Monday, 23 April 2012

The house on the corner.

Every morning, on my way to get the newspaper from the local shop,  I pass by the house on the corner.  When I first moved in five years ago, it was an unloved double-fronted weatherboard cottage with a bad case of paint-peel psoriasis. It was a bit crooked, a bit broken, the sort of house that brings down the value of everyone else's in the street.

Then a 'For Sale' sign appeared out the front and someone bought it.  They started doing it up.  The renovation seemed to happen quickly, the way other people's renovations always do.

I noted with some envy that they made good decisions about colour.

For the facade they chose an off-white, with stark white trimmings on the door and window frames. 

And their attention to detail was good: they meticulously repaired the iron lacing on the front porch, put new window coverings on, re-turfed the front lawn and even had the foresight to install a diagonal path running through the lawn from gate to front porch so that the grass didn't get trampled.  They planted little privet shrubs along the front border and finally they started doing some very elaborate things in the side lane access in order to park their cars off the street.

This elaborate work perplexed me a little bit: a concrete pour, a remote control gate.  It seemed a lot of trouble to go to, just to get your car off the street.  Personally I find car accommodation a strange sort of obsession. In my view a lock-up garage is just a giant storage facility for all your junk. It is not a house for your car. And to that end a carport is just a very sorry and extremely pointless substitute.  And putting cars in your backyards seems to me an odd sense of priority.  I'd rather have more space in the backyard and I don't like looking at cars as I sit in the garden.

Sometimes I happened to be passing at the exact moment that the gate was open and I took a good old sticky beak into their backyard. It was immaculate (apart from the two cars parked in 50% of it).  A perfect lawn, a wraparound back porch, a brand new barbecue sitting proudly and discretely in the corner, an expensive outdoor setting.

 I imagined they were a popular and successful young couple who entertained friends in a stylish and photogenic way.  I became strangely jealous of them and their perfect house with the perfect backyard and the perfect place to park their cars, where they didn't even have to get out to open the side gate, they just buzzed themselves into their perfect compound and then shut the gate behind them so that people like me couldn't look at them.

 They're probably really nice people, I thought to myself. And good on them. I went on, really enjoying my early morning bonhomie vibe. They've made themselves the perfect home and now they're ready to fill it with the rest of their life. 

I started to get a bit misty about life in general.  About young couples starting out together making their history. Then I passed by the local halfway house for mentally disturbed outpatients where someone was howling unintelligibly like some kind of animal in a cage and I felt a bit sad again.  

One morning, about two years ago, I heard the cry of a newborn coming from one of the side windows of the house on the corner. I guessed that they'd had a baby.   Then just the other day, I heard what sounded like a puppy yowling from the laundry.  They were really getting their perfect life in order.

Baby. Check.
Puppy. Check.
2 x easy-access off-street parking spaces to stop people from stealing our cars. Check.
Good quality stainless steel barbecue. Check.
Outdoor setting that seats eight people comfortably. Check.

As I rounded the corner to the front of the house I saw the man in his front yard. He was collecting his newspaper.  For the briefest of moments I considered congratulating him on his perfect house. I imagined I'd say something like:
   "You've really done a great job with this house, it used to be a real eye-sore."
And he'd say something like:
   "Well thank you very much. Would you like to come to one of our perfect barbecues?"
And we'd all get to know each other as we clinked frosty glasses of pinot gris together. (In this fantasy I have perfectly blow-dried hair and I wear impeccably pressed fawn-coloured three-quarter pants with ballet flats.) 

He bent to pick up his newspaper from the front lawn and something displeasing on the front nature strip caught his eye. A woman walking her dog had just passed by the front of his house. 
   "Is that yours?" He called after her, not pleasantly.
I saw then that he was pointing to a small dog poo on the verge in front of his gate.
   "No." The dog lady said pleasantly. Then she held up her empty poo bags as proof and said, "I take these with me."
    "Are you sure it's not yours?" He was being very unpleasant about it.
Aggressive, combative. Ready for a stoush. 
    "No, definitely not." The woman maintained a friendly tone.  "I hate people who don't pick up their dog poo. I think it's appalling."  She brandished her poo bags again.  "See, I have these."
   "Well it looks pretty fresh to me." He stayed behind his fence, territorially but he stepped a bit closer to the edge. And he pointed, angrily.
    "Really, it's not mine." She said.
    "Well I'm sick and tired of people letting their dogs shit all over my nature strip." He said, the accusation obvious, even to me standing on the other side of the road.

The exchange continued like that.  It went on for as long as I was in earshot of them, which was longer than it should have, considering the woman had, to my mind, proven unequivocally that she was definitely a picker-upperer of her own dog's pooh.

I kept walking, toward the halfway house for mental patients where the tall-stooped-man-with-pants-pulled-up-under-his-armpits was standing outside  waiting for his Friday morning taxi.  He sways slightly as he stands. He scowls blankly at me as I go by: as though he expects everybody he encounters to be bad news.

Where does he go in that taxi every Friday? I thought to myself.  But in the back of my mind I was thinking about the perfect house on the corner and the not-so-perfect man who lived there.

It takes a certain type of person to keep their house that perfect.

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