The Composer Next Door

A few nights ago I attended the yearly meeting of the Homeowner’s Association in my neighborhood. It’s not called that, but that’s in essence what it is. I’m not sure how many places outside the real estate hotbeds like Northern Virginia and well, CALIFORNIA, have HOA’s, but they seem to serve a dubious purpose, that is, for a modest fee, to make sure everyone’s home values stay nice and high, re-sale values stay nice and high, property taxes stay nice and high, and to keep the riff-raff from buying houses in the neighborhood (whatever that means). This is despite the fact that anyone with steady employment and any aspirations of starting a family or settling down isn’t concerned with that, but this is Northern Virginia, where most of the tenants stay for 3 years, do their stint for the government, contribute nothing to the community, and leave. Either that, or they do their stint, fall in love with the lush greenery of Virginia and the generally apathetic people, then settle down, contributing nothing to their communities.

Anyway, the HOA’s threaten legal action if you put up the wrong kind of fence or don’t keep your lawn and home in decent shape, “decent shape” being a purely subjective standard, apparently. In my view, however, they succeed in serving 2 important purposes: 1) giving the neighborhood busybody something to do, and 2) giving them people to lord over. Also, they make sure large patches of ground known as “common areas” get their grass cut in the summer, or at least try to get it cut.

Luckily, the HOA I was forced to join, or I should say “not given the choice of opting out of” is a pretty ineffectual one. The dues are low in comparison to others, but they also do comparatively little. Housing prices are what the real estate market says they will be, property taxes are what the county says they will be, and riff-raff seem to be buying nice houses and trashing them EVERYWHERE, including in our neighborhood, but even more so in the “rich”, or “rich looking” subdivisions.

I don’t usually attend these meetings, where your name is your house number, for the same reason I have iffy feelings about MOLA (despite the otherwise fine work they do): it’s a gathering of people for the purpose of agreeing on standards that does nothing but disagree on standards. These HOA meetings eventually devolve into a screaming match between who is or isn’t perceived to be complying with the ill-conceived and out-dated by-laws, mostly fuelled by 1 or 2 people. I usually end up walking out once the shouting begins.

As I sat there, looking around the room, there were all types of people. Some old, lots of middle-aged, a few younger ones. As I looked around, I wondered to myself if anyone had a clue about what I did, or what the others in the room did. Would anyone care that a composer (I’d say “famous”, but I’m not quite there yet) was sitting in their midst? Who knows. For all I knew, there was a rocket scientist or CIA person sitting among us; it is Northern Virginia after all. I wondered what people in Gabriel Faure’s neighborhood must have thought, maybe “hey, there’s that old guy. Doesn’t he play piano or something?”. I live in a town that has a surprising number of musicians, and I run into them, or hear of them every so often, which always strikes me as bizarre. If I was driving by their house, I’d just assume that they were Joe Sixpack.

I remember being in Sausalito once while on tour, and having some friends tell me they were in line at a coffee place behind Stone Phillips – that’s right – THE Stone Phillips. I couldn’t for the life of me picture who that was or what he looked like, since I’m assuming “Stone” is a male name (no, I don’t watch TV). I thought it was funny how in Sausalito, this guy was just someone’s neighbor. I’m guessing in Hollywood it’s like that too. Maybe you win 5 Emmy’s and a Golden Globe, but to someone else you just might be the redneck neighbor, or “that guy, you know, the nice young couple that has those pretty bushes in their front yard, who occasionally leaves the house wearing a tux (?)”.

It’s a small, large world.

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