An art gallery opened across the street from your apartment this week. At first, you were excited. You love art. Who doesn’t love art? The building that houses the gallery has been empty since you moved here a year ago. You had hoped for maybe a florist, possibly a bodega—that way you wouldn’t have to cross a dangerous intersection to get your weekly necessities—vodka, cigarettes, toilet paper when you were down to that risky last square. But instead you got an art gallery. Your initial excitement faded quickly. You have seen this before.
There are creeping signs all around you. Maybe your local pupusa shop is transformed into an artisan pizza place, and charges six bucks a slice. They put arugula on their pizzas and serve beers with names like Apocalypse Cow or Prescription Pils. Perhaps your car wash—the inexpensive one that you still have handfuls of tokens for—is turned into a dog grooming boutique. Maybe they sell vegan carob treats for Fido.
You should have seen it coming. It’s always the same. First come the gays. You mistakenly didn’t think much of your abundance of homosexual neighbors. Most of them are Mexican, you told yourself. That’s a double minority. You thought that cancelled something out. But next come the artists. You feel conflicted about this stage of a neighborhood takeover, because you are one of these artists. You have moved here because it is diverse, hectic and, mainly, affordable. You see the beauty here. You love it here. But you have come to take advantage of it. You will document it in your own way, you don’t know how not to. By celebrating it, you will be instrumental in destroying it.
After the gays and the artists come the hipsters. Oh, God, the hipsters. The steak and cocktail bar on the sketchiest corner in town now has a DJ on Saturday nights. He is really into mid-90s music. Men in dark-washed jeans pull at their thin moustaches outside, smoking American Spirits, complaining about Bernie Sanders. Girls with diagonal bangs in jackets with shoulder pads nod in agreement.
The dollar theatre that showed last year’s blockbusters turns into an art cinema. They do not show any good art films. The floral shop hangs a banner reading “Under New Management.” It isn’t even a drug front, anymore. The Santeria store moves entirely to a different neighborhood. Who will sell you your religious relics that you like to repaint as drag queens? Who will bless you with oils and incense when you want to buy some winning scratchers at the 7-11?
There’s a new coffee shop that opens across from Sunrise Donut. The new place serves lattes and the employees are trained to put foam designs in each customer’s cup. Mr. Dan at Sunrise doesn’t know anything about latte art.
You remember the past neighborhoods you’ve watched change. You take a deep drag on your cigarette and mourn each of them. Charles Village. Bolton Hill. Wicker Park. East Nashville. There are more. You stare across the street at this new art gallery, and stomp your cigarette out on the pavement. Why couldn’t they put in a weed store? Or a methadone clinic? Something, anything. Just not an art gallery.
Hipsters are bad, sure, but next your street will be flooded with assholes drinking Jamba Juice. The privileged douche who knocks the side mirror off your car while parking? He is driving a Prius. A fucking Prius. He will offer to Venmo you the money to have it fixed.
The guys who hang out at the liquor store? They will stop catcalling you when you walk by. Instead, they’ll be replaced by a woman dressed head-to-toe in Lululemon, pushing a stroller as she jogs. She will have two adorable blonde children and a perfect ass.
Your rent will be raised. You and your neighbors and your neighbors’ neighbors and so on and so on will be forced into the next neighborhood over, and the cycle will repeat. Each time you will mourn the block you loved so much. Each time you will grow a little more tired, each time leaving something, so many someones, behind. The idea of starting over again is daunting. But your block is no more. You have no choice but to move on. You can’t afford to live here anymore. Besides, this place is for assholes.
You walk the streets, looking at the bones of the buildings that surround you. It’s a gray day in California. There is a contagious, decaying sensibility in the air, air that is unusually damp. The people you pass do not smile brightly and wish you a good afternoon. They feel it, too. This walk is like a funeral, the light rain softening the ground to accept the corpses of failed businesses pressured out by skyrocketing rents. You are aware that you’re being melodramatic. But you are also sure that you’re right. You circle back around and end your walk, now standing in front of the art gallery. The artist in you wants to go inside. But as a staunch, non-asshole member of this community you cannot. You will not.
Instead… you peek. You peer through the glass and the bars on the window and try your best to make out what kind of art this gallery is selling. There are glass cases, lots of them, with small sculptures in each case. You squint, covering a portion of the glass with your hands to deflect any glare. You peer in. But these aren’t sculptures.
This art gallery is only selling… bongs.
You exhale a long, paranoid and overly dramatic breath. You laugh a little.
“It’s just a fucking bong shop,” you say to no one and everyone at the same time.
The sun starts to burn through the cloud cover as the California sun is wont to do, evaporating any of that rain and oppressive gray from moments prior. You dash across 7th street, dodging maniacal drivers, and pick up your vodka, cigarettes and toilet paper. At the last minute you ask the checkout girl to toss in a few dollar scratchers.