Friday, June 19, 2009

The Fourteenth One: Neighborhood Blight

I knew it was going to come to this.

See, our neighborhood is a little bit competitive, and there's this "Yard of the Month" thing that some of the folks are REALLY focused on. They must have this honor or die trying. It gets fierce.

Our particular street has some really nice yards. Not "Better Homes & Gardens" nice, no photographers milling about fighting for the best angle, but there are some very well-kept lawns. People spend a lot of time tending to this and that, and there's always a professional service puttering around at somebody's house.

And to be fair, there was a time when I was deeply invested in the outside appearance of my home. Of course, this was way back in the day, old school, when you took care of your yard because that's what you were supposed to do, not so you could win a prize and get your picture in the Neighborhood Association newsletter.

In fact, in the first several years after I bought the house, I was borderline obsessive. I was constantly out in the yard. If I happened to actually be IN the house, and spotted an unsavory blade of glass through a window, I was racing back out there, regardless of time of day or current clothing choice. The yard was my pristine temple.

Then, things changed. My partner moved in, and he clearly was not interested in landscaping. ("You spend more time FERTILIZING than you do with me!" Door slams, silent evening, separate sleeping arrangements.) My responsibilities at work increased over the years, slowly squeezing out any free time whatsoever. And the ultimate sin: I just stopped caring.

And it shows. Loud and clear.

There has always been one section of lawn in the northeast quadrant that stayed patchy and barren, because the massive trees stop all sunlight. I tried everything, different kinds of seeds and friendly chemicals and elaborate sacrifices. I even went the route of laying sod. Each time, there were two days of "It looks so lush and full!", then we would inevitably degrade to dried-out checkerboard squares that had to be hauled to the curb so the city could fine me for putting bulky trash out before the sacred Bulky Trash Day.

But at least it was a small patch back in the day. Now it's half the front yard, composed of dirt and a brave tendril of grass every couple of yards. The only time it ever fills in is when the leaves fall. (Oh, the leaves. Those things I now let sit there for six-months at a time. Yep, lost interest.)

When I get around to mowing this growing brown behemoth (to suck up the leaves, natch, because there's no time to rake), so much dirt fills the air that there is a cloud billowing over the house. Helicopters fill the sky, with choking and gasping reporters giving a live update to Biff back at the main news desk. I can hear dogs barking as rescue teams search for survivors. For the next week, we have Mt. St. Helens residue for miles around.

Then there are the dead trees. And we're not talking little saplings that didn't make it. I mean Redwoods that have bit the farm, towering menacingly in their decay. I should have had these things cut down and hauled away. Seriously, they could fall and crush a house. But nope, they're still there. And every time a thunderstorm rolls through (and with this being Texas, the bad weather is as regular as a subway schedule), I'm all clenched, waiting for one of them to come tumbling down. I have State Farm on speed dial.

Interesting sidenote, though. These trees have NOT come down. Yet our neighborhood has been hit hard with storms, many times. And every time, all the other neighbors are out in their yards with chainsaws, hacking up all the healthy trees that didn't make it in their own yards. And they manage to glance my way as I perform clean-up in Deadwood Forest, picking up the two miniscule branches that fell, and then slinking back into the house. I feel guilty. And I can feel their hatred, thick as humidity in July.

Okay, spinning the wheel again. We also have clay pots all over the damn yard. I went through a terra cotta phase back when I cared, literally buying hundreds of these things and cramming them full of plant life. All shapes and sizes, artfully arranged in little groupings. It actually looked really good, almost professional, if I may say. But at the height of my clay pot mania, it took three hours to water all of them in one session.

Three HOURS.

So that got old fast, although I did persevere for several summers, slowly slimming the herd as plants didn't come back after the winter. We're now down to about 12 pots with the heartiest survivors. I haven't bought any new plants in years. And we now have two clay pot graveyards, one along the east fence and one directly behind the house. Hey, I paid good money for these things, I'm not just going to chunk em. Besides, they kind of look artsy still, all piled up randomly. It's just not GOOD art. It's Grandma art.

I could go on, but I'm drifting away from my opening for this post, wherein I knew a certain thing was eventually going to happen. And that certain thing is that the neighbors immediately to our west just got Yard of the Month. They worked hard, yard looks great, they deserve it. I'm not jealous at all that they got this award and I never did. No, not jealous at all.


Think about it. I have just described only a small portion of the obvious devastation and neglect on our property. It's bad enough that our neighbors and their friends and family have to drive by this place. Now, we have the official yard-of-the-month magnet pulling in even more traffic to our street. (Remember, it's a big deal, people read the newsletter and want to see who pulled it off this time and how they did it, scribbling notes and stealing ideas.)

