Sunday, April 8, 2012

Where the Sidewalk Ends

I swear I do not live in a suburb. And I don't mean swear in "I do solemnly"... I mean swear in the ^%%^$#^%^& Eminem context. Although I prefer the word exurb, I will never cop to living in anything other than a metropolitan area.

My home is located literally within walking distance of the relatively large city of Pasadena and the even larger city of Los Angeles. Realtors might say our community is nestled in between these two metropoli. I, however, would say we are wedged, a term that sounds more aggressively urban. But, truth be told, where I live is a bona fide city of its own. We have a mayor (though I have no idea who that might be and, from what I understand, it is not a paid position) and our own Parks and Recreation Department and Unified School District. True, many erroneously refer to my 'hood as a "town" (but don't ever do that within earshot of me), but it is approximately the size of a university with a football team--even a pretty good football team.

Recently it occurred to me that prior to moving into our current home, I had only lived in places with either a sidewalk or grass, but never both at the same time. You know what I mean? The house-to-road flow goes house-lawn-sidewalk-grass-street. We are fortunate that our house's front yard is completely obscured by both a stone wall and some sort of free-flowing plant that cascades over onto the sidewalk. As a result, only the most prying eyes are privy to the state of our front lawn. And that is a good thing.

When we bought our house, we apparently didn't look too closely at the accompanying deeds and documents. In my mind, we own everything within the confines of the various walls and fences that were erected prior to our moving in. A gray area is a row of vegetation that straddles the phantom property line between us and our neighbors. My husband and our neighbor had a friendly discussion about the firework-like shrubs that form our earthily nebulous property line, and thirdhand description of the shrub's genus sounded to me something like Lycarituitumaneous. So we are the proud co-parents with our nice, horticulturally savvy neighbors of a flock of Lycarituitumaneous.

A few weeks after we moved in, we returned from a daytrip to see water gushing onto the grass patch that is sandwiched between the sidewalk and street. Wow, I remember thinking, we are benefiting from the city's kind largesse. I wonder if they provide extra sprinkler water to all new residents? My husband and I were reaping the city love until a different neighbor came running up to us to inform us our sprinkler had been gushing water all day. This is a neighbor who thinks my name is Carol, rather than Karen, so I secretly scoffed at his judgment on the issue. I politely thanked him, not recalling his name at all, and smugly began emptying the trunk from our day away. "Remember," he sternly warned as he crossed the street without looking both ways, "you pay for that water!"

What crazy talk was our previously sane-seeming neighbor spouting? We are already paying disproportionately higher taxes than everyone who bought before the housing boom. Why on earth would we be subsidizing the city's water output too? Was there a City Hall I could fight? I was pretty sure that building next to the folksy T-shirt embroidering store on the city's main drag might have had a "City Hall" sign on it.

I never made it to City Hall, or even bothered to review our real estate documents, but peer pressure clued me in to the fact that it was our job to maintain that slice of lawn freely used by passing dogs and seasonal political signs. Neighbors gave us the name of a gardener who worked on their lawns and gardens, including their slices of community property. Problem was, this gardener came whenever he wanted, so instead of the usual practice of leaving an envelope of cash at the door, you had to periodically mail him a check. Since I couldn't even master the names of my new neighbors, there was no way I was going to remember the name of the gardener in order to write out a check. And that would require having stamps on hand.

So we decided to be our own gardeners. How hard could it be? We are educated, active people. I went online and ordered various cutters and pruners. There were about a million things to consider for each gadget: electric, gas, or battery. Voltage issues. Horsepower. I knew I didn't want gas anything, and I didn't really understand the different between electric and battery, so I just ordered items that were not the most expensive, but not the least expensive. I was excited as the boxes arrived, but when I realized that things needed to be plugged in to really long extension crds, and batteries needed to be charged overnight, I lost interest. The joy left Mudville.

Fortunately, we live on the crunchy side of town... errrr, I mean city,  so our straggly back-hair patch of public lawn straddles the tail of the neighborhood lawn Bell Curve, but isn't a total outlier. A few neighbors have infested their patch with wandering ivy vines, eliminating the need to mow. Others have attempted to arrange stones in a decorative way on their patches to avoid any primping. Occasionally I will know that my husband has mowed our patch because the very same neighbor who calls me "Carol" will let me know that the sprinkler is again broken, most likely dislodged by an aggressive mower, resulting in water gushing. Good thing we have that Neighborhood Watch. And, he of course reminds, me, we are paying for that water.

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