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I live at the bottom of a bag

February 24, 2011

Another way of saying 'dead end'

If the practical purpose of building cul de sacs is to slow down vehicle traffic, it’s not working. I live in a cul de sac. Each house has a minimum of two cars parked in its driveway; some have four or more, since the occupants (you probably think of them as ‘neighbors’; I do not, for reasons that will become clear) include a slew of teenagers who screech out of here at 2 a.m., music blaring.

They live in the house across the street (aka “The Gates of Hell”, whose owners defied CC & Rs and painted their garage doors pitch black). It has a minimum of five cars parked in the driveway at any one time, since that’s how many cars it takes to provide boyfriends for each of the three daughters.

Covenants, Codes and Restrictions, (otherwise known as Rules You Can Ignore Because No One Here Gives a Damn WHAT You Do) are the raison d’être of this segment of suburbia, yet social fragmentation in our postmodern era makes it impossible for the Board to oversee and fix what goes on here when nobody’s looking. This is not what my dad, who came from an era of rules everyone followed, promised me. Home ownership in these circumstances is a major pain in the ass, and now my cul de sac rant has become one of my favorite pastimes.

The problem I have boils down to this: my neighbors and I have different definitions of what constitutes “The Good Life.” To me, the promise of suburbia was that it was quieter than living in the city. My definition of quiet involves bird song, soft wind whispering in the treetops—a peaceful Sunday spent on my patio contemplating nature. This fantasy is not shared by my neighbors, who value machinery.

Machinery is very important here in the typical American cul de sac. To fit in with the guys, you must possess:

  • A leaf blower
  • A pressure-washer
  • A gas-powered lawn mower (grown men drool over ride-on tractor types, I’ve learned)
  • A recreational vehicle to store the overflow that can’t fit into your already overstuffed garage
  • Cars up on blocks (crucial to balance out the impression created by all the other gadgets used to clean up the place, that you’re pussy-whipped and care too much about the appearance of your home)
  • Kids’ toys scattered all over the driveway (these include miniature pink versions of adult-size RVs, 4 x 4s, leaf blowers, and pressure-washers)
  • Cars parked in the driveway, for two reasons: 1) Gas-eating SUVs in the driveway flaunt your wealth, such as it is here in middle America and 2) because they don’t fit into your overstuffed garage

The driveway represents its own zone of social status, apparently. Cul de sac men spend their time pressure-washing it; women spend their time on lawn chairs, overseeing the kids. Now, they all have perfectly good back yards, with grass and trees, where my parents’ generation would have told us to go play to be out in nature. These people encourage their children to play in the driveway because mechanized toys don’t work well on grass.

Click on the picture for some reasons why cul de sacs are bad

The other reason, as far as I can tell, is because they Own the Cul de Sac and wish to express their dominance of it as a physical space. Dominating usage of the cul de sac carries its own cultural cachet these days. Although it is, technically, a shared social space, in fact, the family with the most kids owns the cul de sac. This means that everyone else has to watch out for these damned kids and pretend to care about their well-being, when in fact, those of us who feel aggrieved by our “neighbors” and their Appalachian, white-trash values, would cheerfully run these brats down if we could get away with it.

The other status statement in my neck of the woods are brutal dogs. These animals are not to be confused with the more bourgeois concept of “owning a pet.” Brutal dogs bark all day and all night. They bark because they are too brutal to be brought indoors. They bark because the only thing they have to do is bark, usually at the squirrels, who run in and out of the treetops, taunting these dogs for sport. Brutal dogs are considered a status symbol here because the theory is, everyone will see how macho you are when you have a dog that can rip off your neighbor’s leg. That’s the theory. The reality is that thieves know how to get around brutal dogs, and will poison them or drug them if they want your white trash possessions badly enough. Your stupid brutal dog isn’t even scaring the squirrels, but it sure is driving me up the wall with its incessant barking.

Yet those whose egos are caught up in their possessions continue to believe that these poor neglected animals, who stand in for alarm systems that the idiots I live amongst can’t afford or don’t believe in, will be their early warning system in case of Nuclear Holocaust. Meanwhile, the 24/7 barking continues, since White Trash hold firmly to the principle that a dog tethered to its chain equals respect.

The fact is that I live in a fairly nice bottom of the bag, yet even nice bottoms of the bag will contain people whose values are significantly different than yours. America is one large social experiment. The irony of democracy is that we all are forced to live together even when we have nothing more binding than economics in common. We live where we can afford to live, based on what we were able to find when we moved in. This does not mean we live with like-minded souls, however.

Cul de sac is a term originally used to describe how a hunter shoved some poor little bunny he was going to eat later that day down into the bottom of a bag, where it would suffocate. I am in touch with that poor bunny’s feelings, living here in a dead end, at the bottom of this sack.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. mary permalink
    February 24, 2011 5:32 AM

    It sounds like you are living in my neighborhood! I live on a dead end street on two acres of protected woodlands and there is more traffic and ATV’s than you could imagine! There is no where to go anymore for peace in nature except into the mind because there is surely no physical place in my vicinity. You have painted a picture with words that has touched my heart. An old sofa,a rotting wooden boat and discarded plastic paper bags have been my natural landscape as they protrude from my neighbor’s yard. I am feeling your pain! 🙂

    • February 24, 2011 9:13 AM

      I think pain describes it quite well. There’s a whole other blog entry coming about the disintegration of America in general. I know my parents’ generation didn’t expect this.

      • Mary permalink
        February 24, 2011 12:01 PM

        My father is probably rolling over in his grave… We have become the nation of “just throw it away” and “consumption”. Does pride in ownership mean anything anymore?

      • February 24, 2011 1:00 PM

        Oh, they have pride. They are VERY PROUD of their redneck sensibilities. There are probably 3 or 4 Americas. Whoever said that initially wasn’t wrong. There’s an America we are forced to coexist with that is proud of the fact that they’re living with crap on their front lawn. I think the biggest mistake we make is in thinking that these people lack pride; rather, they have inverted pride. They take pride in things we think are disgusting or gross. This is how they mark themselves out from the rest of us. It’s their declaration of independence. Eventually, as has happened to most of my cul de sac, social disapproval from the haves trickles down to the have nots, and most of the white trash has learned that speed dial will bring the cops and the fire department, who all share my values. That came as a big surprise to the white trash, who didn’t grow up with being able to call the cops, nor had any idea what that might be like, to have the authorities knocking on their doors. They have been used to other white trash looking the other way. However, if you choose to live in an upscale neighborhood because it suits your ego needs and you can afford it, since plumbers make more than teachers, you will be socialised into our values. It’s inevitable.

  2. February 24, 2011 1:00 PM

    I’m kind of fascinated by the people who painted their garage door pitch black. Apparently they found some sort of Goth Home Decorating Service. “When I pull into my driveway, I wanted to be overwhelmed by a feeling of despair.”

    • February 24, 2011 1:04 PM

      I am laughing. They like to think of themselves as such rebels, and then they’re out there at 2 a.m. arguing in the middle of the cul de sac, with one of the daughters saying, loudly, to the drunk father, “don’t get us in trouble again, you know they’ll call the cops.” And people wonder why I want to move to Sweden.

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