I’m Here To Help

Beware the bull that gores the haystack

I feel dirty, but relieved. And, in my relief, I’ve discovered enthusiasm.

Finally, someone took a step, grabbed me by the collar, and yanked me out of a precipitous downward spiral.

Family? Friends? Local law enforcement officers? My dealer? A kindly physician?


It was my property owners association. Specifically, the Phantasm Ponds Property Owners Association, out here in Phantasm Ponds — “the little community that really isn’t, but acts like it is.” The best damned subdivision in Siberia With a View.

My deliverance arrived Friday in the form of a letter from The Environmental Covenant Control Inspector, and it was not a moment too late. The Inspector informed me that my property in Phantasm Ponds harbors an “unapproved storage shed.” Furthermore, The Inspector determined the “unapproved storage shed” is “unsightly.” Action is necessary, wrote The Inspector, or a fine will be forthcoming.

I don’t recall asking to be inspected, but my relief is palpable. The inspection will save me.

The information provided by The Inspector is nothing new: in the seven years since the decrepit storage shed was put behind my house, I’m the only person who has approved of it. And, wow, is it unsightly, or what?

My wife, Kathy, has been on my case for three years to get rid of the shed and I confess, for that reason, I used my delay as a potent domestic irritant.

I was wrong.

My neighbors in Phantasm Ponds have not said anything about my shed, but I’m sure Jerry and Barbara, Pete and Julie, Ian, and Lorraine have wanted to put pressure on me. It is only their gracious natures (and the fact none are ancient enough to be obsessed with the myth of “property value”) that have prevented them from taking action. I was wrong to treat them so poorly.

Thank goodness The Inspector and the Phantasm Ponds Property Owners Association were not similarly constrained. They recognized my shed as more than merely unapproved, and unsightly; they recognized it as a cry for help.

Because of them, I am going to do what my Kathy wants, and remove the tragic personal statement from our yard this spring.

In the meantime, with a huge weight lifted from my shoulders, I am on the road to recovery, and as part of my reformation, I have changed my mind about the Phantasm Ponds POA, and its covenant control efforts.

I want to help.

Suddenly, I sense enormous value in tending to the affairs of others, and for several days and nights, I’ve worked feverishly on a plan to improve the operation of the PPPOA covenant control operation — making it more efficient as it seeks to usurp the rights and responsibilities of the association’s feeble constituents.

I’ve assembled a variety of visual aids — transparencies, graphs, charts loaded with statistical evidence, the results of polls taken of befuddled property owners at public meetings, as well as a portfolio of architectural drawings — and I will make a power point presentation to the PPPOA Grand Directorate in the near future. In the meantime, I’ve composed the following letter to The Inspector; I hope he will pass it on to his superiors in the PPPOA hierarchy.

Dear Inspector:

Thank you so much for your thoughtful covenant violation warning. Due to your intervention, the quality of my life, the life of my family members and the life of my all-suffering neighbors, will improve rapidly. You are to be commended for the upstanding manner in which you perform a task essential to the well being of the residents of our community, which really doesn’t exist. On behalf of all residents of Phantasm Ponds, I offer you my profound gratitude. Keep up the good work; our property values would collapse without your worthy labor.

When I informed my acquaintances of my new attitude toward the association, and my admiration of your activities, their response was uniform: they perceived you as an errand boy for fools — people in whom a relative ease of existence produces a vacuum that can be filled only by the minding of other peoples’ business.

I find this a bit harsh, don’t you? I’m on your side. I say, “You get ‘em boy!”

To assist you in your noble duties, I am working on an extensive overhaul of your department, its policies and procedures. I anxiously await a meeting at which time I will provide you with details. Until then, allow me to summarize.

As I see it, we must step up efforts to condemn those poor wretches among us who are unable to manage their personal or social affairs. The sooner we correct the situation, the better. Rather than hoping residents will take it on themselves to correct problems on their properties, and in the vicinity of their properties, we must step in and do it for them. Our national government has proven time and time again that action from above provides the most expedient and economical solutions to human problems. Our national government can’t be wrong. We can’t be wrong.

As I see it, our activity must focus on three elements: Image, Enforcement, and Reeducation. Let’s consider my ideas in that order. When I meet with you, and your infinitely wise overseers, I will have a plethora of audio and visual aids at hand to illustrate my points, thus making it easier for those members of the organization who cannot read.


