In the Time of COVID. Day 123
July 19, 2020.
I live in a small village, have for 35 years. We are so small …
(How small are you?)
We’re so small we don’t have sidewalks. We’re so small we don’t have a mayor or a town cop. We’re so small we don’t have street lights. Well, to be truthful we do have one street (Main) that has both sidewalks and street lights but those lights only came after many months of angry meetings. Half the village fought like hell to protect the night sky, half the village wanted to light up Main Street like Las Vegas. The pro-light folks said that lights would be an improvement, argued that the sidewalks would be safer at night. The anti-light folks, ever suspicious of the word ‘improvement” asked if the sidewalks had ever been unsafe at night, because they sure hadn’t heard about it. That’s how it is in a village. Even if the streets were dangerous, and they weren’t, there wasn’t a cop to protect that sidewalk anyway. But, people sure got worked up. When the lights finally got installed, they came with bonnets so no light shines up into the sky. To paraphrase the Texas poet, Hondo Crouch, “We got a big sky for such a small village”.
We’ve got our Labor Day parade and a hokey little three day carnival. We’ve got a yearly Follies that lampoons our collective foolishness. We’ve got our month-long Scarecrow Festival that somehow Sunset Magazine caught wind of and now the town is flooded each October with outlanders wandering our one precious sidewalk. And, we’ve got a winter holiday on one evening that we call “Hospitality Night” and we villagers visit the great lighted sidewalk along Main for free hot cocoa and Christmas cookies. Kids run and shriek waving glow sticks, the store fronts are open and bejeweled with Christmas twinkles and everyone is of good cheer. The VFW hands out free hot dogs and, on that one night, it seems like there is absolutely nothing wrong in the world.
We also have a fund raising tradition of take-away spaghetti dinners at the Vet’s Hall. Over our 35 years here, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised for everything from cancer treatment, surgical support, family helping hand, funeral expenses, scholarships and financial aid to young local scholars who travel abroad for a year of foreign exchange. This village can be generous, supportive and welcoming.
But, ya know, I’ve lived here half my life now and there is a dark underbelly to this idyllic village. Why, just the other week, I posted a perfectly good, 32” Flatscreen TV on our online community forum “Free to good home” “ just come by and get it” , “2 HDMI plugs and everything”. The very first response was a woman complaining that that brand was no damn good, FREE was still too much to ask and then she went on with a litany of complaints about her several thousand dollar debacle with that brand. By extension I was in cahoots with those SOB’s. That free TV cost $250 new and truthfully why someone would ever spend Thousands for a TV is just beyond me. But, that’s this village for you. You couldn’t get the majority of the people to agree that the sky is blue.
During our first year here I worked for Bruce B., a local contractor. I asked him how the village functioned without a cop. He said “We try to handle stuff ourselves. One night I was getting gas at the Shell Station and some teenagers in my daughter’s class, came out of the store packing half cases of beer. I took that beer back into the store, drove those boys home, told their parents, and called the owner of the station to report that clerk. The guy was fired and then arrested by the County Sheriff. That’s how we deal with stuff here.”
Several years ago there was a site search for the location of a new grade school campus. Like most communities, even little ones, we have different neighborhoods, some very defined by economic status. The most promising school site was a nearly-flat field, surrounded by a pine forest with gorgeous views out east toward the coastal mountain range and no houses within blocks. The kerfuffle arose because one of the accesses to the school would be through the “rich” neighborhood and they were not having it. They invented excuses to nix the site like “it’s in a grassland pasture and many students may have allergic reaction to the site.” It was really about traffic flow, even though there was a road in and out that avoided the rich folks all together. Then some land speculators wanted to “gift” a site right above the ocean. but it was in the least desirable portion of a large coastal tract upon which they planned to build 65 exclusive homes. The “gift” had tremendous drainage problems and overall access was terrible. Ultimately that site was nixed because the community doesn’t have the water or sewer capacity for a development like that. That ranch did become a community owned nature preserve. Finally, a very hilly slope was chosen that required extensive landslide engineering. It was in an even more grassy and windswept location but the folks that had been concerned about the allergies at the first site were mum to those concerns on that cold and windswept hill. That’s village life for you.
Volunteerism is a must here. We are unincorporated and therefore things like parks and fire and ambulance and senior services , utilities management, and advisory boards require citizens to step up and fill committee slots.
My second year here, I was taking university classes toward a teaching credential and painting houses for an income. I painted Leon and Zel B’s house. Leon had been a long-time board member of the Community Services District (water, sewer, roads, ambulances services). This was Leon’s advise about volunteerism. “ half the people will hate your guts. They will phone you at 3 AM to call you a son of a bitch”.
Over the years I’ve been on a couple committees. One had folks complaining about drainage, fence maintenance , street lights, round about’s and stop signs. It still amazes me how I and fellow members have been accused of having ulterior motives like we were deep state agents because we happened to look skeptically at a petitioner’s claims. Just the other week I was called anti-kid, and anti-skate park and yelled at like I was the devil incarnate , though unknown to that blow-hard I was on the original committee that created that skate park. But, that’s Village life for you.
So I have a humble suggestion. We do so well and are so accommodating during Hospitality Night but I think it’s time to have a Hostility Night in June. Make these nights Ying Yang experiences. On Hostility Night we can line our great lighted Main Street and yell across the street at each other, call each other sons of bitches and accuse each other of the most vial and contemptible acts. We can offer rhubarb pie without sugar and we can all go suck a lemon. And don’t get me started on the De-Sal Plant!