Saturday, April 21, 2012

Home Sweet Home

Life in suburbia is not supposed to be eventful; the very parameters justifying its existence revolve around it being a quiet and comfortable refuge from the stress and chaos of urban life. While I hate the very term “subdivision”, I nonetheless grew up in one but there were huge differences between the modest homes I was raised and the bizarre grouping of McMansions and the people that reside in them I now find myself living amongst. The biggest difference between the two is that the former was in every way a thriving neighborhood with the latter being a collection of miniature country estates filled with disgruntled individuals always spying on those that live next to them.

In the neighborhood I grew up there was a real sense of community with an elementary school and a few mom-and-pop stores within walking distance for nearly everyone. With a school inside the neighborhood on weekday mornings  kids rode their bikes or walked to it as their dogs followed along and then waited nearby until the bell rang in the afternoon and the process reversed itself. On free days roving bands of children would be regularly seen going up and down the streets playing in the various yards until they got bored and wanted a change in venue. Except for a few very rare exceptions, nothing was said as long as the kids behaved themselves and stayed safe.

These days’ developers spend a huge amount of money creating glossy pamphlets filled with pictures of how their subdivisions are little slices of pre-planned Shangri-la complete with community clubhouse, playground, and pool. The people in the pictures are always well dressed and smiling-and generally white with only a smattering of minorities-giving the impression of a vibrant community. For the most part it is propaganda meant to delude a banal and self-absorbed populations use to getting their own ways at everything.

The distance between the schools and subdivisions make it highly inadvisable to impossible for the children to walk there creating traffic jams in the morning and afternoon as parents and buses first rush in to get the kids in class then home. The mom-and-pop stores have long since been replaced with huge corporate abominations built on the outer edges of the suburban sprawl requiring a trip in the car for even the smallest items. Moreover and my favorite, the residents of these mutations of the American Dream believe their houses are their own fiefdoms always ready to make even the smallest perceived infraction a federal case, which brings me to what happened this week here in paradise.

Last Tuesday afternoon I went out to get the mail after dragging my sorry butt out of bed. It was the usual collection of bills, sale papers, and assorted junk mail but there was one exception. It was a small, obviously computer printed postcard addressed only to the resident of my house. It had no return address and on initial inspection I almost threw it away on sheer instinct, that is until I glanced at what was written on the back.

It was a “To whom it may concern” type of message that I assume went out to all the houses in the subdivision but the message was that at a particular address someone had constructed a chicken coop and now had chickens in his backyard. Even to me, the long established anti-social pariah of the subdivision, it was a violation of the homeowner’s association rules. When my wife and I signed the papers to buy the house, I vaguely remember the realtor stating the obvious the fact that we could not keep farm animals in our yard or have a “large” garden.  

Now what bothered me was that the person sending out the cards did not put his or her name on them, which I felt was more than a little cowardly. However, I am not surprised, I have had my own unhappy encounters with a particular neighbor who likes to hide behind anonymity or call the deputy sheriff on me over areas I would have happily rectified or explained if he had the cojones to come talk with me in person.

Since the person with the illegal chicken coop is one of those doomsday types with several screws loose and the likely anonymous snitch is my old friend I am staying the hell out of this conflict. While I would love to haul ass away from this surreal collection of surface dwelling Morlocks the housing market is still in the tank where I live so I am having to hunker down and make do. Plus, the community pool does come in handy this time of year for my son and daughter. This just reaffirms my ultimate goal to get the heck out of Dodge whenever the kids are grown because right now it would not take much to convince myself a suburb of Kabul or Mogadishu would have friendlier and more rational people.


Sarge said...

These covenants people sign when they move into a neighborhood are total bullshit. A friend of mine's son was changing the breaks on his truck in their driveway and someone reported them to the homeowners association for breaking the no automotive maintenance on site rule. Remember the issue over the WWII CMH winner and his flag pole?

Now, I can nderstand some rules - but dictating how large a deck can be and where you can place a basketball hoop? It is silly and likely driven by Republicans and baggers...

Life As I Know It Now said...

Ha, ha. I love my apartment and here is another good reason why I'm not so anxious to get back into a home.

Mr. Charleston said...

Down here in sunny Florida there is a really funny conundrum occurring. In one of their occasional fits of appearing environmentally friendly, the state legislature passed a law encouraging people to develop xriscaped, sustainable yards to help relieve pressure off of the aquifer and, since it's a state law, it trumps homeowner's association rules. So suddenly, we have situations where people are growing weeds (re: wildflowers) in their front yards and citrus etc. in the back. The McMansion community is going nuts which delights the crap out of me but no doubt, the McMansion developers, yard maintenance industry, and the engulf and devour chemical companies will soon figure out a way to overturn it.

