From Rob Walker’s excellent newsletter companion to his book The Art of Noticing:
The other day I was listening to an interview with Maria Bamford (one of my favorite comedians) on Bullseye with Jesse Thorn (a great interviewer), and there was a passing mention of Bamford installing a bench in front of her house. This was intended to attract interesting people, and did. (Not always in a good way, apparently.)
This sounded crazy (in a good way) to me, so I looked into it a bit. Here’s a passage from a 2014 New York Times Magazine profile:
A few years ago, after reading in a book that people who feel a strong sense of community have been proven to lead longer and happier lives, Bamford started working to overcome her natural shyness and fear of interaction by saying hello to her neighbors in Eagle Rock, a diverse and partly gentrified area on the northeastern edge of Los Angeles. She bought a park bench and had it installed on the median strip in front of her house. She then spray-stenciled the words “Have a Seat!” on the sidewalk in front of it. To her delight, the bench is often occupied. “It’s like a birdfeeder for humans,” she says.
I read that two weeks ago, just a few days before my kids got sick and we started self-quarantining. It seemed like such a sweet idea! Now, of course, a bird feeder for humans sounds like a potential site of contagion, but it won’t always be that way, and I still like thinking about the bird feeders for humans I’ve seen in my own neighborhood. (This website called Little Free Libraries “bird feeders for readers.”)
My favorite bird feeder for humans in my neighborhood is a house that has a chicken coop in their side yard. (We’ve bought eggs from them — they’re great.) So many people stop to see the chickens that they started putting a bucket out with leafy greens to feed them. A bird feeder for humans feeding chickens! Chicken feeding for the soul…