Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I have been telling people the story of our recent run-in with the law, and everyone except my husband says: Fight! Fight the man, sister. Don't take this obstructive-vegetation-charge lying down. My minister says: If it were me, I would feel compelled to find the neighbor who did this. And then get all mafia on their ass. Which doesn't mean it's the spiritually sound thing to do, but hey. I'm from Boston.

Enrico's take is: Cut down the tree branches. Rip out the lavender. Take the high road, and let it go.

Which just goes to show how saintly Enrico is. Because a whole bunch of people are working their little gray cells right now, trying to come up with an elegant way for me to to fight back. Awww, shucks. It's good to have friends.

I called the inspector who cited us. Somebody phoned in dozens of these complaints in our neighborhood. Which is a relief, actually, because I was worried that we had inadvertently pissed off a neighbor who is now on an anonymous passive-aggressive campaign to get back at us. In which case I would want to mend fences asap.

"It must be some person who's a walker, and who's read the code in detail and gotten religion about it," the inspector said. Ok, that makes me feel a little better. So I asked him: Are you obligated to follow up on all such complaints? Because I've been doing a little drive-by math, and I'd say 60 to 80 percent of properties are in violation of this particular code. It is clearly an unenforceable standard, in the sense that the city could never realistically enforce it evenly, and thus cannot enforce it fairly.

To which he cheerfully admitted that he didn't have a whole lot of work to do that day.

Here are some of the responses that have come to mind. I welcome others.

  1. Get all gandhian on their assess. When a law is unjust, or is enforced selectively or punitively, the Mahatma said: Fill the jails. Force the authorities to enforce the letter of the law, thereby demonstrating the absurdity of the law by overwhelming the system. Thus, I could start phoning in hundreds of complaints, all over the city. The upside to this is, it's Gandhian! (Recognizing that Gandhi would never have stooped to worrying about something so unimportant, unless obstructive vegetation laws were used to oppress a specific class of people.) The down side is, I might bring this same irritant down on the heads of others, and that seems like bad karma. The filling the jails strategy is only authentic when the jail-fillers consent to participate.
  2. Organize. Go door to door. Have you recently been cited too for this absurd thing? Want to do something about it? Compile a statistical report of houses out of compliance with this standard, and send it to city council members (one of whom happens to live on my block, so with a little luck she's already been caught up in the sweep!). Organize letter-writing and phone calling. Call the newspaper. Point out the inconsistency between our mayor's bold proclamations about combatting climate change, and this mandate that will reduce helpful, carbon-sequestering plant life.
  3. Smoke out the snitch. Organize a block party, or better yet, the long-delayed block watch meeting. Strike up casual conversation about the person who is obsessively measuring the size of our lavender plants. Surely this person is is suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder, or early onset dementia, and is in need of care? See if anyone starts to squirm.
  4. Get over it. Cut down the tree branches, rip out the lavender, and focus all this creative effort on something that actually matters. Like, hunger. Or homelessness.


Shelly said...

The lavender seems kind of crazy but I might be irritated by the tree if it were me. How high is the opening under the trees? If it is less than six feet, then I think you should trim it.

One of my pet peeves is obstructed sidewalks. Especially when people park in their driveway but block the sideway.I just want to key their car when that happens.

Cousin Flora said...

The tree clearance was well over six feet - Enrico had plenty of head room, and he's six foot even. So we were, maybe at 7? But, Enrico has already whacked away at that so there's no way to measure now.

We have a bigger problem with the 14' clearance for the street - We're not exactly sure how we can get it up to 14 feet without (a) a professional arborist and (b) harming to the tree. Fourteen feet is pretty darned high. More than two Enricos high.