I guess our neighborhood is going upscale.
I say this because the last time I went on a walk, I saw a new house half a mile away that is straight out of Versailles. I reported the sighting to some of our other neighbors, since we’re all very concerned (read: nosy) about real estate.
Eleven years ago, for example, when my family and I moved into our house and did a fair amount of renovating, I used to see people walking past our house, craning their necks, trying to peer in our windows from the street. Man, talk about busybodies, I used to think.
These days, I find myself doing the same thing. It’s a neighborhood pastime.
Our neighbor, H, (who would probably kill me for using her entire first name) is always sneaking into houses that are being built or renovated in our area. Ordinarily, she’s a very polite, decorous person, but the sight of a house being worked on draws her in like a siren and and turns her brazen and shameless. She can always find an unlocked back door or window. One time, she practically forced me to go with her into a house that had been worked on for months, much to our communal dismay. (Where did the money come from? Why did they have to start pounding nails and firing up chainsaws at 7 a.m. on Saturdays? Were all those renovations going to make our own houses look shabby by comparison? Well, we knew the answer to that one: Yes.)
I went along, but felt very guilty about it, so probably won’t do it again, until H gets really pushy about the whole thing and I have to face a breaking-and-entering charge just to be collegial and neighborly.
Anyway, I guess we should be patting ourselves on the backs since property values are doubtless going up and someday our heirs will be very happy with us. But something keeps nagging at me: The swankier our neighborhoods get, aren’t they getting a whole lot less interesting?
I think back to our neighborhood in Dallas, which is now swamped with cookie-cutter McMansions. Who’s replaced the two neighbors at the end of the block — the ones who feuded because of a he-said, she-said disagreement? (She said he exposed himself to her one day in the front yard; he said she was hallucinating. They grew an enormous hedge between their houses as a monument to their mutual loathing.) Or the elderly neighbor who left a half-filled mayonnaise jar in his front yard to keep dogs away?
In our current neighborhood, we lost our most colorful character recently when he decamped to the coast. We miss him! Every morning, we could wake up and peer out the front windows. If he was wearing a shirt, then we knew the temperature was above 60 degrees outside. Who needed a thermometer, when you had the shirt alert? He also flew a flag from the country or state of the person he was currently sleeping with, so we always had a jumpstart when introductions occurred. (Oh, so you’re from Scotland? Well, isn’t that a surprise?)
Or the child molestor. We don’t miss him, but his presence had a way of keeping the neighborhood in close touch. After he went back to prison and his house was sold, then razed, we had a neighborhood party to commemorate the passage. One of us was going to bring holy water to dump on his yard, but somehow that fell through. So we just toasted his departure with some champagne, then went home.
Somehow, I’m thinking, the people who move into the Versailles knockoff just won’t be that oddball, that fascinating, that rousing to neighborhood spirit. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe building an 8,000 square foot French-influenced house for a family of four in Central Texas is its own, new kind of quirkiness. I’m going to be walking past the house pretty often, so I’m sure I’ll find out.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)