Mark Jack delivers his brand of March Madness: a thoughtful meditation on the nature of porches and how we socially interact in the world.
by Mark Jack
My laziness surrounds me even while the whole earth shakes and buildings groan and crack. At most, I sit up in bed, leaning on an elbow, and think something along the lines of, “Hmm.” Then I go back to bed and do not confer with others. But then, I’ve never really been in a big earthquake so maybe my nonchalance will be my undoing, or crushing rather. What I really mean to say is, there are varieties of experience that bring one unavoidably in contact with another, but, likewise, there are varieties of isolating gestures that counteract. The built environment has, more often than not, been designed with communication in mind, but isolation in fact. The door is only an entry point because walls have closed all other notions of accessibility and, more often than not, the door is closed, which makes it (in its possibility of openness) more closed than a wall.
I took a walk a few weeks ago around Berkeley and stopped in front of a church. The double doors at front were wide open and the artificial light spilled warmly into the night. I saw straight up to the pulpit, my line of sight drifting softly along the rows of pews. It was a Protestant church, and therefore padded and carpeted and I thought of my youth spent reclined in such pews waiting for my father, who is a minister, to finish with his duties and take me home. As I began to think in this way and as affectionate feelings for the present scene arose within me, a man appeared, eyed me warily, and shut the doors. That action, I then remembered, the shutting of the doors, has been my actual experience of Christian fellowship. I laughed to myself and continued on, going no place but around. The night was beautiful, cool and clear, and it was only just dark, but I found myself not encountering people. I still compare my experiences here to New York, and as such, I noticed the lack of people distinctly. The quiet was nice, however, and I wasn’t exactly complaining. I am not the most outgoing person, so I do not wish to imply that if I was surrounded by people I would be busy making friends, but even though I might keep, basically, to myself, I have always enjoyed a certain amount of people present around me. I think there are more ways to feel connected to others than actually speaking. Just being together, openly, is a sort of beautiful and simple communication. Leaving a door open or a window shade up, for instance, so as to deny the primacy of a private life, presents to the stranger walking by, the possibility of coexistence. I continued on, turning here and there, going down this block because there was a nice old tree on it, turning down that street cause I hadn’t made a right in the last two turns.
I began to wonder if people actually lived in many of the houses I passed. I could indeed see the pale blue, flickering light of televisions poking fitfully around the edges of curtains, but people have been known to keep televisions on and leave the house. We are so terribly wasteful far too often. Back in Pennsylvania, where I grew up, it was not uncommon to sling the television out to the porch, on such beautiful nights as the one through which I walked. I thought, and realized, then, that there were, in Berkeley, a small city of detached homes and duplexes, almost no porches, and where there were long flights of steps to the door, no one sat, and they remained merely steps rather than stoops. I have been bothered immensely by this porchless, stoopless reality ever since.
It is raining right now, and probably will for another week, but there are only a few weeks here in Berkeley during which it is not the most beautiful weather. On many beautiful sunny mornings, my girlfriend and I often sit, cramped on our steps which are poorly designed for this, and respond to the people walking by with their dogs or kids—we live next to an elementary school—that think our activity cute or novel. Why? It is the most goddamned gorgeous weather 350 fucking days of the year here. Why are the only people sitting out in the sun enjoying it and actually “being” together homeless? Why do none of the houses have porches? This is prime porch country. The whole Bay area should be out-stooping New York by far and yet, they are not.
I am saddened by the fact that I do not have to step around some arrogant little kids from the next block that’ve conveniently decided to sit on my stoop. The porch is privacy as it exists in ourselves, naturally, without full walls, with only slight notions of interiority, open to communication. We have built ourselves into difference and isolation. I think we need more awareness of each other generally. We need to bring back ghetto blasters instead of earbuds; and porches or wide stoops should be enforced as part of the building code.