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When Matt and the other original residents arrived in May, he says, he saw demons brawling under his bed the first night. Another guy claims to have been seduced by a succubus. They cleared the yard, scrubbed mold and bloodstains from the walls, repainted, bought lamps to counteract the creepy fluorescent lighting — and they still avoid the rattling, haunted laundry room at night.
And, of course, they decorated: An "Attitude Is Everything" motivational poster. A flier for a bossa nova DJ event in Santa Monica. A bright red Sun-Maid raisins ad. A triptych of paisley prints. A framed sketch of a girl's backside, drawn on Excalibur Hotel & Casino stationery. Twenty-three old tube TVs of various sizes, stacked in a heap along one side of a hallway.
When Hannah, 23, moved in, her mother came to L.A. to help her get things in order. "My mom was sitting there the first night we ate dinner, and she was, like, 'That painting says, 'Shit Nipples.' "
From Thomas Morton, who started the 17th-century libertine commune Merry Mount a stone's throw from the Puritan settlement, to Father Yod, who led 140 members of the Source Family in L.A.'s Nichols Canyon in the late 1960s and early '70s, Americans have been drawn to collective living during economic and cultural upheaval.
The movement peaked during the Vietnam War and counterculture rise of the hippies, when, according to intentional-communities expert and University of Kansas professor Timothy Miller, at least 1 million people lived cooperatively.
Collectives began sprouting up in L.A. with more frequency about five years ago — amidst a recession that for years left L.A. with double-digit unemployment.
Photographer and filmmaker Jodi Wille, director of a 2013 documentary about the Source Family, says, "Collectives attract people who are dissatisfied with the dominant paradigm, which is consumer-driven, materialist, industrialized, corporate culture."
With the economy still struggling and trust in government tanking — a recent poll by the Pew Research Center put it at an abysmal 19 percent — Wille says, people want to band together outside of conventional structures.
She and others living communally say that cellphones suck the mindfulness out of in-person gatherings, and tools like Facebook and Instagram leave us lonely, craving face-to-face interaction.
Bobby has been managing communal houses on the Westside for 15 years; he currently runs three properties with 17 to 30 residents, ranging from a retired lawyer to a Ralph's employee who used to be homeless. About a third have lived cooperatively for more than two years, a relatively long time for co-ops to survive.
These veterans no longer have qualms about being confrontational.
"If somebody leaves out a dish, they might find it in their bed when they go to sleep," says a 45-year-old guy in a purple basketball jersey.
It's all about adapting to circumstances. After the initial glow of politeness and partying turns into passive-aggressive notes and loaded comments, most co-op residents either leave or figure out a way to communicate openly with their housemates.
On a recent Tuesday evening back in Los Feliz, Mimi sits on the floor of her studio, marking up material for a cape she's designing. Later, Mimi and her boyfriend will take some of her latest designs to the desert — to shoot the clothing with a shotgun. "It's like a really cool technique," she says. "It's called Totally Blown."
Sam, whose bedroom is next to Mimi's studio, ambles down the hall with a floss tool in his mouth, nearly tripping over Paul, who is doubled over in pain and wrapped in a zebra-print blanket. Paul usually eats vegan — "We're all into, like, juicing" — but for some reason he ate a patty melt at a diner. Mimi made him her special PMS tea, but he's groaning loudly.
Sam tells Paul to chill out. Running his fingers through his shoulder-length, dirty blond hair, Sam explains that he ended up living there after attending some of the co-op's parties. "I just asked if I could hang for a while, in a super laid-back kind of way."
And when was this? "February," Sam says.
But wait. The first tenants didn't move in until May. "Maybe April?" he suggests.
The hallway on their side of the house is covered in colorful doodles, creatures and drippy spray-painted bursts. On the wall between Sam's bedroom and Mimi's studio, someone has painted a message in dark blue, perhaps directed at the greater household: