the year of living with banksy
When I first moved to Los Angeles in July of 2013, I found a room for rent in a house on Craigslist. I soon learned the landlord, and the man I’d be living with, was none other than the famous graffiti artist and incognito street poet Banksy. I never learned his true identity, but I did keep a journal of every strange thing he did in the year we lived together.
JULY 2013 — I toured Banksy’s house and fell in love with the living scenario immediately: my space was a large room in a ornate 2 bedroom craftsman home with a beautiful yard, for only $500 a month. I jumped at the chance, even when Banksy dressed up in a suit and red horns for the lease signing. He cackled devilishly through the whole affair and signed every page as “Lou C. Ferr,” but for $500 a month, I was fully prepared to let him set me on fire.
AUGUST 2013 — I called a plumber when my toilet stopped working. Less than a minute into the job he plunged out twenty tampons, each labeled with phrases like ”childhood obesity” and “the war on drugs.” Upon further inspection, we noticed the word “society” scrawled in Sharpie on the toilet lid. The plumber handed me a pre-typed invoice with a “Banksy fee” of $50 and said “see you next month.”
SEPTEMBER 2013 — Twice a week, I started catching Bansky dressed like a little boy (complete with propeller beanie and cartoonishly-large lollipop) kneeling before a life-sized statue of Colonel Sanders. Every time, he’d notice me watching out of the corner of his eye and say “In Colonel’s name we pray– yum yum.”
OCTOBER 2013 — Banksy painted a homeless man the exact pattern of our bathroom wallpaper and had him stand against the wall next to the toilet for a week. Every afternoon that week, Banksy walked into the bathroom with an American flag hat and exclaimed “Oh– sorry Mr. Homeless Man. I didn’t see you there.” On one occasion I asked if he was paying the guy, and Banksy changed the subject by asking if I saw “that real firecracker of a game last night.”
NOVEMBER 2013 — Banksy got into a routine with one of his art pieces: every few days, he dressed up in maternity clothes and directly called the local police station, saying he was going into labor. When they arrived, he pulled a doll labeled “Justice” from under a skirt and told the cops he “did a fine job delivering it without them.” This backfired spectacularly, as 911 started refusing calls from the house, even when Banksy almost burnt it down at the end of the month by cooking crack cocaine in a latex Nixon mask.
DECEMBER 2013 — For this month and this month only, Banksy vowed to pause all political art. He loved the time around Christmas and New Year’s, and rarely had someone to celebrate it with, so he didn’t want to alienate me and make me indulge in his traditions. Instead, we drove around the town in festive sweaters and looked at lights. We went to a Secret Santa party where he gave my friend Alan a nice cookbook. We stayed up late and made New Year’s resolutions. It was a pleasant little oasis in the often-chaotic time we spent together.
JANUARY 2014 — Bansky brought home a box turtle and put it an afro and a Big Dogs baby tee. I don’t know what it meant.
FEBRUARY 2014 — Banksy was out of town for the month. This was when I found paper bags piled under the sink, with eye-holes and phrases like “CELEBRITY IS A CONSTRUCT” or “FINGER-LICKIN’ GOOD” scrawled on them. It was also around this time we started receiving residual checks for Transformers 3, and calls to the house asking if “Shia” was home.
MARCH 2014 — My parents mailed me a box of home videos from my childhood, but Banksy got to the mail first that day. By the time I saw them, he’d edited in glitches with cartoon videos of Batman having sex with Goku. He mused out loud that the porn must’ve “corrupted” my youth. I asked why he chose such a weird specific porn and he again asked if I saw “that real scorcher of a game last night.” (Also– Alan reached out to tell me he finally opened the cookbook, and only found recipes for “barbecuing the government until it’s well-done.”)
APRIL 2014 — Banksy borrowed my guitar and learned to play The Star Spangled Banner and “Born In The USA,” but in the tuning of BAGDAD. Admittedly, this was the least annoying and most impressive of his weird political metaphors– until he smashed the guitar and printed statistics on veteran PTSD spilled out. I can’t be sure, but I think I also saw an invoice to KFC in there.
MAY 2014 — I got a job at an agency and had to wear a suit every day. This made Banksy… unreasonably upset. I installed a lock on my bathroom door because every morning, he would wake up before me and draw a clown on the mirror to outline my face whenever I looked into it. He changed the label for “work” on my GPS to “the circus.” One day after work, I found nine actual clowns huddled in my Honda Civic. I asked who hired them and they said he never gave his name, but did sign their checks as “B. Anksy.”
JUNE 2014 — Banksy gave me a screenwriting book for my birthday. It was hollowed out and rigged it to blow bleach in my face when I opened it. The dedication read ”Demi– if all you know is from inside a book, you become blind to the world outside of it. xoxo Banksy” I missed a week of work and lost my job.
JULY 2014 — On the 1st, Banksy asked if I wanted to renew, and I said no. I was ready to explode at him with all the reasons why– that he ruined my job prospects, that living with him made me fear for my possessions, that it was hard to be intimate when any girl I brought home had to hear racist Nixon recordings through the walls. But he never asked. He didn’t confront or fight me, or even ask me to stay, because he knew exactly why I was moving. He just paused, frowned, and sighed “okay.”
The following month was quiet. No art, no alarms, no surprises whatsoever. He replaced my guitar, restored my tapes, and washed his drawings of the Instagram UI off all the window frames. When I came home, he would just be sitting in his room solemnly reading a book. And even though he’d made my life a terror for a year, it made me feel bad.
On the 31st, I was packed into a U-Haul and ready to move. I thanked Banksy for the room and bid him farewell, to which he mumbled “no problem” and flashed a toothless smile without getting up from the computer. On his screen, I saw the same Craigslist housing ad I found all those months ago– this time with $100 off the asking price, and a few “pleases” and “sorry in advances” strewn about the ad. It was hard to not feel sympathy for Banksy. I thought about how lonely he must be in this big house, with only paintings of a gun dressed like the Pillsbury Dough Boy to console him. So I gave him something to remember me by.
I pulled my guitar from the U-Haul and cut the lowest string, before tuning the 5 others. I quickly Googled something before scribbling numbers on a Post-It and shoving the note inside the guitar. He was about to go for a walk when I came back in to give him the guitar, calling it a memento of our time together. Then I asked him to play it. He hesitated for a second, then strummed the five uncut strings to hear the tuning– BADGE. Without holding back, he smashed the guitar against a wall, sending fragments of wood and plastic everywhere. And in that mess of fragments, Banksy found a tiny Post-It note with hastily-scribbled police brutality statistics on it.
I hugged Banksy and told him living apart doesn’t mean we can’t still be friends, and with a bright, beaming smile he responded “Okay.” Then he asked me if I wanted to come back and hang out next Thursday. I told him I couldn’t wait. After all, there’s a real barn-burner of a game happening that night.