Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Notes From Suburbia

Category: Life Winners, Issue 3

“Why pay rent into someone else’s pocket, when you can have a mortgage and be paying yourself?”

“There’s a sense of pride in owning.”

“You can do whatever you want to the inside, and no landlord will show up to complain.”

“It’s equity.  You can never have enough equity.”

OK, much of that rhetoric is actually true, if not said through rose-coloured glasses, to mangle a metaphor.  But there’s also much that we weren’t warned about by the seemingly well-meaning “financial hooker” (the guy who connects you to a real mortgage officer in a bank), the real estate agent, or the family.  For example we never heard any of the following:

“You might want to check up on your neighbours a bit, find out exactly how crazy they are.”

“How’s the foundation?  Cracking?”

“This is gonna cost SOOO much more than you think”

Well, come to think of it, my rain-in-the-face dad did try saying some of these things, bless his soul, but we weren’t listening, caught up in the giddy excitement of lawyers, counteroffers, and subjects on the contract.

And so we own.

Looking back, I now see that there’s a certain sexiness to the idea that one could, with 60 days notice, simply pick up and leave, like tribes in the monsoon season who just float downriver every year to the new spot.  No worries about the roof caving in, whether the neighbours will agree to help with a fence, or making sure the rhododendrons get water every day. 

Those were all someone else’s problem.

I’d rented several houses in the past, and frankly, I cannot for the life of me recall who the neighbours were, or what any of them looked like, for the simple reason that I never met any of them.  It was truly care-free living, not having to worry about lawns, structural integrity, the ugly tiles in the bathroom, what is taking up residence in the attic, or making nice with the people next door, since it could all be a distant memory in two months anyway.  Even the priggish landlords and supers who essentially told us off for living there were temporary nuisances, things to be dismissed as soon as the moving truck arrived.

Gotta say, though, that owning the walls does give rise to a King in His Castle sort of attitude that cannot be obtained with renting….of course, this King lets his Queen make all the key decisions, but nary a day goes by that I don’t walk around the realm with an unmistakeable smugness, thinking “that wall is mine…those appliances?  Moi”, etc.  Benevolent Royalty that I am, I’ve tried to pass on this feeling by upgrading the tube-system of my three pet mice, giving them an extra loft with extra walkways.  Their cage now resembles something out of the Jetsons, with tubes winding up, down, in, out, ending in either a dome or square apartment, all connected to the central cage.  The cats love it.

Anyway, the one big negative to be had with owning is that things which NEVER would have bothered me in the past, things I would not have even noticed as a renter, have suddenly become problems and issues of monolithic proportions as a homeowner.  I find a discarded Subway bag, or empty cigarette pack on my front lawn, and I want to kill.  “What if I went to your house and threw litter around, how much would you like that you sonofabitch?” rolls through my head as I discard the offending refuse.  I dream of putting up ten-foot high concrete walls with a moat.  Crocodiles.

Anyway, one event in particular finally triggered some action from this heretofore paper-tiger king:
My neighbour slowly began to mow his front yard a little bit more and more onto my side of the property line (as indexed by the fence in the backyard).  The reason I even knew he was doing this is because he has his mower set down to the ‘bikini-wax’ setting that the groundskeepers in Augusta, Georgia would envy.  Living in a technical desert, this means the grass yellows within minutes of his mowing it.  So I, with my “every two weeks, if that”  mowing philosophy, have a somewhat less kempt, but vastly more green lawn than his.  And now he’s mowing my side of the lawn, almost right up to the edge of my house.  Again, something I would not have even noticed a year ago.  It’s a few feet of grass.  Who cares?  But now my mentality is that the bugger is PURPOSELY DRIVING ME INSANE by mowing first a foot, then TWO feet, and finally THREE GODDAMNED FEET ONTO MY PROPERTY MY LAND MY KINGDOM…..Suddenly I’m this tin-pot Dictator threatening to unleash the WMDs over a neighbouring region encroaching my borders…I’ve become the person I used to laugh at when I’d see it in others.  How can you get so upset over a little thing like that, I used to say.

Of course, now there’s the dealing with the problem.  He knows that he’s mowing my property my land my KINGDOM, and the only reasons I can think that he’s doing it is either because he knows it is chewing me up inside, or maybe because he’s trying a coup d’etat in pieces, slowly taking over my property and claiming it to be his, realizing I’m a homeowner rookie, a simpering polite author-wannabe who won’t do or say anything about it.  Well.

Whatever his insidious and sinister reasons, my first inclination was to go dig a trench right along the property line.  No explanation necessary.  Just a foot deep, foot wide trench, running from the house to the street.  Anybody asks, I’m getting ready to do some planting.  Well, the Queen nixed that idea, saying something about noses spiting faces. 

