“I’m the one with the scaffolding.”
That’s a strange way to introduce oneself, but I find it’s one of the most effective when meeting someone from the neighborhood. I’ve been progressively working on the outside of my house for quite some time and had scaffolding on the side of my house for almost 2 full years. People from the neighborhood recognize that and can immediately place where I live. Once they recognize the reference, it’s almost like we’re already friends. They smile and give the whole “Ah Ha!” nod.
I’ve never had anyone in the neighborhood complain about the scaffolding even though I know people hope my project will eventually find its end. On the other hand, I was talking with a realtor about a neighborhood where the houses are a little more . . . alike. She mentioned that one of the houses had started a landscaping project that had taken a while to finish and neighbors were beginning to get upset. She said that in some places, people don’t mind different as long as it’s all the same kind of different. Landscaping was OK as long as it looks mostly like everyone else’s landscaping.
The whole rest of that conversation seemed to follow that same line of thinking. Cars, paint colors, even dogs . . . neighbors seemed to want a certain level of uniformity. It made me think of one of my favorite songs from The Monkees – “Pleasant Valley Sunday”. I remember listening to that song when I was young and feeling like there was a sense of comfort about the neighborhood they sang about. Then I got older and could see the irony underlining the words.
“Rows of houses that are all the same . . . and no one seems to care.”
There’s a scene in Tim Burton’s “Edward Scissorhands” that shows this idea with all the subtle sarcasm that Burton is known for. It’s a scene I often relate to where the titular character is being driven through one of these suburban style “all the same” neighborhoods. There’s families and kids and cars that all look perfectly identical which makes the macabre nature of Edward so evident in contrast. Sometimes I feel like Edward when I drive through some of these places.
About the neighborhood I was discussing with the realtor, she felt it was kind of eerie, but I can almost understand the idea. We’re comfortable with what we know. The problem with neighborhoods where the houses are all the same is that the people living inside them are all vastly different. The homogeneity of some neighborhoods seems to be a shelled attempt to believe that we are all the same. “My neighbor is the same as me so I am safe.” This leads to a form of dishonesty about ourselves and about the people we live near. And as any 6 year old can tell you, dishonesty leads to a need to hide. Kids hide under their beds after they are dishonest. Neighbors hide behind privacy fences and garage doors.
One of the great things about Minne Lusa, and neighborhoods like it, is our honesty. Neighbors here are who they are. There is no pretending to be something we are not. Our houses aren’t so perfect that we immediately notice the one house on the block who still needs a paint job. We all have things we need to work on. We encourage each other and are genuinely glad when one us is able to afford a new roof or to put in some landscaping. We don’t hide behind privacy fences. We sit on the porch and wave to each other. We share coffee and ideas. We are not all the same, and we like that. We are not Pleasant Valley, but we are Minne Lusa and we are proud if it.