulding, stained glass nooks, and views of the Outer Mission and Bernal Heights. We totally missed the boat on the fact that the building next to us was an SRO. Let me say now, I'm totally not against single room occupancy housing or helping people in transition get back on their feet.
What I wasn't ready for was the series of bizarre questionably stolen goods that would rotate and disappear/reappear on the adjacent rooftop that was at the same level as my kitchen window. A random assortment of rusty bicycle parts, paired with a pretty mint Gary Fischer showed up one weekend. Early on the next week some bed frames appeared. Then, a collection of copper pipe. Next, electronic cables, coolers, tables, foam padding, and an assortment of other rusting objects that clearly went to some big appliancey things at one time in the distant past. I wondered if this could be the work of a smooth operator, or if we were just next to someone really hoping to make it on Hoarders?
The next week, I spied the guy who couldn't possibly be a hoarder. This guy who was not much taller than me (I'm a cool 5'2") with some serious neck ink started appearing on the roof with his hulky pit bull. The dog seemed much, much friendlier than the guy. The dog never barked. This guy yelled all the time. The dog just wanted to play and pee all over the heap of stuff. He got tired of marking his own territory. The guy got tired of taking inventory. Soon after, some other guy appeared. He looked straight out of City of Lost Children. A big, hulking, French-looking guy in a stocking cap and flannel shirt no matter the weather. The hulking guy rigged a strange series of video cameras secured by rulers, long broom handles, and bungee cords to film all who came and left the building, as well as keep an eye on his stuff. Every serious windstorm, I waited for the ghetto camera system to fly. It never did. Did I mention both guys had awkward mustaches, and so not in that hip-revival way? Just straight skeevy.
I began to really worry about the pit bull. It seemed like he never went in. He was stuck out on that roof, running in circles and chasing his tail for hours on end in the sun. I couldn't tell where his water was, though I knew it had to exist based on the amount of times the dog would do his business while I made my morning coffee or cooked dinner. Regularly, Animal Care and Control would show up. And, just as regularly the dog would reappear. We were too afraid to make a fuss, because the dog kind of seemed crazy, and if we fully pressed them to take the dog, he might be put down. We liked the dog more than the neighbors. We felt torn.
Our next innocent bystander judgment call with this roof, where everything was heaped in some kind of memoriam, showed up before the warm weather did. The naked lady. The naked lady started appearing when the dog wasn't around. She would come out on to the roof and sunbathe. Right across from my kitchen window. We'd already taken to pulling the blinds down, but this advent of the crazy nakedness, this was too much, I thought.
That was when the methy tent of squatters showed up. Somehow, the boneyard of rust and tech junk shifted just enough to make way for a cheap two-person tent. A tent that remains a feat of modern rooftop squatting: an octopus of extension cords running to a generator, it plugged precariously down the side of the three-story building with more extension cords running into some other tenant's window. Oh, and did I mention that somehow in the elaborate tent, they were even able to wrangle cable television? They had sports channels we could only dream of.
Often we would consider calling the police, but we weren't always solid on what to report. "Hello officer, someone across the way seems to be shifty, but I have no real proof."
We felt like we didn't want to make the investment in getting involved when no real, miserable foul play was at stake. And, to be fair all of this was going on at the most difficult point of running our family business, and honestly, it was the best entertainment to draw us out of our own financial worries. We too, felt like we were a bit on the edge. It was like having reality TV all of the time. And, admittedly, we were fascinated by this world so close in proximity to our own which seemed to function by its own code with its own rules.
Ultimately though, when quirky drug use and the flea market across the way could no longer be ignored, it involved loud, violent shouting matches between the neck-tattoo guy and his naked girlfriend. One real argument that woke me up at 4AM went a little something like this:
"Bitch, I did more crack than you did more crack."
"Nuh. Uh. I do the most crack."
Since neither of them would end up a winner, we called 911 to make a domestic disturbance report.
This turned into a cycle. And then, one by one, they moved out.
I must admit, since they've moved out, I've felt a bit restless about our place. I'm feeling a need to change things. Paint walls, or buy art. I consider moving to a new place with laundry, a bathtub, a yard. All these bougie desires in a city built for anything you can afford.
There's a new building manager next door now. The only time anyone is on the roof next door these days, it's for maintenance. I don't find myself second-guessing whether or not I need to put on a bra in order to go make a pot of tea in front of the naked strangers, or thinking that they might judge my new haircut. I no longer have an audience.
These days, my neighborhood is transitioning from the slightly dicey teenage gang divide it once was, to a strolleropolis, filled with hipster haircuts and a crop of rescue dogs (mine included).
I wonder if my real urge to move is rooted in how sanitary the neighborhood is? I'm always a little bit itchy when things don't have a baby-bit of danger. I racked up a host of resume experience learning how to survive Flint and it's arbitrary, abject violence. I fought back against neighborhood dealers. I ran away from crossfire. And mostly, I got good at learning when to leave before any real shit went down.
These days, watching trucks delivering Scandinavian furniture or regular UPS deliveries coming to my neighborhood with packages just being left on doorsteps, I fight my urge to surf Craigslist.