Monday, June 25, 2007
Let's get back to American House styles, shall we? But first, I must rant, and rage, and foam, and whine and wheedle; and then get back to loving you all as neighbors and friends.
I live in a seaside town. The swells live in something they refer to as "The Village." It's a little rabbit warren of streets hard by the harbor and the yacht club. My wife and I and our bairns like to go for walks in the evening there. We're all alone generally, as people talk a good game about liking pedestrian friendly streets, but it's strictly a theoretical exercise. No one walks anywhere but us. There are no children we do not bring.
There are a lot of interesting houses down in the village. I've shown you photos of them from time to time. If you want a verbal beating, try proposing building anything in this town. Anything. There is an abandoned restaurant on the main road through town (It has a stoplight. The stoplight) that has been vacant since I moved here over a decade ago. Dunkin Donuts wishes to place a coffee shop there. My tax money is being spent on prosecuting lawsuits with Dunkin Donuts instead of being augmented by the tax money it would bring. All because the people who do not want it don't want it. They lie anyway: they go to the one in Wareham. In some alternate universe an abandoned restaurant that was uglier than any Dunkin Donuts, even before it fell into disrepair, is preferable to allowing anything to be built there in its ruins.
There's nothing wrong with Dunkin Donuts. Their buildings are too garish for my tastes, but they'd no doubt make the building look like whatever the town asked for. But I've listened to the laundry lists of things people demand to make the thing "fit in" with the surroundings. It's always a laundry list of fake bosh. And if you demanded that the place be made really fitting for its surroundings, not just covered with the affectations of a kind of Potemkin colonial nonsense, it wouldn't approach passing muster with the building code, never mind the disability requirements. It's against the law for a commercial building to have much soul anymore. Postmodern colonial crapola gets pasted on it around here. That's about it.
The people who rail about such things at town meetings and in the paper talk about preserving the character of the town. The town has no character I can discern. The absence of things is not character. The institutions that personify the town are private, and turn their back on the majority of the town and its neighbors in every meaningful sense. There is a word for the person that dreams of a landscape with no person but themselves in it. I don't think it's a pleasant word. They talk openly in the local newspaper about choosing the day of Fourth of July fireworks with an eye towards selecting the one most likely to avoid having anyone from another town attend. Why should we let someone else see our fireworks? Why have it on July Fourth? Why does anyone need an inexpensive cup of coffee, or a job? It all sounds so unsavory, if you're at the yacht club.
When we are walking --alone-- I walk past one house after another that the locals would point to as a paradigm, and demand that the whole town be kept in this unspoiled fashion. The problem is that most of southcoast Massachusetts was a turn of the 20th century seaside retreat, and many of the houses were built as gingerbread confections, and they've been ruined. They've had all the gingerbread ripped off, the porches removed, then covered with shingles and shutters. Some are stuccoed over or even vinyl sided. I see the ghosts of those old houses in there, faintly visible now, like an old lady that shaves off her eyebrows and paints on her features with a shaky hand, or like a pretty corpse in the bottom of a lake.
People drive past those houses --and me-- and go harrumph and say: at least it's not Dunkin Donuts. They're right. Dunkin Donuts is real.