I’ve organized my life in such a way as to be reasonably unobtrusive and minimize the impact my day-to-day activities have on others. It’s probably reasonable to say I actively go out of my way to avoid people in anything but necessary interactions. Much as I’d love it to be otherwise, there are still times when people are unavoidable if you’re not an entirely self-sufficient operation. In those cases, I try to be polite, professional, and end the engagement quickly as possible so we can all get on with our day. In essence, I have a policy of trying to be exactly the kind of neighbor I want to have. Do unto others and all that.
I don’t let the dog stand at the edge of the fence line and bark at all hours of the day and night. I don’t have live bands on the patio well past 11 PM. I don’t light off a barrage of fireworks in celebration of July 27th. I don’t encourage any resident or guest to wander the property screeching and screaming at top volume for hours on end. The loudest, most intrusive thing I do is run the mowers, trimmers, and blowers that keep the yard neat and tidy once a week. All in, it takes about 45 minutes and with very few exceptions it takes place during a time when one or more of my neighbors are doing the same thing.
I suspect it’s our setting, being surrounded by woods, that gives people the illusion of privacy and distance from their neighbors. At the height of summer with trees in full leaf and thick undergrowth on three sides, perhaps it’s easy to forget that the next guy can be as close as 30 or 40 yards away. Then again, it also feels entirely possible that people are just legitimately the worst animal and do what they do without even a thought behind their glazed over, soulless eyes. As much as I’d like to believe it’s the former, the latter is likely more the case.
I won’t cast aspersions on all neighbors, of course. Some are obviously better than others. The best of the bunch are the ones who throw a wave when you drive past or speak and keep walking when picking up their mail. I’m lucky to count most of my immediate neighbors as falling into this good category. Sadly, it doesn’t take more than one of the other kind to disturb the tranquility of the place overall.
Without investing in thousands of acres, I don’t imagine you can ever completely control for how other people behave or what they choose to do for entertainment. The big ranch in Montana probably isn’t in the cards for me, though. I can certainly keep muddling along with how things are, but I’m definitely of the opinion that I’ll need more seclusion from the general population than 1 or 2 acre lots provides when I settle in for my last act.
I’ve known for a long time there’s a Ferrari in the neighborhood. It’s a project car. You can’t miss the guy working on it in his garage. Every time I drive past and the door is up, I slow roll past and drool just a little bit. We wave, so it’s no completely awkward. Mostly.
Last Saturday, though, I discovered there’s a second one here. This one is decidedly not a project car. I following it out of our hood and into town… and it was like watching (and listening to) art in motion. It was simply a very pretty thing.
It has also let me know decisively that any thought I ever had of keeping up with the Jones’s is officially dead and gone. After this most recent observation, I am, however, absolutely questioning my life and career choices. As it sits, I could either have the car or the house, but there’s no financially responsible way I could have both. I’ll probably just go on blaming these dual income earners ruining it for the rest of us.
The pain of this particular reality is eased a bit by knowing that I’d need a bucket of grease and a shoehorn to wedge myself behind the steering wheel. I’d also be too heartsick at the thought of dings and dents to ever take the thing further afield than the end of the driveway… but I’m still absolutely filled with an overabundance of lust in my heart.
In the last six months I’ve watched as about 30% of the neighborhood hung out a for sale sign. Each time the home in question was sold in a matter of days – and if internet records can be believed, commanded sales prices that no one would have dreamed of two years ago. Two more just on my far exurban road have “coming soon” signs that went up last weekend.
I’ve seen enough of these boom and bust real estate cycles to know that seller’s markets don’t last forever. Then again, neither do buyer’s markets. Even knowing that, I have to confess to just a touch of jealousy at those cashing out and moving up or on.
By the same token, I’m spectacularly happy that I’m not trying to find a house to buy in the current market. Too many people chasing too few good options. I don’t have the patience for a bidding war or the tolerance for assuming all risks by waiving every contingency.
