Spring brings many delights, but for those who live in the suburbs spring is also the time of year when the dread Yard Authority (YA) rises from its winter slumbers. Members of these militant organizations are sometimes called Yard Nazis; among the differences between the YA and the PA (Palestinian Authority) is that the latter has a "duly elected president." The YA is typically comprised of a group of brash individuals who take a twisted delight in telling others what color they can paint their shutters, how often they must mow their lawns, and how many dandelions will be allowed to rise from their yards before airstrikes are called in.
The first mistake one can make regarding the typical YA is to underestimate its power. Quite clearly, these organizations are built upon the deep and sometimes irrational desire to conform to various codes and standards. The fact is, YA Syndrome can strike even the heartiest souls. Not long ago, to give an example close to home, I was able to convince my wife to join the local YA unit for the purpose of keeping an eye on the enemy. This seemed safe enough. After several decades of living in the full glare of my enlightened views, it was reasonable to assume the Missus was immune to YA psychosis.
This was a profound miscalculation. To the horror of husband and sons, the Missus returned from one meeting complaining that the front steps of a new home in the neighborhood had been made of wood instead of brick. Were we to take up torches and confront the fiends? One would have thought so, at least judging from the look of horror and revenge on the Missus's face. "Did Jesus die so that contractors could ignore sacred neighborhood covenants?" seemed to be the message. It took half a case of Merlot to bring her back to her senses, and we are still trying to find a cut-rate deprogrammer in case of relapse.
Wooden stairs are not the only targets of YA scrutiny, of course. Those who live in controlled neighborhoods can barely hang a wreath or birdfeeder without checking the relevant ordinances. We are told what colors we can paint our doors and window frames, how many cars we can park on blocks (none), how many RVs we can park in our driveway (none again), the number of rooms allowable in a birdhouse (to avoid what purists call "bird tenements"), what kind of siding is allowed (hold the vinyl), whether we can have gutters or satellite dishes, how long our grass can grow, and the kind of shingles we can use to shield ourselves from rain, snow, sleet, and the mocking grimace of God.
None of this is to suggest disrespect for the good works neighbors do to keep up their property. One must be very tolerant of these excesses, even though, this time of year, in this part of the country, the rule is to spread as much mulch and spray as many chemicals as possible. As it happens, mulch has a highly disagreeable odor, as do the chemicals, which is reminiscent of those lozenges one finds wallowing in urinals. But there's no denying the results. The grass is green -- supernaturally green. That is in contrast to our lawn, which is a stunning Kandahar Brown. In our defense, the mold growing on the back deck and up the side of the house is the prettiest in the neighborhood. Indeed, it is in a class all its own. Yet it seems there's some rule against mold on the house, or maybe simply against two-tone houses. So the mold must be removed, says the wife. Fair enough. I am no tyrant.
Were that the case, we would see a completely different set of neighborhood standards. In that version of paradise, grass mowing would be allowed, but only between dawn and dusk. Unfortunately, modern lawnmowers often come with headlights, and many is the spring and summer evening when I've been driven from Merlot Heights (the aforementioned deck) by a roaring lawn tractor. In the perfect world, nighttime grass cutting would be labeled as a mental disorder and sufferers would be required to seek treatment.
I would also outlaw the use of sprinkler systems, which perpetuate the ugly cycle of nighttime grass mowing, and are also responsible for the inordinate use of weed whackers, bush-trimmers, and other gas-powered yard tools, all of which seem to fire up, simultaneously, on Saturday mornings. I have nothing against yard work, mind you, though if I spent as much time with my yard as some do in theirs, I think I could teach the thing to talk.
Yet in my cozy dictatorship the main changes would occur inside the homes. It is safe to say that cable television has hardly been a blessing to humankind; as this is written, cable is buzzing with the news of Phil Donahue's return. Nuff said. Out with cable, and of course broadcast, too. I'd do away with rooms nobody uses, chairs without butt grooves, mantles without rifles, carpets without stains, dogs without soup bones, all caged birds and free-roaming cats, and most of the books in home libraries. Why, one must wonder, do adults continue to display their college reading material? Are we supposed to be impressed that you've ingested the collected works of Kurt Vonnegut and Carlos Castenada during the impressionable years? No wonder you're a dope.
The problem, of course, is that there is no constituency for such dictatorships. Indeed, there is wide support for Yard Authorities. At one time -- a time of touching naiveté, is now appears -- I believed the Libertarians might stand firm against this scourge. Yet as the years went by, many I met turned out to live in covenanted neighborhoods. It seems they like a well-trimmed environment in which to read their tracts. Is this what Ayn Rand died for? Probably so.