Community frenzy

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Well… (Never start a sentence with “well,” shouts my internalized Alan).

Then, well before the expected date, I received my Green Card in the mail. It was green, as the name says, although many people say it’s not always the case. Coming back from my daily walk, I carelessly opened the priority envelope on the way to the apartment, and, surprise, surprise, beautiful, there it was.

Along came the instructions on how to be a “good immigrant” making a lot of effort, teaching how to find a job, a home, how to adapt to the country and introject the rights and duties implicit in any permanence in American territory. Among the steps recommended was a rapid integration into the local community, both through the right to solidarity and the duty to serve the society, a tedious rhyme that only compares well enough to a benevolent attitude towards thy neighbor, something we practice very little in my own country.

The curious thing is that a friend of mine had recommended, while I was still in Brazil, that I “joined” the community as soon as possible, through either courses, or programs for “my age group”, community activities, etc. The problem is, despite my New Age past, I hate this whole community stuff! I hate live people, and loathe sharing anything in real life, except on the internet, of course. The social network just turned the world into a huge global shtetl, where everyone talks about everybody all the time, and I don’t care about privacy at all.

Before any of you declare yourselves hurt, especially this friend I mentioned, who was also my neighbor in real life, I say right away that some residents of my previous community in Petropolis (Brazil), conveniently named Vale do Sossego [Valley of Tranquility], have become my good friends, now that is another matter entirely, if you know what I mean. It doesn’t change the fact that I like being alone, no human in sight, except my fortunate husband — sometimes not even him, since his energy is too high, imposingly high.

Being, however, in the delicate situation of a foreigner, maybe an attempt at integration would do me some good, I thought; but such openness on my part had a quite unpleasant follow-up, with regrettable consequences.

Alan, as you know, has been consistently stalling me concerning the building of our house, and his latest procrastinating action had been requesting a variance — there was a quite exaggerated 30-foot setback in our neighborhood on Paris Mountain — about 10 meters in an “acceptable” unit of measure. The 15-foot setback we were requesting would largely facilitate the constriction, oops, construction; I told the beginning of this story, but not the drama that followed.

According to explicit instructions (everything is like this in the United States), we went to the lot and with ten days notice placed in the front a standard sign stating that we were requesting some type of change. Whoever wanted to manifest themselves should show up at the City Council on the appointed date and time. What we did not figure was that, first and foremost, we should inform the neighborhood maximum authority of anything that we wanted to do, or our ambitions would be callously pruned (this threat was only implied in a brief phone call on the night preceding the hearing, followed by a notification letter that arrived a day late). Alan did as he was asked, and immediately sent the proposed site plan to the president of the Architectural Committee — which, incidentally, included no architect whatsoever, doesn’t that sound strange?

To our outmost surprise, a few minutes before the beginning of the session at the City Council there came one of our neighbors, a lawyer, according to herself as a legal representative hired to “defend” our neighborhood. A lawyer? Come on.

Meanness. Mendacity. I was upset; Alan, poor thing, was quite disturbed, after all, he did not exactly ask for that fight, but had surely created the concept.

The session was opened. We were case number 5. One by one, I witnessed each of the petitioners present their somewhat dubious requests, promptly accepted by the committee — a table of six, chaired by a quite nice character. For me it was all theater, or at least an apprenticeship of what seemed to be a mere formality: we were preceded by two churches, a high-voltage station and a house owner quite humble-looking, barely knowing how to express himself, asking for a variance for his new garage in a property located in a curved road. All these requests were granted on the spot, right away, no big questions asked.

I was optimistic. It was going to be a piece of cake, I thought, deep inside.

Alan was quite tense. In addition to the challenge of getting what he wanted, he would still have to impress me with his efficiency and smart performance, and that, let’s face it, would not be easy; even more difficult would be to avoid my intrusion in his brilliant presentation. When it was our turn, Alan stated his case and I obviously added a point or two, apologizing for my broken English. Then the neighbor was called, and she came up with the preposterous claim that our variance would represent a “danger” to the community, as our lot was located in a winding road (A lie!) and with a lot of traffic (A car or so every three hours!). I couldn’t restrain myself:

“That’s absurd! It’s a private road! Almost no traffic at all!”

Besides, claimed the graduated lawyer, our request was unacceptable to the “aesthetic demands of the community”. And what aesthetics would that be? We haven’t even presented the actual project yet! Was that a neighborhood or a court of law?

Okay. I shall spare you the lurid details. But there was no way to convince the “jury” against the danger we would impose upon the remaining residents, et voilà, we were summarily rejected. Our petition had failed.

To be honest, I couldn’t quite understand what had just happened. Shortly after being accepted as a permanent resident, I was perhaps imbued of a false impression of invulnerability, even more so because three of the six “jurors” seemed completely aloof, almost asleep, exactly the ones who voted against us. Quite shocked, we realized we had failed to get the necessary majority of five.

One of the members of the City Council, a tax lawyer specialized in zoning, as I discovered later searching him on Google, was so embarrassed by their denial that he came to apologize for the adverse outcome.

Alan was truly mad; he even refused to talk to our ultimate “enemy” after our summary judgment. I wasn’t paying too much attention up to that point, I hadn’t even given much thought to that variance business, whose possibility, moreover, was now definitively ruled out, since you have to wait a year to request anything again. A whole year!

But what followed made me see things red. What a bunch of idiots! “Stonies,” they call themselves — and it is true, they seem to have smoked, although smoking weed remains strictly prohibited in super square South Carolina.

Well, not all of them, let’s soften up a little. We learned that our “faithful” friend had never been appointed to “defend” the integrity of our “community,” on the contrary, she showed up to the hearing on her own account.

Never mind. The mere fact that a single person was opposed to our modest pretensions, a unique case in that quiet Greenville afternoon at the City Council, triggered the negative votes anyway. The counselors did not want to bother, nor get involved, they did not wish do deal with the possibility of a future casualty in our neighborhood, considering our request was labelled “dangerous” according to a major opponent.

I wrote an outraged letter and posted it to all our stoned neighbors.

Paris, c’est fini!, I said to myself, mentally saying my goodbyes to the dear Paris Mountain dream. How could I live for the rest of my days in a community that hated me, and that I hated in return? Definitely, my life as a permanent resident, an integral part of the American society based on solidarity, had had an ominous beginning.

A concerned president of HOA apologized to Alan, offered to buy him lunch, but Alan was so upset when he came back home that I did not dare to ask how did it go. The story remains untold. As for me, I can assure you that writing it all in my weekly chronicle will not make my community situation any easier, but I couldn’t care less.

A good outcome of this entire unfortunate episode is that our house will be built right in the middle of the woods. None of it will be seen from the street, not even 10 inches of our infamous roof, not that I believe that this will calm down the impetus of the Bad Architecture Committee, worse, with my signed consent, not that I knew anything about it when signing the deed on last October, of course.

Have a nice Sunday!

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