Part of me would dearly love to put up a for sale sign of my own and unlock the COVID equity built up over the last 18 months. The real trouble is, the house I really want hasn’t been built yet – because I’m still toying around with floor plans and design ideas to somehow hide the contents of a neighborhood library in a traditionally styled house.
I’d very much like my next move to be my last move. With seven of them under my belt since August 2000, I feel like I’ve had my share of packing and unpacking in town to town, up and down the dial already. Changing houses now would be, at best, a change of scenery. Since the scenery I’ve got is pretty damned good, though, it’s not an idea swimming with motivational appeal.
So, yeah, I have a little bit of sales envy, but no intention of doing anything about it for the time being. Barring untimely death or global economic collapse following the Great Mask Wars of the early 21st century, there will be time enough to cash out and have everything put together just so.
1. Twitter. I follow a pretty eclectic mix of personalities on Twitter – celebrities, politicians, news outlets, historic buildings, porn stars, military thinkers, military do-ers, and government organizations. With few exceptions, the dumpster fire that is Twitter has turned both more dumpster-y and more fiery over the last weeks and months. It’s become considerably less fun. It may be time to clear out the ol’ Twitter feed with a chain saw to see if we can correct that issue before deciding whether or not platform is hopelessly beyond redemption.
2. Government spending. The only time the US Government spent more money than it is right now, we were fighting a war of national survival against Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan. Now I don’t mean to imply that the Great Plague and its fallout haven’t been bad, but I’m not sure it has been end of western civilization bad. That won’t stop us from collectively throwing absolutely shit tons of money at it though. We seem to have gotten use to throwing around dollar amounts denominated in trillions over the last year, but the reality is the amount of debt we’re collectively financing to pay for short term stimulus versus long term growth is simply staggering. If it’s true that we ended the Cold War, in part, because we spent the USSR into oblivion, I don’t have a hard time imagining the day when we, too, reach the upper limit of our national line of credit. It’ll make what we currently think of as hard times feel like the most welcoming Spring day.
3. Walkers. The warm weather this week, as it does every spring, has brought out the neighborhood walkers in force. This fine. Good on them for wanting to be out stretching their legs at bit. Personally, I prefer taking the air in my own yard and woods, but to each their own. People wandering past all afternoon doesn’t particularly bother me. I’m tucked in to the back of the house with better views than out to the street. The problem, because of course there’s a problem, is that as much as I don’t mind, at least one of my canine residents minds terribly… and shows it by frantically barking at every single thing that moves anywhere within his line of sight. I can’t stop people from walking, but I am strongly considering bricking up every window on the front of the house.
1. Nextdoor. My neighborhood is one of many that have elected to use the Nextdoor website and app to take nosy-neighborness to the next level. The current conversation that seem to be monopolizing everyone’s time is focused on barking dogs, the causes, and what can be done about it. Participants are divided into two broad camps by this discussion. Without spending time recounting the dozens of posts, I fall pretty firmly into the camp that says that even though the lots here are large, we do, in fact, live in a neighborhood. That means we all have to endure a certain amount of fuckery we find personally obnoxious from neighbors (and their dogs). Yes, I’ve heard the occasional barking dog – and from time to time, mine have contributed to the cacophony. In the grand scheme of obnoxious shit neighbors do, the dogs aren’t even close to the top.
2. The House of Representatives. A few weeks ago, at least according to leaders in the House, the President of the United States represented a clear and present danger to the republic. Hearings had to be conducted and a vote held with all possible haste. Since then, though, the leaders of the House have spent weeks sitting with their collective thumbs up their own asses while refusing to deliver the charging documents to the Senate. Since they seem to be in no rush to get the trial underway, I can only assume House leaders no longer think President Trump is a pressing threat to the country. If he were, surely they would have pressed for a trial to go forward as quickly as possible… unless, of course, these fearless leaders of the House are more interested in political theater than actually standing upon their dire warnings for the future… and dealing with the fallout from their actions.
