What happened to neighbors?


January 03, 2001|By ALAN C. REESE

IN THE OLD WEST, vigilante groups roamed the countryside exacting their own brand of justice with religious fervor in the name of community good.

Today, community associations have taken up that role.

These organizations, filled with well-meaning individuals with wrong-headed notions, intend to bring the world to a sanitized ideal under the watchful eye of the brotherhood.

Woe be it to the hapless homeowner who chooses to change the color of a house's shutters from colonial green to robin's egg blue without the official sanction of the Architectural Control Committee. If you thought the Inquisition moved swiftly and with an iron hand, you haven't had the opportunity of seeing these folks at work. They will swoop down like hungry buzzards and serve notice on the offender before the paint has a chance to dry.

In October, in our neighborhood, where the grass is not allowed to grow higher than four inches, Halloween, which fell on a Tuesday last year, was canceled. Or more accurately, it was moved to a more convenient date. The community association decreed that Saturday presented a more reasonable time.

Its argument included taking advantage of the extra hour of daylight before Eastern Standard Time went into effect. It also wished to protect the sanctity of our homes by preventing "undesirable outside" elements from infiltrating the planned festivities and obtaining treats under false pretenses. These safety measures minimize the chance for vandalism and help keep our children safe. Heavens, we don't want any toilet paper hanging from the trees or broken pumpkins in the roadways. The potential threat of children getting lost in the dark and wandering off, never to be seen again, deserves serious measures.

After careful thought and consideration, I am beginning to see the wisdom of the association's thinking. In keeping with this thoroughly sound reasoning, I am drafting a proposal and recommending to the board that we move Christmas to July to take advantage of the warm weather and longer days. That way the children would have more time and opportunity to enjoy their mountain bikes and scooters. Besides, too many holidays are clumped together at the end of the year. This would help spread them out.

In fact, there are too many holidays altogether. They close our schools and prevent our children from excelling and becoming competitive in the world market. I'm certain the association could clump all those birthday celebrations into one day and force the schools to stay open.

Once we take care of these matters, we could move on to less weighty but equally important concerns.

For example, lately I've noticed an alarming increase in the squirrel population. These vermin can be seen roving freely over our yards and feeding at will from our approved bird feeders without consequence. The time is at hand to call in professional exterminators and limit their presence to an agreed upon number per acre or household. If left unchecked, these rodents could take over.

We could then move to the pressing issue of barking dogs. Dogs would be restricted to three barks per day during agreed hours. No further barking would be permitted. A warning would be issued for the first offense. After that, the canine's vocal apparatus would be surgically removed -- at the homeowner's expense, of course. I can see where such power would have an intoxicating effect. This is pretty heady stuff.

The unfortunate reality is that these former student council members seek to regain their past glory by commandeering these organizations, foisting their reality on everyone else and attempting to eradicate anything that doesn't fit in their tidy little pigeonholes.

Newsletters, flyers and notices flood the neighborhood, thrown carelessly in driveways and across lawns and stuffed illegally into mailboxes informing the unsuspecting citizen of new policies and plans and handing out their latest dictums. It wouldn't surprise me to wake up some sunny morning in a year of sunny mornings dialed up on the recently installed Climate Control Dome and find my newly issued uniform and identification badge and papers on the front porch.

Focusing on all these petty issues, which they elevate into federal cases, while laughable, only serves to foster disharmony and ill feelings. Other neighborhoods function fine without the assistance of righteous community associations.

What happened to the old neighborhoods, where families helped one another or solved problems with a phone call or an over-the-fence discussion instead of with a committee or regularly scheduled meeting?

Today's writer

Alan C. Reese is managing editor at American Literary Press and lives in the Glen Elyn community of Harford County.

Metro Journal provides a forum for examining issues of concern to the region's neighborhoods and welcomes contributions from readers.

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