An examination of the history of the royal families of Europe shows us the need for precise trappings; the mantle of power must reflect the ability of the wearer to exact immediate and horrible consequences. This notion was improved by several nasty social giants of the mid-20th century — Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, et al. What use is it to wield absolute power if you don’t dress the part, if you don’t possess the proper symbols? When appearance and reality coincide, you are in the driver’s seat. Make a note of this.

First, consider your need for a proper insignia.

A friend of mine ceased all profit-making artistic activity this week at his downtown gallery and studio, and devoted hour after hour to the task of developing the right insignia, the right logo, an image to make manifest the nature of your mission. Milton succeeded brilliantly! He designed a shield-shaped field, on which is emblazoned a highly stylized dual lightning bolt crashing down from the sky to destroy an unapproved storage shed. Let anyone whose eyes regard this symbol tremble, and obey! A simple graphic image does the heavy lifting, don’t you agree?

Next, the uniform.

I’ve executed watercolor sketches of potential uniforms, each in harmony with a season of the year. Inspectors require a veneer of authority, and I believe my designs will help you project a paternalistic, but less than patient presence.

For the winter months, picture this: a one-piece black jumpsuit with epaulets. Paired with knee-high jackboots, and black leather gloves with winged cuffs, this outfit screams “dominance.” An ascot is mandatory. I worried over the proper color for an ascot, and decided on two — claret and Prussian blue — the ascot selection left at the whim of the Inspector as he or she assesses their mood, prior to going out on rounds.

When it comes to a cap, I am positively giddy about the Central American General look, aren’t you? The peak of the hat stretches skyward in an exaggerated arc, its tip seeking the heavens, and contact with divine resources. On the bill of the cap, a swirl of ornate golden boughs and intertwining tendrils represent the complex duties performed by its wearer.

In the more temperate months, the uniform is a fawn brown in color. The hat — a jaunty kepi, with bold concentric circles of color on its flat top (the better to be seen from the new covenant control helicopter). Our Inspector will wear shorts so he or she won’t overheat when in pursuit of prey, as well as knee socks replete with a zippy, fringed sock garter tab in a color to match the ascot. As with the winter outfit, the summer/spring ensemble features dramatic epaulets, graced with a silver shoulder cord.

Add the right vehicle, and the image of power is complete!

Imagine the spectacle confronting an offender. Imagine you are an unruly resident of Phantasm Ponds. You sit on an inverted plastic pail on your dilapidated, and unapproved deck, dressed in a pair of boxer shorts, and a sleeveless T-shirt, sipping a Grapette. Into your driveway pulls a black Humvee. There is a bar of emergency lights on the roof of the vehicle; numerous spotlights bedeck the side panels at the front of the massive doors. A loudspeaker is mounted on the Humvee’s front bumper, and from it blares: “Put down your Grapette. Do not place the bottle on the railing of your deck as this violates article 7, section D of the Phantasm Ponds restrictive covenants. Put your hands on top of your head, walk three steps past your front porch, then drop to your knees.”

You do as you are told.

Out of the car steps The Inspector, taser in hand

You struggle to catch your breath. The black-clad specter unrolls a scroll, and reads: “On behalf of the Grand Directorate of the association, and my immediate superiors on the Environmental Covenant Control Supreme Tribunal, I hereby deem your structure unsightly, and not in harmony with your dwelling. You are a bad, bad person, and you must be punished. If you fail to report to the ECC bunker by 0100 hours on 14 March, you will be summarily denied all association benefits, and members of the Grand Directorate will shun you when they pass you in the grocery store.”

(Actually, it is most effective if summonses, warrants, and notices of covenant violations are delivered at approximately 3 a.m. Roused from a deep sleep, the recipient is confused, defenseless. This is when use of a taser provides maximum entertainment. File this suggestion for future use.)

With your new image, you will transcend confrontation; you will occupy an Olympian throne. Birds will drop from the skies. Magma will pour from cracks that open in the earth.



I propose a reorganization of our covenant enforcement process to ensure that residents of Phantasm Ponds understand their places in the social pecking order. Heretofore, we have the group of sages on our ECC Tribunal, and our noble Inspector, holding the fort against social disorder. This is not enough.

We need a complex organization of informants. I propose neighborhood “cells” as the foundation of this organization.

Each neighborhood in Phantasm Ponds will hold a mandatory meeting of property owners (no renter allowed). At the meeting, a dictate from the Grand Directorate will be issued, requiring every property owner to spy on adjacent neighbors, and report weekly to a neighborhood cell leader — preferably someone without a real life, who is willing to sacrifice soap opera time to snooping and snitching. There are plenty of candidates in Phantasm Ponds: we can recruit all we need at the water aerobics class at the rec center.

