Oakland, California, serves as home to over a third of a million human inhabitants, but the city has made room for a very different denizen, the gnome.
The gnomes began appearing to observant pedestrians as painted figures on pieces of wood screwed onto utility poles. At ground level.
The gnomes were charming, and appeared in a wide variety of garb, juxtaposed with similarly styled (and painted) colorful mushrooms and other accoutrements and furniture of gnomedom.
The anonymous artist who painted the gnomes did it for fun, as a gift for his neighbors. Only a few people noticed at first. It was Oakland’s best-kept secret:
About 2,300 gnomes with pointy hats and white beards now live in Oakland. One resembles Santa Claus in a monk’s robe. Others wave or appear to be doing a little disco dance.
Yet until late last month, they had pretty much managed to keep their presence on the down low. Even Pacific Gas & Electric, whose poles are gnome homes, was unaware of their existence.
But when the officials found out, they promised to remove the gnomes. Their very existence, you see, might encourage others to likewise affix near-permanent painted figures, and soon gnomes would not only proliferate, but be joined by djinn, leprechauns, imps . . . and perversities.
When the charmed folk of Oakland found out, though, they rallied. They liked the gnomes. The artist came out of the closet, so to speak, but not to make a name for himself — he didn’t provide his name (though it’s an open secret) — for he didn’t want the gnomes to be about him, but about themselves.
And the people won. Public pressure moved PG&E, and the gnomes are safe. For the time being, anyway.
A charming story, reminding us that the character of a place can arise up in humble ways, and without an Arts Council grant, much less a Bureau of Gnomes.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.