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Davis, California

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Column: Peeping Tom

There’s North Davis. Then there’s South Davis. You can tell how they see themselves by their Safeways.

North Davis has cheaper rent, the grodier Safeway and more of the homeless in its parking lot. South Davis is cleaner, more expensive, has the bigger Safeway that carries strawberry-apple juice, but in actuality has the highest crime rate in all of Davis.

The management neglected to tell me this when I moved into Sharps and Flats my sophomore year. I only found out when my housemate told me that when she lived in Sorrento a year ago, someone picked the lock to her front door while she was in the living room. She had to manually hold the door shut until the robber let go.

“I think it’s the trailer park,” Josie says to me at work. Josie lives near the back lot in Allegre. There’s been a peeping tom stalking outside her window with a camera since the summer.

It’s an easy fix to scapegoat the crime on the trailer park, but in reality, most of the people I know who steal things in South Davis are suburban college kids who learn how to pick locks on YouTube.

Josie and I trade stories as if we’re at a bar telling childhood traumas from Catholic school. I tell her about the time I drove back late from a party one night and found a guy huddled in fetal position inside someone’s open back trunk. I never got any context.

“I just close my window and make sure not to change in my room,” Josie says, as if he were just some stray cat that occasionally jumped into her balcony and knocked over her bonsai tree.

Apparently, she’s known about it for a while. Her apartment found out in the summer, when their neighbors saw a man with a camera. They thought it was a joke at first, but when they saw him the third time around, they decided to say something.

Not all of her housemates dealt with it as casually as Josie, though. Only one of her housemates has actually seen him outside the window with the camera. She chased after him with a curling iron.

I think about this on the drive home – about all the people who want to chase after me with a curling iron are people who read about themselves in my columns. In a way, I’m always looking in on people’s lives when they’re not aware. My pen is my camera.

The uneasy part of knowing someone’s watching is that when the lights are on inside, everyone can see you clearly from the outside. But all you see when you look at the window is black.

I once saw a friend at a party – though every time I walked near her, she walked away. It was two weeks after I’d written a column about her. Even when she went to the fridge to get a beer where I was talking to someone, she had her back turned to me like she was looking for her seat in a crowded music hall.

I called her the next day and asked her why she was avoiding me. I heard her cry over the phone as she told me she couldn’t see how someone she considered a friend could say such cruel things about her to all of campus.

“I know how you are,” she said. “You don’t care about what other people say about you. But I’ll never be like that.”

I tried to apologize, but she kept interrupting me. I stopped talking, but it just made her angrier. She accused me of not caring since I wasn’t saying anything to defend myself. Then I started crying so hard I couldn’t finish my sentences.

“I’m not good with words,” I said. “That’s why I write.”

I only lived in South Davis for a year, and while the neighborhood was going through an identity crisis, I was going through one of my own. I thought I wanted to go into advertising design. I was in ASUCD. My only two friends were going out, and once they broke up, I started calling my siblings weekly.

Two years later, a lot’s changed but I still don’t know who I am. I can’t talk about myself, so I write. My friends say that I never write about myself – I just write about other people. I say I’m really just writing about myself.

GEOFF MAK has enough leftover chasers from Picnic Day to supplement every meal for the next week with soda. E-mail him at gemak@ucdavis.edu if you agree with the Washington Post in disabling anonymous commenting.


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