Cell leaders report to a subdivision commandant, who analyzes information, and passes it on to the ECC Tribunal. At the same time, the subdivision commandant has the discretion to engineer a campaign of public humiliation against an alleged offender. Nothing tops a dose of acidic peer pressure, eh?

During the summer months, when local school children are on vacation, I propose an ECC Youth Corps be mustered, with Phantasm Ponds youngsters between the ages of 8 and 18 drafted for service. Each neighborhood will have its own “Youth Cadre” under the guidance of an adult cell member in need of a sense of self-importance and control. The cadre will hold “maneuvers” three days each week, with cadets marching in formation through the neighborhood, seeking out covenant violations, and spray-painting derogatory phrases on “unsightly” structures and “unapproved” fences.

Once word of an offense makes its way to the newly-construct ECC Bunker, and the Tribunal, The Inspector will serve a warrant, and a hasty trial will be scheduled.

Interrogation of suspects will take place in the Tribunal Chamber (complete with a framed image of Torquemada on the wall), with the suspect lashed to a stool, and bathed in bright halogen light, while members of the Tribunal, clad in silver Mylar robes (I have drawings!), sit on a dais raised six feet above floor level, and render judgment. Regardless of the answers proffered by the slacker, conviction occurs quickly and sentence is passed: a hefty fine, a trip to the reeducation center, and public service consisting of gardening duties at the home of a member of the Phantasm Ponds Grand Directorate.

Once convicted by the Tribunal, the offender will have a placard hung around his or her neck, bearing a handwritten confession and apology, and he or she will be paraded through a gauntlet of mocking Phantasm Ponds residents gathered in the courtyard at the front of the ECC Bunker. Members of the Phantasm Ponds Grand Directorate will be seated on elaborately decorated chairs set on a balcony above the courtyard. Following the public spectacle, they will throw recreation center passes to the happy throng.

The big question, of course, is what to feed the mob? What good is a property owners association if it cannot feed a mob?

Members of the Grand directorate, and the ECC Tribunal, will adjourn inside the bunker following the weekly humiliation of offenders, where they will dine on roast squab, joints of mutton and beef, and spices from the Near East. For dessert, a palate cleanser of blood orange sorbet with basil.

Members of the mob will be given vanilla wafers, and bottled water. They will be allowed ten minutes to enjoy their cookies and liquids, then dispersed with blasts from the PPPOA water cannon.


What is the value of social humiliation if there is no follow-up — no effort by the community to reorient strays?

The Phantasm Ponds Reeducation Center will be surrounded by an ECC-approved electric fence; the center will contain color-coordinated barracks, and work centers. In the work centers, under claret and Prussian blue flags bearing the Phantasm Ponds motto — “Possunt, quia posse videntur” — convicted covenant offenders will manufacture hand-stitched muskrat moccasins, and a variety of curios bearing the likenesses of members of the Grand Directorate to be sold at a shop located just outside the entrance to the center.

Inmates at the reeducation center will be monitored by gangs of armed teens, who chant sections of the covenants and restrictions en masse, reading their selections from small red books. If association geneticists are successful in their attempts to create a strain of cold-weather rice, inmates at the reeducation center will be put to work in a system of paddies located in the wetlands adjacent to the sewage treatment plant.

Inmates will also be subjected to a horror beyond description: They will be forced to sit through monthly meetings of the Grand Directorate, and to take notes at numerous Directorate “work sessions.” It is a fate worse than death!

With punishment like this in store for offenders, dare I say there will be little civil disobedience in the little community that really isn’t one. Smart-alecky intellectuals and libertarians will soon learn to hold their peace, and to fall into step.

What do you think? Do any of my ideas stoke the fire of your zeal?

I know I can be of some help to you. Incidentally, as a favor while you wait for me to make an appointment to meet you at your office, would you mind doing some research on the following topics?

  1. Are there any PPPOA restrictions limiting the burning of effigies at the summer solstice?
  2. If a cock-fighting pit is coated with stucco, and tinted the same color as the adjoining residence, is it in compliance?
  3. Do our covenants give the association a cut of any proceeds earned by backyard smelters?
  4. Am I allowed to keep critters down by the ceeement pond? Do the restrictions recognize reptiles as critters?
  5. Can moats contain gasoline, or similarly volatile substances, such as jet fuel?

Looking forward to your response, to our meeting, and to a productive partnership.

Your faithful servant, fellow PPPOA member, and new champion of the ECC,






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