House Calls

Along with signing for the third-party candidate in the upcoming local election, I have been leafleting houses. “Lit dropping” is an odd, solitary pastime; you can do it in teams, of course, checking in with your posse intermittently, but it’s pretty much a matter of one person, one piece of lit, one screen door, repeat till tired.

In a spring special election like this you at least get fresh air, sun, and inspiriting exercise (up and down all those porch steps; it is not a recreation for the unfit). And no matter what, you get the curious, voyeuristic experience of surveying other people’s domiciles at close quarters, even when you would rather not.

Some characteristic types stand out among the fairly neat, fairly well kept, fairly ordinary dwellings that predominate.

The “I’m Paid Too Much” House

A good number of these around here. This one was built sometime in the last decade or two, most likely as an infill home or on the site of a teardown, and probably sold for close to seven figures off the bat. It has little gables and ornamental windows. The lawn is flawless and often visited by some toxic lawn care service. A security service emblem is displayed somewhere on the property.  All the paintwork, mulching, paving, etc. looks as if it was just done yesterday by a professional. There is a precious but excruciatingly tasteful little wreath on the door.

The “Is Someone Dead In There?” House

Equally offputting from the other end of the spectrum is the house which looks as if it is soon to feature in a local news segment about hoarding or dementia. There is almost always a screened porch filled with archaeological tiers of crap. Rubber sea horses, jerricans, plastic chairs full of egg cartons, a peeling credenza, three weathered lawn ducks, the list is infinite. Sometimes the screens are still in the flaking frame, sometimes they aren’t. Gutters sag. The windows haven’t been scraped or painted or puttied in decades. Freebee newspapers, yellowing pizza flyers and similar drop-off debris fester around the entry.  You don’t waste a flyer on this house, but you wonder if you should call someone at the County Building.

The “Have You Heard Of Birth Control?” House

Kid Crap announces this house from a block away. Toddler trikes, toy tractors, inflatable wading pools, action figures and loud colored plastic whatsits of uncertain purpose litter the porch, lawn and driveway. I can never decide whether to drop off a leaflet or a condom.

The “Why Can’t Every Day Be Christmas?” House

Perhaps the occupants of this house were never allowed any fun when they were little. I cannot believe they are simply too lazy to take down decorations since the scope and ambition of their holiday display usually suggests a large financial outlay and days of effort. They just can’t bring themselves to put the damn stuff away. Christmas tree wire sculptures with bulbs, light strings, and wreaths tied with red flocked ribbon usually feature. As of March 14 I scoped two of these in about five blocks of a single-family neighborhood. Halloween is another dangerous holiday for these people. Sometimes in a trifecta, if you catch the right spot on the calendar, you can find Jack O’Lantern, Tom Turkey and St. Nick on the same porch.  When the spring winds blow and the bulbs start to break they finally, sulkily clear it all up. Sometimes..

The “You Can’t Be Too Tacky” House

These houses — a close relative of the Christmas style above — are kept by people who may well be tidy and proud but believe there is no feature of the property that cannot be improved by white paint (on rocks, bricks, or even used tires repurposed as raised flower beds), a little festoon of chain, a gnome or animal figure, or a pinwheel. One exuberant model on my frequent running route sports a lawn fountain about three feet high made of some painted hydrastone stuff, whose tiers are populated by little bearded dwarves. Quite often, at different seasons, you find articulated cardboard figures mounted on their front doors, waving to you in honor of St. Patrick’s or the Fourth of July. Surprisingly, most of these displays look carefully tended. I try to imagine having that kind of time.

I always come home after these excursions and stand on my front walk wondering if there is something I need to paint, or a solar light that is one too many. I usually end up sweeping. One skid on a drift of fallen magnolia blossom is enough to give you religion.


7 thoughts on “House Calls

  1. In 1937 my grandparents bought a neat two-story Cape Cod whose white walls, holly bushes and perfect lawn they cared for lovingly for nearly forty years. The new owner though to improve it with spit-and-stick stone facing and dehydrated wagon wheels. My father always regretted letting his mother see that.

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