So we have Exhibit A: The glorious winners and the stunning beauty of their yard. Yay! Pretty! And right next door we have Exhibit B: The land of dryness, broken pottery, and trees that can kill you. And just in case you aren't clear, there are TWO yard-of-the-month signs in front of Exhibit A proclaiming "These are the divine winners. And that crap over THERE is the devil's work."

Picture this: A lovely Sunday morning. I'm drinking coffee and gazing out the front window. (Not sure why, considering the view, maybe I'm looking at that one good tree.) I spy a family in a car, fresh from church, slowing in front of the neighbor house. There's excited chatter spilling out the windows, some picture-taking. They bask in the beauty and are refreshed, spiritually renewed for the second time that day.

Then Daddy drives on and OUR house comes into view. There are shattering screams, the children's eyes are forcibly covered, Momma grips the finely-jeweled cross around her neck, and Daddy floors it, natural instinct kicking in to protect his family. They race away, the sheer velocity of the car stirring up all the dirt in our yard, sending a mushroom cloud into the sky. I hear the helicopters start up, and the barking dogs approach.

I quietly finish my coffee. And then call my therapist. On the secure line.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Thirteenth One: Peace in Our Time


Okay, taking a bit of a break from my normal routine of making fun of myself and my life circumstances, wherein we all have a good laugh and them move on. Just read a multi-post discussion on Facebook concerning whether or not to attend one's approaching high-school reunion (whatever year-increment it may be).

First, let me say that I have never attended any of my reunions. Initially, I had no desire to go back. I could not WAIT to get out of that place, what I considered a hell-on-earth situation. I actually don't have my high school diploma, because you had to go back to the high school after the graduation ceremony and show your cap in order to get the diploma. No interest in doing that. I don't have my senior yearbook, even though I was on the yearbook staff, because you had to go back after graduation to get it. I ran like my butt was on fire and never looked back.

I graduated in 1983, so it's been a while. Over the years, I did eventually contemplate going to a reunion. Just to see. Maybe it wasn't as bad as my memories made me think. Then I would surreptiously troll the websites where people were planning the reunions, and I was always marked as "unable to locate, can't find him". Hello? I've never had an unpublished number, my last name is pretty rare, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to track me down. Apparently, nobody wanted to try real hard to find me.

So I would go back to my dark place. The pain of the high school years would come come bubbling up, and I would avoid the reunions.

See, I was this odd dichotomy in high school. President of my Junior Class. Student Council president my senior year. Hey, sounds good, right? People must like me. Yay. But I was also gay. A horrible secret that had to be hidden away in the early 80's, and really, for years after that. And I guess I didn't really hide it that well, because some people knew, or suspected, or were just hateful.

Picture this, especially those of you who were there in those days at Broken Arrow Senior High at the old campus. The main hallway that ran east/west, with what seemed like hundreds of classrooms. I hated that hall. Because there were so many times when I would be walking down that hall, just trying to get to my next class, when somebody would spit on me and call me a faggot. It became a daily challenge. Would I get to class without having to wipe spit off my face?

Shocking, right? Should be. But it wasn't shocking in that time and place, it was perfectly acceptable, and there was no one to protect you. Wait, let me qualify that. There were a few friends who knew, and supported me, who did what they could out of love. That was my spark, that's what got me through. But I still don't want that damn diploma. I didn't graduate, I simply managed to survive. I don't need a piece of paper for that.

Flash forward 25 or so years, and now we have Facebook. It's a fascinating thing. Thrills me to see former classmates posting about acceptance and love for their gay friends, it seriously does. And then I accept a friend invite to find that someone I remembered as being progressive is now a member of some "God hates fags" group. What is wrong here? What fundamental thing do I not understand?

Then I have to remember. It's not about me. It's not about what I personally hope or wish for. Every human being has their own free will. That's the "human" part. Set aside those wants, or hopes, or wishes. Free will, to each his own. End sentence, next paragraph.

This is the test, to live with that.

Let me rephrase, the test is to make the BEST of that.

So, to bring it back around, do you go to your high school reunion when you have baggage?

Depends on the baggage. How much do you have? If you've got enough that you have to check some of it in and pay the service fees every time you travel, you've got too much. Get rid of it, learn to fly with just a carry-on. I believe I discarded my first piece of luggage somewhere outside the Broken Arrow city limits. There should be a diploma and a yearbook inside. And maybe a skinny tie or two.

Sometimes you have to get far away from something before you can actually see it for what it was. And what it wasn't. And then you can slowly go back, if you choose. But now the choices and decisions are your own. You pick your classes. More importantly, you pick your teachers. It's an open campus, you have your own car, there aren't any bells ringing, and lunch lasts as long as you let it...

Welcome to the You-niversity. Would you like some coffee with that?