For a Fistful of Emojis

Imagine you’ve been out of town for work and by the time your Uber drops you home from the airport, you’re tired, cranky, and you just want to unwind before bed. You leave your luggage in the living room, shuffle to the kitchen, and pop open a bottle of white. You’re lucky enough to live in Manhattan Beach, a stone’s throw away from the sea, and there’s nothing like relaxing to the sights and sounds of the waves. So you clutch the stem of your full glass and step out onto the balcony.

And you’re instantly smacked round the eyes by the next-door duplex’s new décor: screaming pink paint with a yellow 3D-style emoji on each floor. One with a wide grin and lolling tongue, one with a closed silver zipper for a mouth, and both sporting oversized black lashes on criss-crossed eyes.

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

If you’re Susan Wieland, you don’t have to imagine it.

“My heart sank.” She says the emojis, who seem to stare into her home, are a targeted attack. When she met the owner of the duplex, she’d just had eyelash extensions put in, and the salon had made them far too big. The lashes on the drawings are a pointed dig at her.

The owner, Kathryn Kidd, says that’s nonsense. She wanted to bring cheer to the neighborhood, and as an art lover, she thought the makeover was just the thing. And she denies the eyelashes being an attack on Susan. “I have eyelash extensions,” she says. “She’s probably paranoid. She has some curious issues, to say the least.”

The zipper mouth 🤐 is also alleged to have a darker meaning, telling the rest of the neighborhood to, well, zip their lips. Kidd denies this, too.

“The zipper relates more to fashion and to protect young women from exposing themselves because of all the weirdos around,” she said. “Instead of everybody being so gloomy, always so depressed, always in other people’s business, I just wanted to send a message to be happy, be colorful, be positive.”

There’s certainly a lot to unpack there, but we won’t get anywhere without a little background. To the Context Vortex! 🌀 🏃

After bustling into the area in a Mercedes convertible with a plate holder reading “Move Over Princess, The Queen Has Arrived,” Kathryn Kidd purchased the Manhattan Beach property as a rental in 2018. After a couple of long-term renters, she decided to use it for short-term only and posted the place up on AirBnB. Problem is, short-term rentals have been illegal there since 2015, and a few neighbors – including Wieland – reported Kidd to the city, after which she was fined $4,000. Kidd says she didn’t know about the law. The neighbors say they explicitly warned her. Either way, the pink paint and emojis made their appearance soon after.

The Manhattan Beach gang took Emojigate to a Planning Commission meeting in July, where the Assistant City Attorney let them know private property laws and the good ol’ First Amendment made it hard to do anything. Some want to pass an ordinance with stricter rules on murals, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how things will shake out. For now, we can only deal with the facts, so let’s do just that.

The assertions on Kidd’s part are that she commissioned the mural because she’s an art enthusiast and to make people happy. Not to be a snob, but if you have any love in your heart for art you’re not going to spray-paint a 7ft emoji on your candy pink house, and you’re not going to look into the strabic eyes of Apple’s finest and think “I know what’s missing. A giant pair of glamor eyelashes.”

I’m not even gonna touch the alleged reason for the zipper emoji – “to protect young women from exposing themselves” (??) – but I will say that the artist behind the magic, one #ztheart, uploaded a photo of the house on Instagram with the caption:

“Are your neighbors constantly ratting you out? Have they cost you thousands in fines? Have you wanted to tell them off lately? Why risk a case, when you can hire me to paint them a pretty message? No verbal confrontations, speedy turnaround, open to photorealism and custom emojis. Hit the dm for a free quote today.”

Remember Kidd’s own words, when she said people are “always in other people’s business,” part of why she painted the emojis in the first place. Hmm. And then there’s the claim she wanted to spark joy, which evidently isn’t working considering the backlash… or is it?

While many neighbors have given the house a thumbs down (emoji), the most recent long-term tenant thinks the whole thing is “hysterical” – “I didn’t really know any story behind it. I just knew it was easy for my friends to find my place.” Chateau d’Emoji has also become something of a tourist attraction, currently holding a rating over 4.5 stars on Google. And it certainly seems to have boosted the asking price.

Yes, the house is on market. Bemoaning the area’s ban on short-term rentals, Kidd has put it up for sale, noting her realtor expects a “bidding war” on the property. While it originally went up last Summer for $1.749.000, it’s still active and reduced to $1.550.000.

So, what is the truth? It could absolutely be a case of clashing tastes, unfortunate coincidences, and very strange messages about teen modesty, but I’ve gotta say it seems like a uniquely modern take on the classic spite house. I guess the lesson here is that if you’re holding a grudge and your local laws are permissive enough, you can really ruin someone’s life just by painting some ugly art on your walls.

Anyway, I have to go hit up #ztheart for that free quote on a custom emoji paintjob. An attorney’s gotta stand out in today’s competitive market.