Collin Hinds said...

Back when I was grappling with a case of early onset career/midlife, existential, dark night of the soul, I tried to give up law practice and build a horticultural-landscaping empire that turned out to be just mowing lawns. I had a lawn customer who lived in a gated community full of McMansions. Man I hated that place. I figured out that the high wall surrounding the subdivision wasn't so much to keep the riff-raff out, as maybe to keep all the assholes in. There were a lot of unfriendly people always looking for some kind of confrontation in that community.

Sue H said...

Ah, neighbours - don't you just love 'em!

Well, I live in a terraced house (I think some of you in the US may not understand that term, judging by the blank looks I got when questioned about it on a recent trip over there, so this may help to explain) - ours is a small and crowded island and houses with a reasonable amount of land are exorbitantly expensive in the UK.

Still, this is our little patch, and we own it lock, stock, bricks and mortar and freehold - so here we stay!

We have a car-enthusiast a couple of doors down who spends most weekends rebuilding cars and a newly-arrived owner across the way who's busy remodelling his home.

Our next door neighbours on one side are a delightfully laid-back couple of similar disposition to us but the other side are the neighbours from hell!

Thankfully, their years of over-indulgence with alcohol seem to be taking their toll and there is less of the 3am foul-mouthed warbling in the back garden, although this afternoon they cranked up the volume on the stereo so we were entertained by very loud but awful music!

I am rather tempted to get some chickens and a rooster - but only a really noisy one - would love to get my own back with it crowing at 6am after one of their virtually all-night parties! And they couldn't stop me! ;-)

Sherry said...

Whatever possessed you to buy a home in a community where a homeowners association existed? When you stop to think about it, paying for a mortgage and taxes on ones abode should entitle one to have it their way?

My neighborhood consists of rickety mobile homes that have seen better days, some fancy schmancy new "colonial" style 2 million square foot mansions and the sort of tract homes one would find in the suburbs of the 60's. All of us are "individuals" and only the keeping up with the joneses types pay any attention to who's doing what to their house.

I will admit to a shudder or two over the John Deer Green color paint on the tract job next door. I suppose the Pepto Bismol Pink concrete deer tends to be a little grating on the nerves, but they painted it that to keep the hunters from shooting it. Kept missing the deer and hitting the house. Hey! I have great neighbors, we mind our own bidness.

Homeowners associations. More trouble than they're worth.

Pixel Peeper said...

Buy popcorn, sit back, and watch the drama unfold. This could get entertaining!

While I tend to think that some of the association rules in subdivisions go way overboard, I do appreciate those that keep old, rusty vehicles sitting on cement blocks in a driveway out of my neighborhood.

Windsmoke. said...

Wise move keeping right away from this potenial nightmare and as Pixel Peeper suggests buy popcorn sit back and watch the drama unfold or in my case watch fireworks go off with a bang :-).

Akelamalu said...

If I won the lottery I would buy a house with no neighbours.

Beach Bum said...

Sarge: Yeah, I agree with everything you said. I'm blowing this place the minute it becomes possible.

Life AS We Know It: Yeah, home ownership sucks.

Mr. Charleston: Had not heard that one, but yeah, even though it would save water you got to figure McMansion Industrial complex is going to fight back. Humans are such idiots.

Collin Hinds: BINGO! That pretty much sums up the situation here.

Sue H: Ah, neighbours - don't you just love 'em!

After a bit of marital strife I told my wife that once the kids are grown I would rather live in a small camper than have to spend my final days living around a bunch of jerks who never accepted me to begin with.

Sherry: Honestly, I had no real idea what I was getting myself into.

Pixel: I actually pondered the possibility you might know either Chicken Coop dude or the neighbor who I believe is Anonymous Snitch. Especially Anonymous, during our "disagreement" that came damn close to coming to blows he proclaimed himself to me an important pillar of the community and could ruin my life with a couple of phone calls.

Windsmoke: Yeah, its lovely here, so much I would automatically leave if I magically came up with a winning lotto ticket.

Akelamalu: Amen!

lime said...

i absolutely could not live anywhere there was a "homeowner's association." i first came to this conclusion 20 yrs ago when my inlaws moved to a community in sunny florida and i asked why she was suing a dryer when she said she loved the smell of laundry hung outside while visiting me. i was told laundry lines were against the rules. laundry lines? oh hell no. if i can't hang my laundry i don't want to be there.

lime said...

of course that's only one small thing...but any number of inane rules would keep me away. i'd be breaking them out of spite.

