Now Playing: “Gimme Your Love Tonight” by Sandy Wilson
A quiet, 40-something Vietnamese man lives across the street from me with his wife and works on cars in his driveway a few days a week. He himself is rather reserved, but when he works, he listens to music at a volume high enough to echo around the block. Hardly inconspicuous. I’ve always wondered why no one has complained about it. Maybe they have, and he doesn’t care, I don’t know.
Normally my instinct is to complain about stuff like that. I believe in personal freedom, but I also believe in a boundary so as to not encroach upon the freedom of others, particularly when it comes to noise. I love driving around and blasting the stereo as much as the next person, but when I get to a stoplight, I turn it down, out of respect to the strangers around me. I also don’t like to draw too much attention to myself. It infuriates me, people driving around with their subwoofers. It causes me physical anguish and is incredibly self-centered. There are places and times for it and pulling out of 7–11 on a Tuesday is hardly it. As Nikki Glaser would say, “Co’uhl, bruh!” (let’s face it, it’s usually a dude).
There is a reason I have never complained to my neighbor — I fucking love the music. It’s something I would have never expected in this neighborhood. I feel like I hit the jackpot moving into a house next to him three years ago. It wasn’t Classic Rock. It wasn’t Nu Metal. It wasn’t Country. It was an intriguing blend of 1980’s Eurodance and Italo Disco. I turn off my own music and open the windows now when he starts working. So much shit I’ve never heard before. I started Shazam-ing like a madwoman and sending all my DJ friends covert video clips I would sneak.
“You gotta hear this!!”
“You heard this?!”
Eons went by before I worked up the nerve to approach him, but one day it finally happened. By then we were in lockdown, so I put my mask on and walked over.
“Umm, hi there… I live across the street and just wanted to say how much I love your music! I’m a DJ and collect a lot of records like this.”
He told me these were all his favorite songs in junior high, that he used to buy the 12-inches. I commented that they weren’t Top 40 radio hits, that they were more Eurocentric, and I wondered where he grew up. He said San Fransisco and that he found them all at the record store. He brought out his phone and showed me that he was listening to mixes and playlists off of YouTube. Later I wished I had asked him if he still had any of his old records. I would have made him a generous offer.
The first track that really caught my attention emanating from his driveway was Sandy Wilson’s “Gimme Your Love Tonight” from 1986 out of Germany. Other favorite discoveries have been Modern Talking’s “Locomotion Tango” (also German, from 1987), Lou Sern’s “Swiss Boy” (Lou Sern AKA Tom Hooker, born in the US but moved to England as a baby, then eventually to Italy at 20, where he became a prominent Italo Disco singer), Ngoc Tuyet’s “Magic Night” (a Vietnamese remake of the 1986 Swiss track by Topaz), Eighth Wonder’s “I’m Not Scared” (British pop from 1988 featuring Patsy Kensit) and a Vietnamese remake of Laura Branigan’s “Self-Control” by Đàm Vĩnh Hưng (which is originally an Italo Disco song by Raf).
One day I heard Lian Ross’ “Say You’ll Never” (Germany, 1985) replay three times in one hour, clearly a favorite.
After almost 15 years, I’m leaving the Bay Area (and my dear Eurodisco neighbor) soon. For the last three years I’ve been renting a house in an unincorporated “village” on the edge of Hayward. It’s like a time capsule. Single-family homes all built in the 40’s. Most of the neighborhood consists of retirees (original owners) and young families. Schools and parks abound. It’s working class and not ritzy by a long shot, but there is an HOA and most people keep their properties manicured and tidy. I found it in December of 2017, noting how many homes in the neighborhood had Christmas lights and decorations at the time. To me that was a sign of a decent place to live. Home prices here have skyrocketed the last five years (from, say, $450,000 to $750,000).
At the time, I needed to get out of the city, having lived in Oakland for 12 years in one of the densest, trendiest neighborhoods. The second half of that 12 was with an ex-boyfriend in an apartment building that we managed together and lived in rent-free. The image most people had was of us sitting on our asses collecting rent checks, but we earned that $1200 every month (our contract started in 2013, when a one-bedroom rental was still only $1200 in Oakland, now $2000). It was a part-time job, and the compensation was fair. He had the brawn (handyman skills), and I had the brain (management skills), so it worked. He and I also had jobs outside of the building, so we were able to stash away a lot of cash during that time. But there was barely ever down-time. Between our outside jobs and building responsibilities, we were always busy. And that was OK. Both of us had strong work ethics — we liked working and generally enjoyed being productive. (I could write — and have actually started — another whole series of stories based on those years, specifically the tenants in that building.)
Eventually the time came when I needed to move on — from Oakland and from him. Growing up in the expansive desert of Las Vegas, I value wide open spaces. Oakland always felt too dense, too claustrophobic, and I never, ever wanted to live in a place like San Francisco (or New York City). I wanted quiet and I wanted more creature comforts — like maybe a nice yard and more room for my record collection. Oakland rents had also skyrocketed, and I could get more for my money as I traveled further away. I’ve been very content here. It is quiet, and I have a big, beautiful backyard, half grass, half garden and two large patio spaces where I have enjoyed many sunny days reading, sunning and working from home outdoors. Car break-ins are minimal, and people aren’t getting robbed and shot down the street. I have actually left my keys in the front door accidentally on many nights, only to wake up with them still dangling there.
And it’s so nice and flat out here. Hills make me anxious. And tall buildings block the sunlight.
But I’m getting itchy again. After 14 years, I need a shake-up. I’m not ready to settle down and whither away in the suburbs. I am beholden to no children and no husband. At 40, it feels like the right time. If I am going to restart somewhere else, better sooner rather than later. So I’m heading north for awhile to hide out in a small seaside town in a family home. I’ll still be working, teaching online, as it doesn’t seem like we will be back in the classroom at all this school year. I’ll save some money and probably take a sabbatical next year. I want to do nothing but read and write and perhaps travel a bit, if and when it’s safe. I can go anywhere I want.
After a long aversion to city life, and perhaps due to the constraints of the pandemic, I am desiring to be in an urban center again. Maybe even a city like New York, SF, Seattle. Although I am a solitary person, I like being in the middle of things going on around me. At arm’s length but nearby. It’s what I’ve always loved about DJing — I can be out at a social event without the social expectations and pressures of actually interacting with anyone (ha). Of course, who knows if cities will ever exist and thrive in the way they did before. I’ll wait it out and see where life emerges again.
The Bay has treated me well, but I think I have done all I needed to do here. Got a degree, progressed in my career(s), became a well-respected DJ and shared my favorite songs with thousands over the years, fell in and out of love a few times. At this point I’m just waiting around for The Next Big Thing to come along, and I’ve decided to make The Next Big Thing happen instead. I’ve laid down a lot of roots here and might decide to come back one day, but maybe not. I’m grateful to be in a position where the future is completely unwritten, and I can choose my own adventure.
The one thing I am going to miss most in this moment is my neighbor. We’re not BFF’s now or anything, and I actually don’t even know his name. We wave politely coming and going, and I give him an occasional thumbs-up to show my approval for whatever is playing. But warm Saturday afternoons without vintage Eurodisco blasting just won’t be the same.