Scaring the neighbors

I want to point out that despite the fact that I get up most days before 5 a.m., I am not now nor have I ever been, a morning person. The pre-dawn rising is merely a response to a grueling rural transit schedule and the fact that I need a solid 30 minutes to just sit and stare at my coffee cup. However, my 16-year-old Bailee (who just got a clean check-up at the vet yesterday) is a morning dog.  And since I’m up far earlier than my love during the weekdays, I’m the one who gets to take her out.

The upside of this situation is that a man-made pond is directly across the street from our house, so at least the setting for our early walks is pretty. The downside is that I live in an adult only (read mature, mostly retired folks) development. Boy, do older people get up early! I’m thinking that if I didn’t have to hit my bus connection every morning before 7:30, McDonald’s coffee in hand, I wouldn’t roll out of bed until it’s at least light out.

Thirteen years of hot flashes, mostly at night, have made for a collection of skimpy pjs, unsuitable for outside. So my attire for the morning parade generally consists of sweatpants and a hoodie, which I strategically position on the floor beside the bed the night before. We aren’t talking body-hugging, curve-revealing Lululemon lovelies, we’re talking on-sale, off-season roomy stretchy stuff they hide in the back of Old Navy. Lumpy, pilly and warm.

Lately, it’s been cold and I’ve been wearing the hood up—until I realized on Friday that I resembled a cross between an aging Avril Lavigne and Darth Sidious. No wonder the neighbors I see on those pre-dawn jaunts turn and run fast back into their homes.

Before we moved to the country, my love and I lived in a townhouse in the city, in a neighborhood that had seen better days. Yes, there was some gang activity and it was populated primarily by, in that Canadian euphemism, newcomers—a term that always makes me think of the interplanetary visitors that arrive in sci-fi mini-series, friendly explorers until they pull off their human costumes, reveal their lizard-selves and make a play for earth’s water supply. Still, it was comfortable and convenient and quite frankly, despite the number of people, most of them inhabiting the lower regions of the economic scale, it was a pretty live-and-let-live kind of place. The last straw for us was when our next-door neighbors opened a sweatshop that assembled baby clothes in their basement. The industrial sewing machines vibrated prints off our walls at odd hours. I suppose it’s honest work and someone has to do it, I just didn’t relish sharing a wall with a textile factory.

Our new-ish neighborhood is very different. A suburban-esque exurban, adult-only development of cute and comfortable pre-fab homes. Strictly middle-class and up. Most people who moved here downsized in the process. We upsized, gaining close to 800 square feet, a garage and a yard. In our old neighborhood, we played down our cash resources; if we bought a new TV or computer, we didn’t put the box outside for garbage pick-up. Here, I guess we’re the people our neighbors would hide their boxes from.

While the neighbors are quite pleasant and helpful individually,  the homeowners association has a bit of a mob mentality.  It exists to close ranks with regard to yard use and care. The whole thing came about when one inhabitant decided to lean on the letter of the land-lease contract we all signed. While he may be just inside the permission of the developers, he’s far outside the hearts of most of his neighbors. However there’s been a new situation erupting that may also require a shunning. A newer addition to our happy band of homeowners has had the nerve to erect a legally permitted garden shed. His crime is that he appears to be in danger of reducing the visibility of the pond to…well, himself. Oh the horror.

My love and I have been pretty ambivalent about the whole homeowner association trip. We pay our $5 membership fee and then sneak out of the meetings early. Accustom to barely knowing our neighbors and being ok with that, we find the idea of telling someone what they can and cannot do in their own legally paid-for space just bizarre. We find the fact that others care so much about it sad. When I see the emotion my neighbors can work up against a retaining wall or gazebo or garden shed, I mourn that this passion doesn’t have some more worthwhile focus. I think of the diseases we could cure, the children we could feed and the whales we could save if that level of energy was unleashed on real problems.

We know we don’t belong here, but it’s been an interesting experiment in how the other half lives. We’re planning a move back to the city, once we figure out what and where we want to live. But there’s no need to hurry. We have a lovely flowers and a regularly cut lawn, so we’re still in with the in-crowd.

Thing is, once someone tells me I can’t do something, that’s usually when I want to do it most. I’ve been scanning the developer’s agreement to see what I can do to push the line and I think I may be on to something. After winning the Christmas decorating competition (which we didn’t know we had entered) the first winter we were here—an honor I still haven’t lived down among my more rebellious friends—I’ve been planning a holiday tableau that might move us to the cold side of the homeowners’ association. I’m thinking a more inner city theme, with life-size figurines of Latch-Key Jesus, Welfare Mom Mary and Rehab Joseph. Just let your mind conjure up the images of these holiday decorations. To that, I would add a huge inflatable helicopter ferrying Santa and a bag of toys—placed right on the roof. No, it doesn’t go with the theme, but it makes me laugh every time I pass it in the hardware store.

I can just see their faces. Clearly we wouldn’t take the prize.  But the chance to make such a festive statement about minding one’s business and how we should all be free to live as we choose is winning enough for me.

The pond at sunrise


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