November 16, 2007

When looks conflict with common sense

Go for looks! And threaten to sue your neighbors!

To Susan Taylor, it was a perfect time to hang her laundry out to dry. The 55-year-old mother and part-time nurse strung a clothesline to a tree in her backyard, pinned up some freshly washed flannel sheets -- and, with that, became a renegade.

The regulations of the subdivision in which Ms. Taylor lives effectively prohibit outdoor clotheslines. In a move that has torn apart this otherwise tranquil community, the development's managers have threatened legal action. To the developer and many residents, clotheslines evoke the urban blight they sought to avoid by settling in the Oregon mountains.

"This bombards the senses," interior designer Joan Grundeman says of her neighbor's clothesline. "It can't possibly increase property values and make people think this is a nice neighborhood."

Got that? It can't possibly make people think this is a nice neighborhood. Unlike the assholier than thou move of bringing class warfare to the backyard. This stinks of "we aren't those kind of people." And before you post a comment about contracts and compliance, how much would you like to bet me that there is plenty of noncompliance, but it's only the "low class" kind that gets enforced?

Ms. Taylor responded by pointing out that the subdivision is "blatantly full of noncompliant owners" who display everything from plastic play equipment to exterior paint colors that don't meet the requirement of "medium to dark tones." She added: "Who am I hurting by hanging clothes out to dry?"

I grew up in South Florida, so the covenant nonsense is old hat to me. Down the road in Boca Raton, there are communities where the covenant prohibits parking vans or pickups in the driveway. You have to put in the garage, you tacky people! Wouldn't want anyone to think actual workers lived in this neighborhood. There's even a great Doonesbury series: Sir, step away from the laundry.

My mom always hung laundry. I agree with the comment that it feels and smells different than dryer dried clothes. To me, clothes that come from the dryer often smell like scorched hair. Blech. But clothes from the line smell like fresh air, and they don't get dingy and yellow like they do in the dryer. Even today, when I go home for the holidays, I do all my laundry before packing my suitcase to go home, and bring that fresh smell back with me. If I work it right, I can pull something out of the closet in February or March, and sniff in the sunshine and fresh air, when my windows have been shut for three months and everything in the house smells like a dusty dog.

I'm also attached to hanging laundry for sentimental reasons. It reminds me of spending time with my mom when I was little. She was always a master of having kids be around when she was working, but busy with their own stuff instead of requiring her undivided attention. So while she would hang clothes, I would play, or paddle in the pool, or help by handing up clothespins or small items (when you're short, that's about the extent of it). There's even a story I remember, though I was too small to recall the incident, about her hanging laundry with me in my buggy, and a powerline worker came into the yard and peeked in my buggy. Our dachsund ran up to protect me and clamped her teeth around the heel of his boot. That is, she did until he reached down to pet her and she rolled over and peed on herself.

Fond memories aside, I'm surprised that the upper middle class communities get so snitty about laundry instead of embracing the nostalgia. It seems to me like it fits perfectly in the Martha Stewart stay-at-home and embrace all those 1950s traditions mode that sells so well in that tax bracket. I guess conspicuous consumption hasn't quite been surpassed by conspicuous conservation as the latest "must have" accessory.

Posted by binky at November 16, 2007 09:10 AM | TrackBack | Posted to Ecology | Petty Rants


The nostalgia factor, the fresh-smell factor, the pro-environment factor ... it seems really weird to me that there wouldn't be a considerable backlash against the anti-line folks.

Posted by: Armand at November 16, 2007 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

This might be a Fussellian distinction, but I think it's not really the "upper middle class" that cares, it's the part of the middle class that is desperately insecurely obsessed with aping what they think of as upper-middle-class ways. The difference is important, if only to me: I will happily live in real upper-middle-class neighborhoods, but not in the kind of micromanaged crap-new-construction bourgeois-status-display campus that seems most often subject to this sort of crap.

FWIW, I'm quite sure that none of my neighbors would care -- or at least wouldn't say anything -- if I hung laundry.

Posted by: jacflash at November 16, 2007 10:49 AM | PERMALINK
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