Sunday, August 23, 2015


Today, my friends, I am struck by the desire to talk about hubris. I've always been fascinated by hubris, religious and societal. I find it hilarious. Honestly, I giggle every time my dog becomes incensed, stops right in front of me, and poops on the carpet. I know this does nothing to prevent him from doing it again in future, however, the fact that he knows he's being bad, he knows he'll be punished, and he goes ahead and does it anyway is one of the funniest things I've ever experienced.

Hubris makes me laugh. Not nervous, oh-my-God-I'd-better-step-away-so-I-don't-get-caught-in-the-lightning-smiting laughter. No, I have real, from the belly, shakes the whole body peals of delighted guffaws. I find it wildly entertaining that people know they will be smote, by karma, God, or society, and still go ahead and do some things anyway. It's rather like watching someone pee on an electric fence. Others may throw stones, but I grab the popcorn, sit back, and wait to be entertained by the hand of Fate. It's better than HBO.

In our community, we are well versed in the Rule of Three, whether we are practicing pagans or Christian church-going folk. Everyone knows this rule. Every religion has some version of the Golden Rule, the most important of all teachings. the pagan/Wiccan version being "harm none," the Christian version be "whatsoever you do unto the least of my brothers, you do unto me" or "love thy neighbor." Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, everybody has this rule.

Still, hubris abounds, providing hours of entertainment with a simple Google search (I regularly watch the kicked cat drop a flowerpot on its owner's head) or phone call to grandma to hear the latest poop about yea olde hometown. What goes around comes around and all that.

It still surprises - nay, delights - me that some hubris is so overt. Those "how dumb can you be" moments that give one pause to just stare and hope that social Darwinism will weed out the gene pool (no worries, I've already been weeded - there will be no little Mels laughing at the hubris of others). One such moment happened this week when my grandma came to visit the dog and me. I grew up in one of those towns where everyone knows everyone's business. In this town, one black mark against your reputation could follow you until the day you die. It's a town with its own rules, customs, and hostility towards those who "don't understand how things work around here."

A common custom in this town is an unspoken accord between neighbors, gentlemen's agreements about property lines dating back decades, if not hundreds of years, for which there has never been any need for something so official as an "easement." Some of the old gentlemen's agreements are going down on paper now, but most neighbors still care little if this neighbor's shed is one foot over their property line. The shed is there. It's always been there. If it is still standing a hundred years from now, nobody's going to say boo about it.

Everyone's property overlaps everyone's property, sometimes in the weirdest, most illogical ways, as only a town that has been settled since the 1800s can be. There are perhaps 20 large families to which everyone is related by birth or through marriage. Everyone knows what your grandfather did for a living, whether you distinguished yourself in school, and especially if you made trouble.

My uncle (the deacon) and my aunt (the popular Catholic school principal - do keep in mind the Catholic church is the largest in town, serving at least half the 20,000 population) had a legacy gentlemen's agreement with an old Victorian house cum law office, with which they share a driveway entrance. It has always been this way. They are the third owners of their home, and for nearly 100 years, no one who has owned their home has had any problems with the family-owned law office next door, with which they share a driveway entrance. The old Victorian law office's drive entrance actually serves as the entrance to the drives of 2 residential homes.

Recently, the owner of the old Victorian, a second-generation lawyer who had taken over his father's practice, retired and sold his business to a woman who "doesn't understand how things work." That isn't to say she isn't perfectly justified and in her legal right to demand that my aunt and uncle lay down their own driveway and stop using the aforementioned entrance they'd shared for a century. She is perfectly in her right. However, the hubris of it, knowing my hometown as I do, makes me giggle.

Even though I am loathe to leave my Fortress of Solitude in Burnsville, the imp in me wants to drive home to Hastings and park myself on the facing sidewalk, just to see the commotion when a backhoe suddenly shows up on my uncle's lawn. My uncle, who is part-manager of THE local charity foundation, a deacon, and a regular Habitat for Humanity contributor and worker, is needless to say just as well-known as his wife. Since my mother and her siblings never left Hastings, everyone knows that Dr. Mick is the son of Dr. Mel (yes, I was named after him), and used to practice dentistry at my grandfather's practice, now run by Dr. Steve, which serves at least a fourth of the community. Seeing Dr. Mick tearing up his yard is, as you can imagine, cause for a great big stir. People will stop. These are not people who will just look. These are people who have a vested interest in the community, are part of its inner workings, serve on God knows how many boards for banks and the hospital and the church. These are people who ask questions, and will be incensed to the point of righteous indignation to see the gentlemen's agreement broken, and Dr. Mick burdened so.

Remember, the Victorian is a law office. It is my understanding that a law office thrives on the business it receives. I want to sit on a lawn chair, crack open a Coke, and see the new lawyer get exactly what she wanted - an empty parking lot. As I said, she is absolutely in her right to deny my aunt and uncle an easement. I simply question her sanity.

I become downright flummoxed as to her survival skills when other factors are considered. My aunt and uncle do not entertain more than one friend at a time. Being part of my mother's side, even their large gatherings do not get louder than the conversation at a funeral brunch, and end by 8 pm. My cousins are both grown and out of the house, so there are no small children running around. Even the dog is very well-behaved, because Dr. Mick would not have it any other way. The Victorian, and all of Hastings, knows that Dr. Mick has had his home on the market, so that he and his wife can retire to their lake home in Wisconsin. In deference to their respect for the Victorian's previous owner, they likely turned down offers on their beautiful home from prospective buyers who would have upset the tranquility of the neighborhood. I doubt they will honor such an unspoken accord now, and anticipate a group of loud, largely-unsupervised hellions will be gallivanting through the Victorian's prim bushes in a matter of months. I want to sit on the sidewalk, sip my Coke, and indulge in a little schadenfreude as I watch all this unfold.

I want to wave to the new lawyer as she realizes, with no small amount of horror, that one or two cars from the family once or twice a month in her otherwise desolate parking lot, is the very least of her worries, as her law office is parked RIGHT across the street from Todd Field, and football season is about to dawn. Football is a big deal in Hastings, and everyone goes out to support the team. Her parking lot will be overrun by loud, screaming teenagers and pop-dumping strangers trying to park as close to the field as they can.

The imp in me wants to copy all the Space for Rent advertisements in the "Star Gazette" in not one, but at least three different business villages within Hastings, and leave them next to empty beer cans, hot dog wrappers, pom-pom fluff, and blue-and-gold grease paint streaks that are about to adorn her blacktop wasteland.

Alas, I will likely only hear about it from my grandmother who, through the hospital auxiliary and all her friends from her many years of volunteer work, will have eyes and ears on the situation for decades to come, long after Dr. Mick and his wife have moved away. Three generations after you die, there are still some things for which the community has no forgiveness.

It is best to know such things before setting up shop there. As I said, I marvel at her lack of survival skills, and almost feel sorry for the wrath that is about to be visited upon her. Not an overt wrath. It is a quiet, slow, cold wrath that only this community can conjure, that one may not even be aware of until they have been completely frozen out.

In short, my friends, don't crap where you eat.

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