3. Doing for others. I’m generally open to lending a hand, or taking on a project, or generally at least attempting to make myself helpful. What I have consistently resented the hell out of over the course of my career are the things that land on my desk that could have been done by someone else faster or with less explanation required than pushing it over to me with a laundry list of instructions. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know the details of everyone’s workload, but I’m willing to bet that if I walked the halls I’d be hard pressed to find someone with more ash and trash cluttering their inbox than I’ve had this week. The fact that so much of it is stuck there by “trusted professionals” who could handle it themselves isn’t surprising, but it is annoying as hell.
1. Login.gov. The main platform for applying for work with the federal government, USAjobs.com, has introduced 2-factor authentication. In order to log into you account you now have to enter you user name and password and a six digit number provided to you via phone. That’s fine, except that in order to set up this new fancy ID with the 3rd party service, login.gov, you need the original phone number you used to set up your USAjobs account – which is a desk number I had more than 10 years ago. Without that one little bit of information you find you can’t log in to your old account, you can’t set up you new account, and there’s no way to fix A without fixing B witch requires you to fix A. It’s one of the most magnificent do loops I’ve seen the government foist on us in recent years. In discussion with the “help” desk it turns out I can’t even delete my old account and try again unless I can somehow transport back in time and answer a phone at a desk I haven’t sat at in over ten years.
2. Lawn Sprinklers. I have no philosophical issue with anyone piping water to their yard when weeks without rain threaten to bake it into oblivion. Sure, we’re all on wells and probably drawing from the same aquifer, but after three years of reliable water, I’ve got at least a small degree of comfort that we’re not going to run the damn thing dry. My problem comes when, after almost a week of nearly unremitting rain, when rainfall records are dropping like flies across the region, these same lawn sprinklers are running full tilt in the middle of a torrential downpour. I know it’s a relatively minor thing, but in my mind that also makes it one of those that’s easy to correct. I’m tickled pink to come from the land of plenty. I’m thrilled that the rain has turned my own lawn from wilting embarrassment to lush green carpet again. Although it’s completely outside the scope of what I usually care about, I’d really appreciate it if the house down the street could just stop making it rain for these few days while nature is providing the service gratis. I’m sure there will be plenty of days in August when they can show off their new toy to the neighborhood.
3. HVAC. Heating and cooling systems can be complex even at the residential level. Scale that into a multi-floor office building with a warren of offices, conference rooms, and open space, and I don’t even want to speculate on what mathematics may be involved in trying to make the place comfortable. First, I don’t want to speculate on that because I hate doing the maths. Second, I won’t speculate because I honestly don’t care. I just want the system to work. I want it to spit out cold air in the summer and warm air in the winter. Beyond that it can do whatever it wants. All I know is that somehow we’ve managed to make the lobby with 40 foot ceilings nicely chilled even in the heat of the day, but haven’t found a way to get any of that cool refreshing air down the hall to the back of the building. The first safety officer who comes down here bitching about too many fans plugged in is going to get kicked in the junk.
I can’t speak for anything beyond the field of view that stretches a couple of hundred yards on either side of my own driveway, but from all outward appearances the county has done a respectable job at getting things scrapped down to pavement. The fine exurbanites in the neighborhood have been diligently blowing, plowing, shoveling, and salting for the last three days. The whole place looks about as much like Stepford as anyone could ever want.
Being the hermit I am, hanging out at the house for the last two and a half days hasn’t exactly felt like a burden. It hasn’t actually felt like much more than a normal weekend, really. Now there’s an impromptu three-day weekend and curiosity is getting the better of me. The two winding back roads leading out of my little slice of Americana roll past farms and fields and a few sections of deep woods. In fair weather there’s a decided charm to it.
In the current other-than-fair environment somehow I doubt that they’re quite as inviting. I can think of two or three places on both routes where things are probably still sitting over the side or in the ditch from sometime yesterday. The whole county can’t be Stepford. I forget that sometimes. Maybe this afternoon I’ll fire up the four-wheel drive and have a look at what the rest of this mess looks like from outside the warm and toasty.
