Plastic Inflatable Christmas Blessings
Tacky is as tacky does. Or something like that. No? Okay, how about this: judge not lest ye be judged. A bit better, perhaps? Okay, I’ve been guilty of harboring some rather shallow thoughts on such a pleasant Christmas day as today was, I must admit, and which I now find necessary to share with you. I’d like to think that I can just blame it all on old age, or the cold, dry weather that’s seeping into my bones.
You see, we didn’t put up lights or yard ornaments this year, as we’ve done in years past, and also had the day to ourselves, the kids and grand kids going off to the in-law’s for Christmas get-together. It was the nicest, quietest Christmas we’ve had together in many a year, and we both enjoyed it immensely. But in my long, slow decline into maturity I’ve noticed little things changing, like the superficial things seem to hold less sway, and I seem to be less patient with those pitiful distractions that seemed to have captivated me in my younger days.
For instance, I’m less inclined to zip and zoom around town well above the speed limit just because I’ve got an appointment. Now, I seem to just enjoy the ride more, let the traffic pass me by, watch the fuel economy gauge slowly inch upward as I creep up on that line of traffic stopped at the red light just ahead, cars that had, moments earlier, zoomed past with some utter sense of urgency. It’s the journey, not the destination - that sort of thing. I do notice, in my new-found self-righteous patience, that those behind me in traffic are less inclined to share in my comfortable exuberance, which in itself provides more opportunity for mature patience-building on my part. The maturing process, you see, is so filled with wonder.
A person gets a bit more narrow-minded with increased maturity I’ve found, having observed the phenomenon in myself as well as others. While I’m less enthused about spending hours tending to the minutiae of the yard, I seem to be in equal measure more critical of those neighboring yards that might, shall we say, be in less than well-tended condition. “Renters,” I’ll probably mutter under my breath. “Don’t have no vested interest in the neighborhood.”
And so it is with these thoughts in mind that we were driving through the neighborhood toward home and passed the house that we’ve come to call The Red Neck House. I do realize that the term has come to harbor suspicions of in-breeding, cluttered yards and primer-gray trucks up on blocks (and source material for an entire comedy industry), but in this case the house in question seems to fit the description with surprising accuracy.
First, the so-called red-necks moved in a few years ago and proceeded to quit watering the lawn and mature tree out front (water being, in the dry southwest, of life-giving importance to one’s landscaping), which we then sadly watched die in the ensuing months of observant (but not necessarily nosey) neighborhood walks. Then, months later, and after having cut the old, dead tree down to the trunk, they began to dig out its root ball, but only succeeded in leaving this half-unearthed carcass of roots and rot to fallow in the midst of their front yard like some War-of-the-Worlds Martian canister that had crash-landed with a thud, blast and spew of dirt and rottenness. The crater sat in that condition for months or longer; the Martians, it would seem, were in no mood to alight from their root-ship and set foot on this primer-gray, motor-oil-stained terra firma. Where the lovely, verdant lawn once rested were now parked various behemoths of the off-road ilk, jacked-up and monster-tired and gray-primed to the hilt.
In the ensuing years since, we’ve relinquished all desire to see vengeance wracked upon such heathens; rather, we’ve retreated into a resigned sense of the inevitable, helplessly watching the decline of our own neighborhood, like maturing towns and cities alike that seem to age in much the same way as do their inhabitants, like the running down of the universe via the Second Law of Thermodynamics, like the decline of Western Civilization (of which I’m reminded by an Irish friend is an oxymoron), and all of that. We’d just walk or drive by on our errands and mutter under our breath about The Red Neck House and how they seemed to have magically collected another primer-gray vehicle, and a jet-ski, along with a smattering of newly-rusted barbecue grills and coolers and plastic lawn chairs scattered about the property, another miracle to behold at Christmastime. The dirt front yard, whose Martian crater has by now been filled in, sports some permanent, oddly discolored hue reminiscent of those old oil fields back home.
I don’t think I’m being too unfair toward those neighbors who’ve chosen to live near us by necessity rather than by choice, because some of our closest friends are or were neighbors who rented their houses rather than paid a mortgage. But there are more data points to consider, if one is to be entirely factual.
For instance, a couple next door to us, who had owned their home for decades, moved away and decided to rent out their old house. The day that the new tenants moved in was one of those more memorable moments in our lives, because the most immediate indication that our new neighbors had arrived was announced by the portable toilet sitting square in the middle of their front yard. It would seem that they were in the Porta-Potty business. We were overjoyed, as you can well imagine, by the prospect of such lawn ornaments being periodically on display for all the world (and our friends and family) to behold. Sanitation, it would seem, is next to godliness.
And then there was Dorothy. She had maintained, we were told by neighbors more veteran than us to the neighborhood, the most beautiful and immaculate yard on the block, directly across the street from our house. But, that was years ago, before her husband died and something switched off in her mind, and she slowly abandoned all prospect of upkeep and maintenance to her property. We knew something was the matter when, after all the trees and shrubs were but dried sticks, and weeds were waist-high, the old rusted swamp cooler on her roof fell off, leaving a gaping hole, and my brother, looking to help, discovered the entire house filled to waist-high with papers and clutter. She had assumed the life of the cloistered hoarder. A grown son, an ex-convict, would sporadically come around to help, but not often enough. Dorothy finally passed away, and the house was remodeled from inside to out, and finally resold.
Seemingly inevitable, the house’s present occupants also maintain a dirt and weed-strewn front yard, of which we are now also resigned into acceptance. I will spare you the details of their modest attempts at xeriscaping except to mention The Pile (of weeds and gravel) that sat along the side of their driveway for several years, the aftermath of a failed attempt at landscaping. I suppose, in retrospect, that this too is alright; those folks who settled old Albuquerque from back east in the 1880s, after the railroad arrived, transforming a sleepy Hispanic village into a teeming metropolis, didn’t realize that their lush lawns and manicured shrubbery were of a more verdant climate, and that within this high desert of the American southwest one shouldn’t expect anything to thrive without extraordinary effort besides red clay dirt, rocks, gravel and weeds.
You see, I told you that I was in a less than charitable mood this Christmas. I suppose that my depressive outlook upon the state of decline in our neighborhood in some ways mirrors my pessimism over the state of decline of our nation and culture. Yet, in all fairness, my home is nothing but a humble little cottage also; and our landscaping designed more out of convenience than overt moral certitude of the superiority of civilization over wilderness; and my educated sophistication nothing much to brag about, either.
And so, as we returned home this Christmas afternoon from a leisurely stroll along the forested banks of the Rio Grande, north of town, we passed The Red Neck House and noted with delight the assortment of Christmas decorations now cluttering their yard. My dear wife, normally the more cautious and graceful, was overjoyed at the prospect of us hurrying back with camera in hand to document this amazing sight, this mathematically-precise cross-section of American consumer culture known as the Plastic Inflatable Yard Decoration, whose documentation we faithfully attended to like the concerned neighbors that we are, and which we are now more excited than ever at the thought of sharing with our broader readership. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
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