I recently experienced a situation that very nearly turned me into “The Cranky Guy Who’s Overprotective of His Lawn.” And as you know, from there, it’s a short, Calcium-deficient slouch into the old man who enjoys a Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet during Wheel of Fortune but can’t make it to Matlock because he’s just so tired. In order to understand this neighborhood turf war, a little exposition is in order.
My wife and I live on the corner of a fairly busy intersection that’s controlled by a stoplight. For this reason, my wife and I are serenaded nightly by cars with sub-woofers that cost twice as much as the actual car. Thanks to new city ordinances, I could report them to the police who would then send them a ticket, but honestly, I have no moral ground to stand on. You see, while the kids seem to like the lower frequencies and heavy bass, I, myself enjoy a lot of high end and treble. That’s why I tricked out my Ford Focus with a new device called an Ultra-Tweeter. When I take the lady out cruising, we pull over, pop the trunk and crank up that ultra-tweeter. Sure some low-rent sound systems like to rattle the windows of the houses they pass with the sub-woofer, but my ultra-tweeter makes their pets explode. But I digress.
The point is that I live in a high traffic area. As you also probably well know, we’re at the very beginning of Rummage Sale Season, which is a bizarre ritual in and of itself. When you think about it, a rummage sale is really just you publicly divorcing your possessions. You’re saying to the neighborhood: “I purchased these items with the best intentions. We had some amazing times, but it’s just not working out.”
So that’s already awkward, and on the other side of the transaction is me, hungrily eyeing your cast-offs. It’s not good enough for you, but maybe it’s good enough for me? Aside from seventy-five cents, what passes between you and I when I buy that creepy cat clock with the rolling eyes and the pendulum tail? Judgment? A whiff of Class Envy? Maybe I’ll try to salvage some self respect by talking you down to fifty cents. How does that feel? How does it feel for me to further devalue that which you’ve already devalued? Do you feel violated by my negotiations? Is it like me saying: “All right, I’ll take the creepy cat clock with the rolling eyes and the pendulum tail for seventy-five cents, but I want you to throw in the ice cube trays…and an evening with your wife.”
Rummage sales are full of these toxic, unspoken status games. Personally, that’s why I prefer to donate and shop at thrift stores. All of the transactions occur under the glorious, tax-deductible cloak of anonymity. So, that being said, you can probably see where I’m going with this.
Recently, after anally mowing my lawn, (by which I mean, I was anal about mowing my lawn; I didn’t mow my lawn with my anus) a Honda S.U.V. pulled up beside my house. A man in his late thirties, early forties got out, walked to the freshly manicured lawn by the stoplight, dug a hole and pounded in a Neon Green sign advertising his rummage sale. Then, he hopped back into his car and drove off.
Through my window, I stared at the sign and was suddenly overwhelmed with white-hot anger. At the same time, I didn’t know if the anger was justified. Did this guy just dig a hole in my lawn? Who does he think he is? But it’s between the sidewalk and the curb; is that my lawn? I thought I remembered someone saying that it belonged to the City. But they don’t mow it; I do, and I’m responsible for shoveling the sidewalks, so it must be my property, right? Then does that mean that I own the stoplight? No, I’m pretty sure that belongs to the City. Otherwise I’d have to decorate it somehow, you know, make it my own. At the time, I didn’t have the answers to any of these questions, but what I did next seemed appropriate whatever the situation.
If this was my grass, it would seem I’ve purchased land that is premium space for rummage sale advertising. If a private company wanted to put a sign on my lawn, you can bet I’d charge them. So at the very least, this guy owes me a percentage of the rummage sale take. But what if it belongs to the City? No problem, I’ll just stop mowing it. Why should I have to make the spot for his sign look like the fifth fairway at Whistling Straits? Hell, let it grow. Let him try to pound his sign into a South Vietnamese rice paddy and see how much traffic he gets.
You see, I figured either way, whether it was my patch of grass or the City’s, the guy probably should have asked, right? Since he didn’t, I figured if he thought nothing of pounding a sign in front of my house, he wouldn’t mind if I put one in front of his. If only I had his address. Wait a minute…isn’t his sign telling people just that? It was perfect. Not only did I have his address, but on Sunday afternoon I could show up and ask for my cut of the profit.
Now, I didn’t want the sign to be too mean, but I wanted to make a point, so after many possibilities I decided on a sign reading: “The Powdered Pole Gentlemen’s Club No Cover Weekdays Before 3PM.” I was giddy with anticipation. Not only was I getting revenge, but it was clever revenge at that. I jumped into my car, cranked up the ultra-tweeter and was off.
As I approached the address, my plan encountered its first snag. There were children playing out front next door to the man’s house. If I was going to plant a sign reading “The Powdered Pole Gentlemen’s Club” next to some kids, someone was going to have to explain what it meant, and I certainly didn’t want it to be me.
As I drove home, my sign still in the back seat, unsullied by my victim’s lawn, I began to wonder if I was just being a jerk about this thing. Nevertheless, I wanted to know what the City of Milwaukee had to say. As luck would have it, you can contact the City of Milwaukee, and I was amazed to learn what I did.
If you own a home, you can do whatever you want with the land between your home and the sidewalk. The land between the sidewalk and the curb is the property of the D.N.R.’s Division of Forestry. I know! The Division of Forestry! Doesn’t that sound like there should be more owls? Like all over the city, the narrow strip between the sidewalk and the curb is some kind of National Park with wildlife tight-roping around in perfect grids.
But here’s the thing: While it’s owned by the Division of Forestry, it is to be maintained by the property owner, so we still have to mow it. And according to the City of Milwaukee, signs are not allowed. So there it was. I was instantly justified in removing the Neon Green sign in front of my house. But something else happened, too. The minute I learned that I could take it down, suddenly, I didn’t want to. Perhaps the gesture just didn’t seem as revolutionary. Besides, if the Division of Forestry owns the land, and they want the signs gone, let them send Smokey the Bear. Only he can prevent rummage sale signs.
And here’s an interesting fact that I learned from the Division of Forestry website: The tree with the largest circumference of any in the entire state of Wisconsin is located in the City of West Allis, which means, any day now, they’ll turn it into a bar.