THE OTHER HOUSE – I am back in my home away from home in Varicose Valley. As with many such resorts, VV began as a planned community in the boonies filled with retired military, ousted CEOs, war criminals – some in the Witness Protection Program — and weekenders like me. But over the years this once pastoral valley has become a hubbub suburb as families move in, traffic thickens and my school taxes explode – colleges would envy these ISD facilities. There is another drawback, which I shall explain because you may suffer the same way.
Beyond my back door there is a deck so I can sit, sip a drink and watch the lake dry up. Over there is a cardinal, a raccoon, a deer. On the other side of my estate, about 19 feet distance, is a cactus, a huge dead tree, more birds and…a huge dead tree? How did that happen? Where did it come from? That sucker is lying horizontally across my yard and into my next door neighbor’s moat. (Not all residents of VV are gracious.)
It must have fallen last night but I didn’t hear a thing because I was watching a Fox News shout fest. If a tree falls and no one hears it, does it actually fall? If so, who cares? The Varicose Valley Taste Police, that’s who. They could give intimidation lessons to Heinrich Himmler. One time my grass grew above the ordered inch and a half, and a testy note was left on my door. “Actung!” it began, warning me that if I didn’t clip my grass quickly and cleanly (“no ragged ends”), my neighbors would start boiling the oil. Someone once turned me in for putting clashing wallpaper in the upstairs ballroom. In the middle of the night, with helicopters above and searchlights glaring, a voice over a loud speaker shouted, “Put down that roll of fuchsia-and-pink thatched plaid pattern and slowly back away!”
It’s not easy having a house in a community where they have “Rules for mailboxes.” No gaudy stamps. No packages from T.J. Maxx, Goodwill or the Dollar Store. We don’t have Yard of the Month. It’s Yardarm of the Month. “Hang in there, neighbor.” The only yard signs allowed are those for the local high school athletic booster squad (“We support the Fightin’ Preppies!”) and announcements of the next Tea Party meeting. No “For Sale” signs, either. They might hurt property values.
A while back I arrived for the weekend and my next-door neighbor, who lives here permanently, was waiting. His name is Joe Smith, one of 32 Joe Smiths we have here. “Hi, Mister Smith,” I said, unloading my newest yard decoration, a statue of Saint Gored, the patron saint of rodeo clowns.
He looked over his shoulder. “You vant get rid of dat pickup. De one on da cinder blocks next to da satellite dish and pink buffalo.” I explained that the pickup was due to be fixed some day. I just haven’t had the time, what with my getting laid off at the organ donors dance studio and looking for a new job in keeping with my talents and experience — maybe a shepherd. Joe said it was just a friendly tip. “More like varning shot, we say in former job.” He glanced over his shoulders again and left. Joe is the only person I know with an unlisted DNA.
Back to my tree. I knew the Taste Police would ticket me for not getting rid of it, or perhaps for allowing the tree to fall in the first place. I needed help. I called for advice. “Hello. This is Mollie Jo, the Varicose Valley Forester and Rules Enforcer. Our bite is worse than your bark. How can I harass you?” I explained what had happened. Mollie Jo gasped. “The tree in question is Number 456-KJ. You were responsible for its well being. During the recent drought did you water it regularly but only during your allotted time of 4 to 5 a.m. every other Wednesday under penalty of being ostracized at AARP meetings?”
Quickly I explained what had happened, in that I didn’t know what had happened. Then I mentioned that the tree could be a Spanish oak. “Spanish? A foreigner here? It’s the kind that spreads those immigrants’ diseases which wipe out entire forests. Get someone out there quick to cut it up, haul it away and dump the remains in an unmarked mineshaft near Waco. Until then, stand guard over it. Do you have an AK-47? If not, why not?”
“No, I don’t. My old M-1 will have to do. By the way, Mollie Jo, does your forestry agency have a branch office? Hahaha.”
“One hundred and sixty two. It’s how many times I’ve heard that line.”
“This week. You have 24 hours to get rid of that diseased tree or you’ll be fined an amount equivalent to your school taxes. The stadium needs more luxury suites. Have a nice day.” Not knowing what to do, I looked in the Yellow Pages under Rent-a-Beaver, but no luck. Bunyan, Paul. Nothing. I thought of burning the tree, but realized there is a burn ban in Varicose Valley except for some books. I finally hired an army of termites.
This episode leads me to mention the one drawback: Do you have a homeowners association composed of a bunch of busybodies with too much time on their hands and a knack for meddling? Do you, too, get voted off the island because of a single rabid pet raccoon? There is something to be said for a neighborhood with its own band of gypsies. They’re good renters.
What do they have against creative weed gardens? Why do they get grumpy when my garage paint peels to reveal a catchy mold? They forget that America grew up with outhouses. Come to think of it, why did that warning note begin with “Actung”? I’ll ask the neighborhood watch captain, Mr. Himmler.
Ashby hangs out at firstname.lastname@example.org