I live in a gated community, a place where the homeowners association frets over whether our mailboxes are as nice as the mailboxes in the community on the other side of the preserve. A place where we have standards about how long one’s Halloween decorations may be left out in public (one week) and how tall one’s grass is officially sanctioned to grow. (1 1/2 inches).
I am a woman who rebels against being told what to do, so living in a gated community was not exactly a lifelong dream. I am the freewheeling, creative type – a person who needs to feel like I could paint my house lime green or fuscia if I ever had the urge. Unfortunately, the entire state of Florida has been parceled into deed-restricted, HOA-maniacal, gated communities. The only alternative for non-restricted living here is a cardboard box somewhere under I-75, which, frankly, is a tough sell for a family of four.
Even if it is lime green.
So, we moved into a gated community. The grass is always cut. If you feel like painting your house, there are three wild and crazy shades of “sand” to choose from. And you won’t find nicer-looking mailboxes anywhere in the state.
There are lots of retired people in Florida, and in my neighborhood. They keep their lawns in tip-top shape, and walk their small, bark-free dogs around the block at 7:30 every morning.
My street is a long, lovely circle surrounding two manmade lakes. While the average resident in our neighborhood, and frankly the state, is in his or her early sixties, our street is an anomoly — populated almost entirely with young children, and parents barely striking forty.
We have so many children on our street that the elementary school, the gifted school, and the middle school buses all stop on our corner. Which means from 8:30 – 9 every morning (and 3:30 – 4:15 every afternoon), a bunch of kids and their parents congregate on the corner, laughing and talking and goofing around, as people do while they wait for the school bus.
Unfortunately, the man who owns the house on the corner next to the bus stop didn’t get the memo that our street was going to be the kid-friendly zone. Here the poor guy thought he was moving into retirement utopia, to socialize with his peers and keep his lawn weed-free in peace. Little did he know.
If he were the grandfatherly type, he might enjoy twice-a-day presence of the giggling, scooter-riding kids. But he’s not. He’s the guy who just wants a little peace and quiet.
To make matters worse, one of the mothers (okay, fine, it was me) accidentally committed the greatest sin against man or nature: One morning a few weeks ago, when I was dropping my son at the bus stop, my tire accidentally touched his grass, or rather, the strip of public access grass in front of his yard between the sidewalk and the street. In my defense, my street has no curbs — in the new, cool, Florida way, the street just sort of slopes a bit up to the grass.
I have no excuse for my errant behavior: I was in a hurry. I had to rush my son to the bus stop in my car, because my daughter needed to be at her preschool ten minutes later. As soon as I put my son on his bus and waved goodbye, I turned to find my corner neighbor tapping his foot and waggling his finger at me.
He pointed to the lawn. One of my tires had encroached his green domain by a good two inches. I apologized profusely. He threatened to move the bus stop to outside the gate (not exactly within his grumpy old man power, and sure, it would endanger forty-five kids by putting them out on a busy street, and inconvenience 20 or 30 parents, but HEY, WE’RE TALKING ABOUT GRASS HERE!)
I inched my tire back onto the street, and surveyed the damage. Or rather, lack of damage. The entire state of Florida is carpeted in something called “St. Augustine grass” which is as soft as frozen straw, and as durable as Teflon. My mommymobile didn’t even leave a mark. Really. Not one tiny mark.
I apologized again, (and again,) not wanting to engage in a battle with a neighbor over grass. Because, it’s, um, grass. I like my neighborhood, it’s a wonderful place to live, and my guess is that he’s just an unhappy guy.
He continued to yell. I continued to apologize. The situation began to feel almost comically unbalanced, and I started to wonder if maybe he was just lonely, or feeling without purpose.
If it wasn’t the lawn, I think it would probably always be something else: Unapproved flowers. Cats roaming the driveway. Newspaper deliverers missing the porch entirely.
He shook his fist and his head, and watched me as I drove away.
Property value, friends, that’s what life is all about.