By Joseph Xavier Martin
“The land of plastic plants and porcelain pets.” It is a name and a sardonic reference to the many rules and regulations in Florida golf communities, where homeowner associations manage the property. The regulations are well-intentioned and meant to secure the physical premises and the safe, quiet enjoyment of residents. Since most of us are retired, it does necessitate a different environment than the noisy individualism of an old neighborhood, like the ones where I grew up in South Buffalo.
The individual homes there functioned like castles of antiquity. The owner pretty much decided what went on in and around the immediate precincts of the homestead. This is not so in the tightly regulated communities of the Sunshine State. To be fair, you know this in advance when you buy into a community. Still, the rules can sometimes seem ill-fitting when knuckleheads get involved.
When we first started spending winters in Florida, we were surprised by people whom we have since come to label as “the conformity police.” This might bring to mind an image of a jack-booted, sunglass-wearing, leather-clad law enforcement official who has been designated by the local government to ensure peace and harmony.
In reality, however, it might be the guy across the street, wearing sandals, a flowered shirt and cutoffs. Or it might be the dude in the spiffy golf threads and expensive golf shoes. It could even be the harmless and charming woman in the flowered print sundress. They all look innocuous enough in the bright sunshine. Their benign appearance belies the burning zeal that lies within, to enforce the unwritten “conformity laws.”
What are they, you ask? That is a good question. Most of us have no idea. But they know. Plant the wrong kind of flowers in front of your home, or worse, plant them in the wrongly designated patch of ground, and these “cops” will be on you like a blanket. They don’t run up and chastise you personally, but scurry inside to call the homeowners’ association or complex manager’s office to report an egregious violation. You can almost imagine the breathless conversation.
“They have lilies planted out front,” the conformist constable gasps into the phone. “Lilies! And they are planted 6 inches over their home footprint as well. What are you going to do about it?”
On another occasion, we were actually confronted by a smiling older gentleman who stopped his blue van and told us that we were “walking on the wrong side of the street.” We at first thought he was one of the addled ones, perhaps some gentleman in the early onset stages of Alzheimer’s. But upon inquiry, we were advised that “no, he just does that kind of stuff. He is one of them.”
The conformist police are legion. Usually, they look through their tightly drawn living room blinds and scan the homes of their neighbors, looking for some unauthorized bit of color or minor infraction. On most days, they strike out and have to go back to watching game shows and old “I Love Lucy” episodes. But in their heart of hearts, their hope is that they will catch someone parking several inches over the line of their assigned spot. Or find an unattended dog or a child doing something that the “rules” don’t allow.
How did these rascals get that way? Who knows? But we have decided that rather than let them draw our ire, we can smile and laugh at them for the intolerant, nothing else to do, unfortunates that they have become. And we occasionally plant flowers illegally, walk on the wrong side of the street and even trod on forbidden grass, just to remind ourselves that rules, though necessary, can be pretty silly when knuckleheads get involved.