Michael Perry, Words of Wisdom
From the book TRUCK: A Love Story by Michael Perry. Copyright (c) 2006 by Michael Perry. Reprinted by arrangement with Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
I am happy to live in a place where I can chuck a washing machine out my back door and no one judges my behavior unusual. Having said that, I recognize the limits. Shortly after I moved to this village, I was upstairs writing one afternoon when a steady rhythm of thuds gradually intruded on my conscious. Moving to the back of the house, I peeked through the blinds and saw two teenagers, each armed with a sledgehammer, pounding the bejeebers out of a junk car in the adjacent yard. To compose the approximate image, visualize a pair of manic first-chair kettle drummers slamming madly through a speed-metal update of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” The bulk of their blows were directed against the hood, trunk, doors, and roof, so the clamor was largely metallic, but now and again they’d strike a headlight, and the tinkle of glass came through like a grace note. When they drove the head of the sledge through a window, the safety glass gave out a squeaky crunch and collapsed into sparkling honey comb. The boys hammered until every fl at surface had been thrashed to a rumple. Then they set aside their tools, and, as men are given to do, retreated three steps to gaze upon all they had wrought.
As long as there’s a shot your car might one day spin a wheel, the village board will generally give you dispensation to leave it parked in perpetuity. But when you pulverize your Pontiac to the point that it appears to have been tumble-dried in a rock crusher, you are sending a specific message, and that message is: this vehicle has been rendered irretrievably out of ser vice. Someone complained, and the village board commanded that the vehicle be removed.
Occasionally this happens—someone will show up at a board meeting and ask that a patch of weeds be mowed or a car hauled off. There are ordinances, and I understand, to a point. Neatness keeps the property values up, and based on the number of scrawny cats emerging from the three-foot foxtail across the alley to dump a load in my cilantro, you could probably advance the argument on public health grounds. Still, I am leery of enforced neatness. We’re seeing more and more of it around these parts. Zoning, covenants, “smart growth,” and so on. We strive to preserve the countryside. Minimize the impact of big boxes and sprawl. But social engineering in the cause of perfection and the tax base has its casualties. You can’t build a simple shack without a series of visits by some bureaucrat waving a sheaf of permits and a clipboard. People move here from the city and put up their dream home on twenty acres and don’t want to gaze upon tin siding and caved-in Plymouths. I get it. But neither do I want someone checking my quack grass with a tape measure. To my eye (and I freely cop to a festering case of latent hickitude), that trailer house tucked against a row of Norway pines is far less objectionable than some tony monstrosity dwarfing the ol’ fishin’ hole. Gentrification is not always a matter of Starbucks. When my brother four miles north of town is informed that in certain circumstances all of his neatly stacked lumber must be a minimum of twelve inches off the ground, I can’t help thinking some people have too much time on their hands and our tax dollars would be better spent on the local kindergarten teacher. My brother, whom I’m sure appreciates that I “can’t help thinking,” tends in nearly all cases to adopt firmer courses of action, and is standing for election to the town board. We are not of one mind on all issues, but I solidly admire his willingness to take the abuse.
He and I are both complicit. Him with his bulldozer, with which he carves driveways for the new arrivals, me with my little ten-acre patch outside of town, which I sold in a trice when I needed the money and found out what it would bring. And if the time comes to put my house up for sale, I will be seeking the highest bidder, which (based on what I paid for the place) will raise the property values accordingly, continuing to prove the point that no matter who’s shinnying up the trunk—landhungry developers or preservationists intent on legislating the position of every pine needle—it’s the poor folks who get pushed from the tree. In the meantime I ponder the advantage of keeping one’s place in a state of rattiness capable of evincing sympathy from the assessor. He sees a rusty International and a marooned dryer, I see a pair of tax deductions. I shall reserve the money saved for a quick spruce-up when it’s time to sell to a buyer looking for a decent place with affordable taxes. Arrange a situation à la Chevy Chase in Funny Farm in which the neighbors pitch in by nailing their siding back on and disguising the pile of rusty carburetors and two-legged Weber grilles with a hand-stitched Amish quilt and a smattering of heirloom squash. Just long enough so you can close the sale with some nice young couple escaping the big city.
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