Sophie Amado

Talking Houses

Did you hear that? The houses are talking. 

They didn’t used to. Or rather, they were less chatty. A few homes showcased signs in their windows of rainbow colors or pinks and blues to denote LGBTQA allies. When I was younger, there was a sign with a dog in a detective coat letting children know if they needed help they’d be safe in that particular home. Signs bearing messages like “Hate has no home here” in seven different languages are pinned for a sidewalk passer to view. “We Call Police” signs demonstrate a kind of warning, a visible household dynamic. Every political season, last names show up on yards or in windows to denote favor. 

Not all houses talked. Just like not all cars are decorated with bumper stickers of uncouth messages such as DTF or Honk if You’re High. The talky houses and cars were typically people who wanted to flaunt their viewpoints, stage humor. 

My mother told me it was unsafe to adorn your house or car with signals, connotations, like posting a sign in the yard that says, “Home of a Bobcat” immediately is an indicator that you have a high school student in your house. Or car stickers of stick figures that aim to mirror the actual number of members in your family are types of clues my parents certainly wouldn’t want known to the public. Who needs to see that information in a world that is already too intertwined and unsafe? But I always enjoyed the things to look at as my homes and cars remained quiet. 

Now more than ever, though, I see signs or decorations on houses shouting silent encouragements, like “We’re All in This Together,” or “Smile,” or other directives.  

I never thought about houses talking before. Now, they have a lot to say. 

But sometimes they don’t talk. Sometimes there is just the adornment of a lopsided rainbow that a parent proudly hung up for pedestrians to see, a piece of art from their child. Or there’s a painting of a flower from an at-home art project flaunting itself in the window. There’s this cliché about how a picture stocks a thousand words but I find the images in the windows more cryptic because they are less political, almost as if to say, “Take me as you will,” or simply, “My child did this.” Something for a walker to view as they leave their home briefly for an errand.

While stuck working from home or staying inside, we’ve transitioned from the political talky houses kind of people to encouraging everyone to post visuals on front lawns and windows. Balloons by the dozen curl along home railings as though yelling that it’s someone’s birthday. Some people have put out of place holiday blow up decorations on the front lawn just for fun. The class of 2020 is united by their urge to stay home yet they still seek the recognition they deserve. More signs are posted for celebratory reasons and recognition as the world locked itself up during a global pandemic, demonstrating how much humans seek attention, normalcy during times of uncertainty, and, in my opinion, perform small acts of kindness as we navigate new territories. My city’s mayor is frequently found peeking out of windows via a life-sized cardboard cutout or her figure printed on paper as if to say, “Don’t be here right now. Stay inside.” A few months ago, seeing her in the windows would have been rather odd. Now, she’s a figure of rules and regulation.  

Restaurant windows are the chattiest, begging passersby to order take out. To go beers, to go food, to go cocktails, to go specials, to go courses, to go growlers, to go hand sanitizers. Yes, we’re open. 

Restaurant window talk is a more familiar entity. Prior to covid-19, the windows lured you in with open signs or signs of what beer is on draft or the allure of their signature quesadilla pizza or home of the giant bloody mary topped off with a whole chicken. But these days, the signs I see are there as if to say, “Help us or we’re doomed.” 

The windows of my apartment are empty. I’ve been thinking about if I should place something there, but my mother’s reserved German roots nag at me. Keep your politics to yourself. Don’t share too much about yourself before getting to know someone. In these times, though, it feels like I should place something for someone to view in a similar fashion of how I smirk when I see a sign of reassurance or applauding medical professionals, much like how cities now pause at 8:00 pm and clap to motivate nurses and doctors. I mull this over, what to place there, because what one posts in their own window, in any kind of time, feels like it says a lot about the self, just like how outfits are an outward flaunt of style. 

When I see something deliberately placed on someone’s house, even now when it’s more common, I wonder what’s happening inside the house. Perhaps the someone who posted a “Hate has no home here” sign, meant to encourage immigrants that they are welcomed in a country that so often doesn’t welcome them, is living in a home inhabiting an abusive spousal relationship they cannot very well escape while the world is on hold. Or someone with a “Stay Home” sign visible for outsiders may be someone making up their own rules and not following guidelines. I think I’m using the signs as a distraction for all the horrible ways the world is being affected right now. When I see a sign telling me to smile, which in real life is a command that when spoken aloud to me I find repulsive and sexist, I do smile and don’t put my focus on the unemployment rate, the number of people sick and dying, the domestic abuse facing many victims, violent racism, the lack hope in this world. Rather, I hope the person who posted something reassuring or pleasant is placing it there to make me realize that this too shall pass, is a visible demonstration of the good left in this overly connected and chaotic world. 

I find myself remembering and fixating on the rainbow picture painted by someone’s child. 

Activism is defined as campaign to create political or social change. A five-year-old distracting himself with art to distract us from unpleasantries can suddenly feel like a moment of activism in a world in which we are adjusting.  

What is going on inside the talking houses? And what pulses people to post things on their homes or cars? Perhaps it’s as simple as a small act of activism, to bring recognition to something we’re all traversing, connecting homes and neighbors and strangers, and to realize a message we’ve all heard but often forget: we are not alone.  

Sophie Amado graduated with her MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at Columbia College Chicago, where she taught undergraduate writing and rhetoric. In 2014, she received a Fulbright grant to Madrid, Spain to teach English to high school students. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Gravel Magazine, and more.