Amplified Feels: Grooving on Other People’s Property

Meditating on the ethics of access to resources, from housing to human bodies.

Sometimes when I think “Bay Area” or “San Francisco,” my mind automatically is transported to the romantic and not-so-distant era of free love and communal everything. This is, of course, not in line with anything going on these days. But sometimes, when I’m diddy-bopping down the street, it does put a certain pep in my step for me to think of myself as a latter-day hippie, beatnik, or psychedelic aficionado who is coasting on the groovy, groovy vibes of this hallowed landmass. But, I admit, I’m closer to the dream than most.

Upon first arriving here, I lived in a warehouse with 20-plus kids sprinkled with a revolving door of couch crashers, bands on tour, drug dealers, and midnight philosophers. Though annoying at times, it kept rent cheap and made it so I could go to school and play in bands. Living in the oh-so-expensive Bay makes things like other people a valuable commodity that is crucial to survival. On the flip side are things like, say, needing to go to the bathroom in your own house and having to wait for your four roommates in front of you, or your increasingly long list of missing LPs that a roomie borrowed, or the inevitable blowout over your missing food. Other people are heaven, or hell, and the cold part is you still need these assholes. The main things I learned from these experiences are that finding adequate housing will forever be a bitch in the Bay, and everybody is fucking everybody else.

My life has certainly calmed down from my first days here — I only have four roommates now — but I was surprised at how this past week, old lessons were going to snake around and bite me in the ass.

At the end of my block is a house that had been flipped and turned into an annoyingly modern palace (smack-dab under the freeway) that had been vacant for a year because I’m sure they were asking a gross-ass amount of money for it. On a way to a neighbor’s barbecue, I noticed that the bottom-floor windows had been smashed out and the police were there talking to the apparent owners. Later, at the barbecue, my neighbor explained to me that the house had been taken over by “squatters,” and I rolled my eyes.

Whenever I hear the word “squatter,” I always think of some white crusty punk from Portland. But even later into the barbecue, I saw the two “squatters” as they walked into the apartment upstairs.

I gasped a little. They were two young black women (wearing Forever 21 clothes and hair weaves down to their asses) walking into the yard next door.

According to the host of the barbecue, the owner of that house had called them and said that squatters had busted in and were living there rent-free. I mean, yeah, they’re squatting, but with a housing shortage and high rents that price out young people, some part of me was rooting for those young girls, I can’t lie. Plus, something about the sheer audacity of occupying an abandoned space and saying, “This is mine” — they had balls. I had been in Europe the month before at a German squat. There was a long period there where kids could take over abandoned houses, petition the government to own them, and then live there legally. Here in America, these girls are probably just seen as criminals, and this saddens my heart. But there was more sadness to come.

Upon leaving the barbecue (just one more block up), I was supposed to meet up with a fuck buddy who I was seeing less and less of these days because his boyfriend had moved in.

This had given me more time to concentrate on my five other fuck buddies, but I still felt a little stiffed. In true Bay Area polyamory style, it was suggested that I should meet my fuck buddy’s boyfriend, have a “hug session,” and, like, read a chapter of The Ethical Slut together.

At first, I was like, “What the fuck is a hug session?” but then stopped short. I was pretty fucking sure it was exactly what it sounded like. Ew! Now, I’m not one to talk shit a lot, but I don’t really like The Ethical Slut that much — I have always felt it is the type of book that creepy college seniors give to their college freshman partners in an attempt to lure them into threeways, and also, I stop just short of communal romance. Communal housing is fine, but there’s some part of me that always looks at the primary partner and thinks, “We ain’t friends, I’m just fucking your boyfriend.” I mean, the beauty of being the side piece, I think, is not having to process feelings all the time. I didn’t want that taken away. I looked up at the window of the boys’ place and thought, “I can’t do this.” I turned and walked home.

I was thinking about my block and how there was like a shortage of available houses and sometimes a shortage of available bodies. Why were the two feeling tied together to me all of a sudden? Why was I so sad about this?

Two days later, I see the police around the house again, and the poor girls are definitely getting kicked out, but there was a strange twist — it turns out they didn’t know they were squatting.

My neighbor was told by the building manager of the squatted apartment that some Craigslist scam artist had drawn up a fake lease and that the scammer was the one who broke into the house, changed the locks, and fake rented the apartment to the girls. The girls had given him $2,000 in deposit money that they would never get back. Now, they were even farther in the hole and had no place to live. I wanted the scammer to rot in hell, and I wanted the building owner to do something completely unlikely, like let those girls stay. It didn’t happen.

I still see less and less of my old fuck buddy and mostly just wish him and the boyfriend luck. I started in on a new fuck buddy who lived just two blocks past my old one, but then I noticed when I went to spend the night at his house that by his bed was a copy of The Ethical Slut and I had half a notion to leave but then just stuck it out. I was in bed with him trying to tie it all together, like how our relation to access and resources (be it housing or actual bodies) turns us all into these desperate animals. But I guess everyone already knows that, so I just turned over and went to sleep.

Brontez Purnell has been publishing, performing, and curating in the Bay Area for more than 10 years. He is the author of  Johnny Would You Love Me … (If My Dick Were Bigger)? (Rudos and Rubes, 2015). Follow him on Twitter at @youngerlovers and on Instagram at @brontezpurnell.

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