I don’t know, I thought it had potential. 
At any rate, next, I thought to take some old stakes I have in the back, hammer them into the property line, and weave some kite-rope between them, implicitly telling him “OK dumbass, here’s the property line you can’t seem to follow”.  Similar to the trench plan, but without the property damage.  Again, the Queen said that would look ugly, to which I replied that that was exactly the POINT, it would drive him NUTS since he’s so extremely obssessive-compulsive about having anything but a lawn in his front yard (you should have seen his face when, before we knew this little tidbit about him, we mentioned putting a ring of cedars in front….“but what about the view?” was his asinine retort).  Of course, once we found out his idea of ‘landscaping’ consisted of a lawn, a whole lawn, and nothing but the lawn, we ran out to the local greenhouse and purchased a seven-foot high maple tree that now sits fifteen feet from his precious lawn, far enough, we are told, that the branches will just stay on our side.  But the leaves….he must already be having nightmares over the leaves that will come in the fall.  And every fall thereafter.  Hey, don’t look at me, the tree was the Queen’s idea.
I’m so proud of her.

Anyway, I still might do the gnarly stake plan if he doesn’t shape up about the rancid and exposed compost heap between our houses (which I also spoke to him about to no avail… that’s another story), but in the meantime I tried the most reckless and least-likely successful tack (from a tinpot dictator perspective) of actually talking to him about it.  Not good at this sort of thing, never having done it before, but I decide to take a very non-offending tone, a sort of “I really don’t mean to be a bother but, ” stance. 

So he’s out back, chopping wood with one of his boys (don’t ask…this was early August, it doesn’t actually snow here until mid-February, and he has stacked up a 6X8X5 foot pile and is showing no signs of stopping).  I go out and say hi, hows it going, and chit chat a bit, then Oh, this is nothing major, but, you know, the front lawn, could you maybe, you know, stick to your side of the property line?  He sputters, probably didn’t expect me to actually challenge him on it, then tries to explain that he wants to mow to the stairline (my stairs), that that was a better guide, whatever the hell that means.  This makes no sense to me, the stairline being a yard further than he’s supposed to be mowing, but I ignore it, and just say “well, ok, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t do that any more”.  I guess this dressing down of his Ultimate Authority in front of ‘The Boy’ was too much for him; his voice took on a bit of a snarl as he swung the axe and said “OK, fine, I don’t give a shit”. 

First time I’ve heard him swear like that.
It was like the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth swelling up in my ears, the big climax with the orchestra pumping to keep up with the choir. 
“Cool”, says I, as I shambled off to pick up some now-so-unimportant trash that had accumulated in the back yard.  Wanting to savour the moment and turn the screws a bit more, a few minutes later I went back, and asked what he thought about the new gutters we’d just had installed, and forced him to talk nice to me for a few extra minutes about an addition I knew and he knew I knew he couldn’t afford to do to his house.  It was heavenly. 

Next, I plan on throwing a ton of stale bread into our backyard to attract birds….he hates birds…I suddenly love birds….messy, noisy, swooping to and fro, crapping on the fence, eating the vegetables…tweet tweet tweet Mr. Composting Next to My Deck. 

The Queen says I’m not being diplomatic, but what else is there to do when you ask nicely and they continue to offend?  Bend over and take it?  Not likely.  I’m calling for air support (already refilled the bird feeder).  Suburban warfare rocks.

He’s mowed twice since our little discussion (me once), and sticks to his side, to my mild surprise.  If I’m lucky, the ‘retaliation’ for his disgrace will be something that doesn’t actually bug me.

Now, the bonus to all this is that I’ve yet to talk directly to him since that momentous occasion.  He no longer appears to be very interested in speaking to me any more, which is absolutely great, wonderful, fantastic.  I don’t even look their way when I’m in the back yard, and they don’t go out of their way to say hello.  Yesterday we even made eye contact, and I smiled and said hi, and he turned away.

It’s exactly as if I was renting the place. 


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Old Comments

  • In truth I also want to have my own property. Because I like to have my own place and I don’t h ave to move and move. And also It is a lifetime investment. But because of your story I’m starting to wonder in the opposite direction. Well I still want my own place but maybe not for now, I still want to enjoy my renting season. smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/16  at  03:52 PM
  • Suburban warfare. I love it. Go all Soprano’s on them and put barrels of birdseed in the corner of your back yard. It attracts critters. Or, go the Ozzy Osbourne route and simply fling meet onto his perfectly manicured lawn from hell! Nice piece.

    Posted by deminizer  on  06/19  at  10:25 AM
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