There was a quote in the AVA recently about suburbs being breeding grounds for boredom and apathy, among other social ills. We might add to the list suspicion, isolation, and despair.
I’m in the second week of my second housesitting situation, and I count myself fortunate to have it. There are still people out there harboring the fantasy that one can come to Hawaii and “live on the beach, picking fruit off trees when you’re hungry,” but any rational person would know, by gut instinct if not experience, that this is emphatically not the case.
Housing on Maui is expensive and hard to find, and for those homeless people together enough to have a car, a convenient law against sleeping in vehicles has been put in place. The sad truth is that this is indeed the United States if not technically America, and this island is the Number One tourist trap the US has to offer. All who arrive here are assumed to be loaded with money and as to those without, the official attitude is, “What are you doing here?”
There are some benefits that come with aging; for one, if you’re of the male gender, street punks and wise guys looking for a fight don’t see you any more. Another is the illusion of respectability. Little old ladies and constipated suburbanites that might have called the police if I walked by their house 15 years ago no longer seem to consider me much of a threat. Maybe it’s the gray hair, or the fact that I can carry on a reasonably intelligent-sounding conversation without feeling the necessity of exposing my real views or attitudes.
So, I’ve become a housesitter, which really means, animal sitter. Those without pets usually don’t seem to mind leaving their homes unoccupied for a few weeks. This time I’m in charge of a small poodle-like dog, a cat, and a parrot.
The woman whose house I’m watching is retired, clearly a Republican with libertarian leanings, and basically the elder female version of an Alaska redneck. In the initial “interview” for the housesitting position, she asked my background and when I mentioned having lived on boats in Sausalito, she kind of chuckled and said something about “old hippies.”
The subdivision the house sits in is a new one of the cul-de-sac variety, severely over-manicured, stifling and decidedly unfriendly. It’s also wildly out of context in its surroundings, located just outside of an old sugar-mill town that despite being largely given over to tourism, is old and funky with its wooden buildings, hippies and surfers, and generally “laid back” feel.
Neighborhood Watch signs guard every block, and sure enough, on my second day here a woman with a cellphone was sitting in her car across the street reporting my (unfamiliar) one to the police. I fixed this by quickly moving the owner’s SUV and putting my car in the driveway, thus publicly demonstrating my possession of the sport-utility’s keys as evidence of legitimate presence.
There’s something about these places (I wouldn’t call them neighborhoods, let alone communities) that either attracts the already alienated, or creates a sense of what an old friend used to call “separationism” in the residents.
In a week I haven’t seen so much as one conversation going on anywhere between “neighbors,” even in the safe neutral territory of the street or sidewalk.
There is no recycling going on, no composting, no vegetable gardening (only decorative plants, often strategically placed in window-blocking positions). It’s the kind of place where no one would dare think of letting the lawn grow beyond the length of a golf course putting green. Nearly every house has one or two sport-utilities in the driveway. I don’t even bother to wonder what any of these people do for a living, and it looks as though they’re not going to be bothering me. Is this how it starts? The apathy, the isolation, the marathon television-watching and internet-surfing as substitutes for human contact?
But for the next two weeks, it’s a place to sleep and cook, and figure out what's next.