American Politics: It’s A Homeowners’ Association!

I’ve finally figured out American politics and why the people involved act as badly as they so often do. It hit me while driving in the car one day; I was listening to something on NPR, that Bolshevik, mind-rotting monument to liberal schemes (just ask that Alaska woman), and was struck by new examples of acrimonious playground shenanigans going on back and forth across the congressional and senatorial aisles. And I thought: who would want to go into politics these days? I can understand going into politics in 1776, when things were exciting and there were hardly any states– there was no Kansas, and no Mississippi– but today? Who would be crazy enough?

Then I realized: American politics is like one giant and unwieldy homeowners association, rife with the sort of people who post lists telling their neighbors when they are forbidden to use the communal pool. Politics attracts the same people, the types who roam neighborhoods on Saturday morning, making lists of trash receptacle infractions and citing those whose roofs are moldy. If you are even remotely involved with a homeowners’ association, you’ll recognize the type.

And, like our elected representatives, the officers running these associations are put into office by very few people. Just like at the polls, nobody much votes, but everybody feels entitled to complain.

Another similarity is that the association officers will often be at odds with one another, and will begin to pander to the homeowners in order to get their aims accomplished. For example, the extremely conservative association president may want the bushes that surround the pool cut back or removed entirely, as he has heard that teenagers have been caught using them to conceal illicit and soul-damaging sexual activity; the more liberal, progressive vice president of the association decries such a move, taking the position that privacy is being violated and purposely held up to public and governmental scrutiny. (Why don’t the conservatives ever bleat about that aspect? They often want things both ways, don’t they?)

A week later, the homeowners are at war with one another, posting anti-bushes and pro-bushes placards on mailboxes, fences, gates, and telephone poles. Since much of that sort of activity breaks association rules, the acrimony level escalates and things get heated. For once, people are actually involved with the association, and meetings are packed.

Well, one meeting, anyway. Once people see how things play out, they lose heart– and interest. And how often has that happened in American politics? Vast segments of the American electorate didn’t even bother to vote in the last Congressional elections, and look what happened. For better or worse, a lot of people are appalled who didn’t even bother to vote.

No governing board should be ignored, because vigilance is the key to preventing abuses. Whether it’s a homeowners’ association or the United States Congress, you have an obligation to get in there and ensure that your rights and opinions are being considered, not compromised or taken away completely. If our elected officials continue to abuse the electorate, we will have no choice but to resort to playground behavior ourselves– by administering a lot of well-aimed spankings.

It’s Time To Travel !

Ahhh, the wonders of travel! All you have to do is walk outside and suddenly you’re in another world. Cross a state line into a place like the green hell of South Carolina (giant billboards claiming “Country Cookin’ Makes You Good Lookin’ “) and it feels like you’ve spun billions of light years into deepest space. Did you know that, until relatively recently, South Carolina had no computers in its state offices? Everything was on little cards in filing cabinets, like at the libraries of yore.

If the idea of distant states frightens you, you can join AAA and have the nice people make up a Trip Tik for you. Those are detailed, highlighted maps which let you know exactly when you are going to drive off a cliff; detours around the Golden Gate Bridge, which has been washed away; and the best place to get fresh tomatoes in Indiana. You have to be careful with these Trip Tiks, however, because if you squirt too much liquid sanitizer on your hands after departing the premises of the Hurdy Gurdy All-You-Can-Eat Fried Craphouse, some will smear across your maps and render them illegible. You will end up at some dead-end spot in Southeast Missouri where the natives are hungry and all look faintly alike.

This is all very exotic to a man whose earliest trips were to places like the Coney Island Wax Museum. There, for a quarter anyone could stare at gory exhibits of hatchet murders, bathtub eviscerations, two-headed babies, and a nice representation of President Kennedy’s desk. (We were allowed one boardwalk horror before decamping for the beach.)

You know that book called 1000 Places to See Before You Die ? It seems to be aimed at armchair travelers, though it strongly suggests that you should spend the rest of your life traveling to these 1000 places before you become just so much dust, blowin’ in the wind and getting in somebody’s eye. Maybe the sequel should be 1000 Places to Die.

At the age of fifty-five, I become wary of lists that enumerate more than a dozen things. I don’t think the authors of these types of book realize that their over-50 readers are often tired; require a lot of coddling when venturing more than one hundred yards from home; and usually have one question should they actually arrive at one of the suggested far-flung destinations: where’s the bathroom? And that usually has to be asked in a foreign language.

Since I don’t have a lot of time left– thirty years, give or take, and not all of them robustly inclined toward energetic touring– I’ve featured four places of the hundreds that I’d like to visit before I die or become incapacitated.

Albania, the land of the eagle, beckons to me from the other side of the Adriatic Sea opposite Italy. You’d never hear much about Albania before the fall of Communism in the Balkans. Basically you knew that it was isolated and insular, and that it had courted politically the Soviet Union, and then China. Eventually it became even more withdrawn, until enough young people decided that they had had it and decided to topple the repressive, murderous Hoxha government. Eventually I made contact with a citizen who wanted OUT, and soon he made a sponsored move to Florida because his life had been threatened in the old country: it involved intrigue, visas, and smoky hotel lobbies. (These situation always involve smoky hotel lobbies, as well as fake ATM machines, poisoned beach umbrellas, and spoiled beef.) Wouldn’t you be fixated on a country which had such a weird history? Nowadays Albania is climbing its way toward European Union respectability, but there seems to still be enough left of the old ways to entice the curious traveler. I want to take the train throughout the country, eat the local cuisine, and visit the temple at Apollonia. I may even feign ignorance when another beleaguered American appeals to me for help:  “No speak.”

Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun, is another place that draws me. Ever since exploring the written language, which involves Chinese kanji characters, Japanese romaji phrases, hiragana characters, and katakana characters, I’ve been fascinated by the people who could actually figure all that out. Can you imagine the confusion at highway intersections? Do people have to stop their vehicles to read signs and figure out who goes where? Of course the natives don’t have to worry– they do everything calmly and politely– but what about those of us who flew to Japan and rented a car? Suppose I wanted to know the quickest non-spiritual way to the summit of Mt. Fuji? I suppose I’d better brush up on my Japanese reading skills. And considering that there are 127 million people living on this small group of islands, I paradoxically want to find the quietest places in the country.

Bulvakia is one of those really obscure countries that nobody has ever heard of, mainly because nothing ever happens there: no wars, no pestilence, and nothing ending in -cide. It’s ringed by high mountains in the middle of Middle Europe, thereby preventing its having ever been invaded by countries intent on expansion. The people have practiced birth control since the very beginning, and there is only one law in its legal code: don’t steal anybody’s krabnakka and they won’t steal yours. Consequently, there is no word for “lawsuit” in the Bulvakian language. Nor are there any jails in the entire country, but there are plenty of swimming pools! The country’s flag was borrowed from the Saenger Theatre in Alabama, because 97.83% of the population thought it was pretty during a nationwide referendum.

Romania captures my attention like few countries do. Who couldn’t be interested in a handsome people who justifiably executed their murderous dictators on Christmas Day? Most people think “vampire” when Romania is mentioned, and the region of Transylvania certainly does capitalize on the legend, but Romania promises so much more. It’s one of those countries currently wrestling its way into post-Communist prosperity, and I find that invigorating. The names of its regions draw me in– Wallachia, Moldavia (not to be confused with the neighboring country of Moldova), the mysterious Carpathian range… cities like Alba Iulia, Constanta, Satu Mare: I itch to visit. And wouldn’t you love to send postcards from the ancient Black Sea port at Mamaia? When I tell people I want to visit Romania, they tell me that I’m going to be poisoned, robbed, arrested, and deported– all within five minutes of landing in Bucharest– but that’s nonsense. You’d need at least a week to experience all that.

All kidding aside, I am a person who sees the artificiality of boundaries, and realizes that they are borne of hate and suspicion and greed. I wish the world was one big theme park to explore at will, without any of the attendant border checks and Visas and required papers. It’s a big beautiful planet, and every earthling should be able to go anywhere at will. That probably won’t happen in my lifetime, but I can still hope… and get my Visa ready for a visit to Bulvakia.

2011 In the Garden

Courtesy of

It feels like Fall today. Actually, it feels like Summer, and we’ve been raking for two hours. Where the hell do all the leaves come from? I know, I know… things are blooming for Spring, forcing the dead of Winter to detach and float to the ground. The red maple seeds look like little helicopters when they descend, but that sort of prosaic nonsense stays in mind for about ten seconds when you realize that there are seventeen terabytes’ worth of the things covering the lawns in front of the house. There’s also a giant camphor tree out there, and a huge magnolia, and both of them love to shed merrily all year round.

And we’ve had such a long winter! I don’t expect any sympathy from my northern correspondents, but still– I’m just saying. It was just too damned cold.

We had freezes one atop the other, and I dragged orchids into the house more times than I care to remember. And when you drag orchids into the house you also drag in frogs, undesirable insects, and the occasional grub– easily confused with gnocchi. Ecchh! Do you know what it’s like to creep quietly into the kitchen at three A.M. for a drink (Metamucil), only to find yourself stepping on something hard that quickly becomes a slimy, gelatinous blob with very little pressure from your foot?

The best thing about the freezes is that they killed all the weeds in the backyard. Last week we ventured out there to rake them up, and I also trimmed and neatened and cleaned around the bases of frozen plants that I cut back (after testing for greenness). There’s a coffee tree in a pot which grew too gigantic to bring inside, and I’m afraid it might be history. we DID manage to collect eight ounces’ worth of beans last harvest, so maybe these days we’ll have a roast party and invite all our friends over for a sip.

This is also the time to fertilize, and we use organic cow manure that doesn’t smell. We even planted tomatoes in bags of manure, since all you have to do is poke a few holes, insert the plants, add Epsom salts and liquidized fertilizer, and then make tomato sauce in a few weeks. Now, some of you may be remembering the problem we had with squirrels eating our tomatoes last year. We never succeeded in ridding ourselves of the creatures; in fact, they bought the townhouse next door at a great price and have been having what they call “nut parties.” Don’t ask; let’s just say there are a lot of empty hulls on the driveway in the morning. This year we’re building a sort of quonset hut over the tomatoes, to prevent squirrels and deer and bears from eating up our bounty.

Kirk even went so far as to buy a hose attachment for the back yard that features 657 different watering strengths, from Mist to Deluge. I mostly use the settings in the middle– Cone, Half-Cone, Quarter-Cone, Sweep, Semi-Sweep, etc.– though if the squirrels ratchet up the craziness I shall be forced to aim a hose set at Deluge in their direction.

And poor Mary is moldy after a Winter of neglect, so she’ll be coming into the shower with me for a good scrub-down with Clorox.

Soon it will be Spring, which translates as Summer here in Central Florida, and we won’t have to go out into the yard for another year. It’s just too damned hot.