Red Nomad OZ said...

Haha! Sounds like the hells on earth aka 'subdivisions' are the same all over the world! Although your euphemisms are WAAAAAY more clever!!

The loss of community is the first casualty of 'civilisation'.

deafmutes said...

Yep, I too miss the smell of good food coming from a tiny red house with (ironically) asbestos shingles. Where the Matron would fill your stomach while the Patriarch would fill you with a bit of explicit vocabulary while responding to the evening news :) Strangely enough, the only place I've seen that matched that feeling was a Krushev era flat in Moscow...children walking, laughing and playing while watched over by a group of old babushki. Neighbors being neighbors etc. Trust me, I was quite dumbfounded at seeing a bit of civic virtue that I had not seen since childhood and I thought I'd never see again.

Ranch Chimp said...

I enjoy the city and the country myself Bum, never got very excited about suburbia, know a few folk's that live in them though. Too much conformity for me I reckon. I lived basically my entire life in the largest U.S. cities, but went to the country quite a bit back when I was a hunter.

Ya'll have a good un Guy

Ranch Chimp said...

But also I may add that I know here in Dallas' small suburb's, they have alot of weird rulz too. I have a daughter that live's in one of these private lakefront communities about 30 miles outside Central Dallas ... it all look's too fictional or plastic to me for some reason. But folk's seem to love and they are those who spend plenty in our economy too : )

Robert the Skeptic said...

I've lived in neighborhoods with rules (CC&R's) and ones without. I am currently on the board of directors for a Home Owners Association. As a lot of the previous commenters pointed out you have a choice to live in a community with CC&Rs or not. Some people would perfer to live in a neighborhood where the appearance of the houses and landscaping is maintained; when you make that choice, you choose to agree to the rules - they aren't top-down imposed on you against your will, you agreed to them!

We moved two years ago from a neighborhood with no restrictions. I had beautiful landscaping with a Japanese garden look. But surrounding me were dead lawns, fallen down rotting fences, broken down cars and a "farm" in the front yard across the street. The neighborhood lowered the value of my house.

These developments are on the decline, however. See the documentary "The End of Suburbia"; it chronicles the inevitable decline of the suburb due to increasing energy and transportation costs. Our kids prefer the city; the transformation of formerly blighted inner cities to thriving communities is a welcome trend.

Truth 101 said...

You know BB. I would love nothing more than to move the hell out of the bigoted, cliquey community I live in.

I've been shunned by grou[s cause of my politics and former union activities.

My kid has been denied jobs because of my stuff.

I put up a plastic shed a few years ago that wans't visible to any other house in the neighborhood. Some asshole from the next block stopped me while I was mowing my front yard and said it wasn't allowed and someone may call the neighborhood association and report it.

I asked him if sucking my &^&%^ was against the rules also cause that's what whoever the gutless shitbag that didn't like my shed could do.

God I can't wait to move away from this freaking asylum of a town.

Beach Bum said...

Lime: Yeah, clothes lines are forbidden here as well. Belize looks better and better everyday.

Red Nomad: My one insane hope is that there is still a few places where normal neighborhoods still exist.

Deafmute: Trust me, I was quite dumbfounded at seeing a bit of civic virtue that I had not seen since childhood...

Amen brother! I'll say it again and write this mutated American Dream is bullshit.

Ranch: I complete agree, if I have any choice I will spend the rest of my days after the kids are grown either in the city or the country.

Robert: I completely understand with the ultimate blame for my location being on me. I was simply overwhelmed with the rules that go along with places like these.

On the other hand, the anonymous person who sent out the computer printed postcards ratting out the dude with the chicken coop is still a rat bastard in my book.

Truth 101: Amen! I plan on leaving as soon as possible.

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

You know, going through some neighborhood crap here too. But only something to work out... I rent but I'd like to get into the position to buy. I hear ya tho, Beach. I really love my old FL east coast town. I'm in an area they call ripe for regentrification. But hey, I just love the old houses. And low rents and beach a walk away. I grew up in a very different neighborhood / with much of the same kind of snide crap you describe with a bank account. The real "neighborhoods" I adored were the marinas we docked in throughout the summers when I was growing up. We were always on the boat and well, it was a wonderful life. Course the neighbors usually got along well, esp. at cocktail hour, which was anytime ... they stepped aside a yardarm. It was a great childhood, in the summers. Fishing, giging, swimming with turtles and porpoises. Now I weep as they was ashore in the Gulf basin. Long time running. Great piece, as usual Beach.