1. Neighbors. Tuesday night, one of the strong storms passing through the area cleaved several large branches off a tree in the neighbor’s yard. Two of those large limbs landed squarely in my yard, so after work I got out the saw, cut them up and piled them neatly for burning once they’ve hand a few weeks to dry out. The third of the limbs to come down fell in the neighbor’s yard, but landed in such a way that it snapped one of my fence posts and buckled several rails. Two days later, I’m still looking at that downed limb lying across a crumpled fence from my kitchen window. The neighbors have been home. I’ve seen the kids playing in the yard and I’ve seen their vehicles come and go, but neither of them has broached the subject of the limb, or the fence. We’re now engaged in a great game of seeing how long it takes the neighbor takes to do some basic yard work and if they’ve got the personal integrity to at least offer to take care of the repairs. Given my observation over the last four years, I won’t be holding my breath waiting for either of those things to happen. If the shoe were on the other foot, I’d have addressed the issue already… and therein clearly lies the problem of holding others to the standards to which I hold myself.
2. Standing corrected. I hereby retract that mean things I said about my credit union yesterday. I discovered today that the fault was all mine for making a boneheaded mistake writing out the damned check. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa.
3. Attempted guilting. Since the office is now officially down to four, there’s apparently going to be a self-appointed chief of attempting to make everyone feel guilty about taking time off, “because then everyone else is sooooooo busy.” Maybe if I were a better person, I would feel guilty. Then I remember that I didn’t create the staff shortage and that I’ve earned every hour of leave I’ve banked over the last eleven years, so I’m going to go ahead and schedule it when I need it rather than when it’s convenient for someone else. I’ve got problems enough of my own without giving in to attempted guilting. Nice try, though.
I watch people. I don’t mean that so much in the Creepy McCreeperson kind of way, but for as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated in watching people and trying to figure them out. Most of the time, it’s pretty easy to read them. It helps that most people are pretty dumb and almost all of us are predictable on some level. I’ve had a few weeks to watch the family next door now. It’s surprising what you can see when you don’t have a six foot privacy fence between you and the rest of the planet, but I digress.
The thing I’ve noticed most often is how tired the guy who lives next door looks. 6:30 in the morning leaving for work, he looks tired. Cutting the grass in the evening, he looks tired. We all work, pay bills, and keep up with the endless list of things that need done to keep our houses from falling in around our ears. We all get tired. The difference I’ve noticed is that even when I’m tired, I go to bed, sleep for a few hours, and wake up refreshed. All you’ve got to do is look in this guy’s eyes and you can tell there’s no waking up rested going on there. He’s a nice enough guy to say hello to, but he’s got that vacant 1000 yard stare that speaks of being completely exhausted. It’s that look of exhaustion that really made me think.
We never really know what’s going on in other people’s lives, but I always look askance at couples who claim they can’t get everything done. Seriously? There are two of you doing what one of me does. That would be cleaning the house, doing the laundry, cooking, yard work, washing the car, grocery shopping, running errands, making the money, and generally managing life. The difference between us is that I’m doing it with half the manpower you have available. Without knowing the intricacies of your life, it seems that if one of me can manage to get it all done, two of you should be able to at least keep up.
It seems that there are now enough lots in the subdivision sold to warrant the handover of the homeowner’s association from the builder to the actual homeowners. Actually, it’s not the builder… Two of them went bankrupt trying to build the place out, so we’re actually dealing with the a holding company who probably can’t get the place handed over fast enough.
Usually I wouldn’t bother with these meetings, but in the interests of trying to hold the usual extremists at bay, I figure showing up is the least I can do. Given the level of neighborly involvement here, I fully expect this to be a homeowner’s confederation rather than an actual rule-making or enforcement body. Once I’ve assured myself that the couple of activists aren’t going to run away with things, I plan on going back to ignoring 99% of what goes on here.