Neighbors are just fine until there's a meeting

ROGER SIMON

November 30, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

We all have different conceptions of hell.

Some people imagine it is being trapped in an elevator with Pat Buchanan.

Personally, I imagine it is spending eternity in a homeowners' meeting.

The Community Associations Institute estimates that 80 million Americans live in "common interest communities," run by condominium, co-op, or homeowner associations.

Which explains a lot about the rise of lunacy in our culture.

Years ago, I used to live in a high-rise condo. I went to one meeting, which was taken up debating whether the building should hire a concierge.

"A concierge could get us ballet and concert tickets," said the crazy lady who made the motion. (Every homeowners' association has at least one crazy lady. For all I know, it is the same crazy lady who constantly keeps moving.)

I raised my hand. I took the floor. I tried to imagine how Winston Churchill would put it.

Whazza matter, you don't own a telephone? I shouted at the crazy lady. Both your arms broken? You can't dial a phone and get your own lousy concert tickets?

The debate lasted more than three hours. The final vote was 26-2 against hiring a concierge. (I felt so ashamed of my behavior that I voted with the crazy lady.)

But I vowed that I would never live in a condo again. So now I live in a house. But that house is part of a homeowners' association.

Which means I have a Homeowners Manual that weighs more than a Sunday newspaper.

This is common in America. I read not long ago about a place called Virginia Run, a planned community near Centreville, Virginia, which has a book of regulations that tells people how high they may stack their firewood (four feet), where they may string their backyard clotheslines (nowhere, backyard clotheslines are forbidden), and whether they may keep Christmas lights up beyond the Christmas season (no way).

Last week, my association held its annual meeting. There are currently 753 families living in my community. About 60 people showed up at the meeting. The rest decided to stay home and be sane.

I kept silent for the first item on the agenda: Whether we should plant annuals or perennials in the common areas.

"You only have to plant perennials once," said one homeowner,who was following the rule that when something is too obvious to state it should be stated repeatedly. "While annuals, you have to plant, uh, annually."

I can't tell you how the vote went. I was too busy trying to retrieve my eyeballs, which had rolled up into my head.

At the second agenda item, however, I perked up. It was marked: "Deer problem."

Though I live in the suburbs and not the countryside, there are tons of deer where I live. And I have a city boy's affection for them. Where I grew up deer meant Bambi, not dinner.

But communities grow and grow and deer end up living closer to people. And the deer, which are not issued Homeowners Manuals, do not know they are forbidden to eat the azaleas.

"The deer are eating the shrubs around the electrical transformer boxes!" a lady complained.

I move we do away with the electrical transformer boxes, I said. Problem solved. Let's adjourn.

"Is there a second to the motion?" the chairman asked.

There was no second. Apparently some people like electricity more than deer.

"They have eaten all my shrubs," a man said. "I put out mothballs in bags of cheesecloth to keep them away, but that has not worked."

But I'll bet you don't have moths! I shouted. Count your blessings!

The debate lasted for what seemed like several weeks. Some people wanted to shoot the deer. But in the end, reason prevailed.

Let's not harm the deer, I said. Instead, I move we use scarecrows to scare them away.

"But will that really work?" a homeowner asked.

It will if we make the scarecrows look like Pat Buchanan, I said.

The motion passed unanimously.

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