Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Landscaping Man!

Some mysterious and opinionated person has launched a local crusade to beautify my San Clemente, California neighborhood. His (let’s suppose it’s a man) target: unsightly landscaping. His modus operandi: anonymous postcards. His prose: bizarrely condescending.

I learned of this fellow’s campaign from a neighbor some few doors away. After receiving several of his postcards, she began to worry that she was being targeted by some sort of home improvement stalker. When she worriedly asked our postal worker about the cards, however, he told her that she was hardly alone. Several people in our neighborhood had received similar missives.

My neighbor loaned me one of the postcards she’s received. It came to her addressed, “Good Neighbors?” and bears a postmark from a nearby town. (Other cards have born postmarks from all over the country, leading some recipients to surmise that the sender works as an pilot.) The front of the card bears unremarkable picture of the Stanyan Park Hotel in San Francisco. The back of the card bears this text in what looks to be a man’s handwriting:
The tree. The D-
E-A-D Tree is AN
eyesore on your prop
erty. Would take A
bout AN hour to cut it
up and put it in
the proper waste bin. What do you
think? Then after that there’s more work.
Disturbingly, after my neighbor cut down the “D-E-A-D tree” (which she had planned to do even prior to receiving the postcard), she got a card congratulating her on her progress (and suggesting another chore). The author apparently keeps tabs on his targets. Although the card I’ve quoted strikes a somewhat casual tone—“What do you think?”—other neighbors say theirs have sounded quite angry.

No matter how nasty the author’s tone, so long as he stops short of threatening harm to sloppy groundskeepers I doubt that his weird hobby crosses the line into illegality. On a charitable view, he even acts heroically. Private landscaping visible from city streets constitutes a public good, after all, one that homeowners don’t always see fit to maintain. Insofar as he shames slackers into improving their streetside yards and gardens, then, our mysterious benefactor helps the whole community. You might picture Landscaping Man as he no doubt pictures himself: Dashing down our quiet streets in a bright green mask and cape, a golden trowel in his raised fist, calling for, “Beauty! Industry! And Resale Value!”

Contrariwise, and back in the real world, Landscaping Man needs to get a life. A given homeowner largely internalizes the benefits of his or her landscaping, thank you very much, because it directly impacts the value of his or her home. And even a “D-E-A-D Tree” does not excuse freaking out your neighbors with cowardly and nasty notes.

Who would do such a thing? Personally, I suspect one of the realtors who specializes our neighborhood. Such a person would both have occasion to prowl our streets and a financial motive to drive up housing values. I might add that a realtor would also possess the requisite personality for craven nagging, but that would not be fair. I’ve run into—and into conflict with—some realtors of that type, but I’ve met some very pleasant and honest ones, too.

One more element of mystery closes out this story: How the heck has my house escaped criticism by the home improvement stalker? Granted, the front isn’t too bad (though I just lost two lavender bushes and the ornamental cherry tree again needs pruning). But I’ve fairly well let that loathsome iceplant take over the side yard. I’ll bet that Landscaping Man has held only because he cannot decide whether I or my neighbor deserves the blame for that offense.

I wait in trepidation, fingering my shears.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In a more official example of this technique, the city of Goldendale Washington has an ordinance governing nuisance lawns, and sends out official, registered mail nastygrams.