Thursday, January 13, 2011

A different kind of snob

As I mentioned in my previous post, my wife and I are trying to buy a new house. This impending transaction has lead us to have many conversations about what we both want from the place that we eventually chose to live in. Do we really need a four bedroom split-level with a formal dining room or will a three bedroom ranch house with a pool and spa be more to our liking?

Honestly, I don’t really care what’s inside the house. As far as I’m concerned, if I’ve got at least one room that I can play my Xbox in and blare my music without causing my families ears to bleed then everything’s golden. The rest of the home could be covered in frosted glass and wood paneling and I wouldn’t mind it one bit. It’s the outside that really concerns me.

I’m a big believer that people should define themselves by what’s inside of themselves and not what kind of neighborhood that they live in. Too often at work, I’ve had to listen to some person with the social skills of a middle-schooler trying to impress me with tales of how bitchin’ their neighborhood is. It’s always the same. They love to talk up the merits of their HOA (until they themselves get fined for something) or tell some immature story about a block-party that turned scandalous after Tom’s wife, Betty had a little too much White Zinfandel and spilled her potato salad all over Cynthia’s Ralph Lauren jeans.

To me, this kind of talk all sounds so shallow and boring that I usually just tune out as soon as most people mention anything about their neighborhoods. It’s a topic that’s almost always designed to make you feel bad about yourself. Extremely ethnocentric, it’s essentially a clan mentality that says, “We live here and you live somewhere else. We’re better than you because we are a part of this community. You can validate us and be in awe of us, but remember… you live somewhere else.”

With that in mind, I seem to have gone in the other direction when considering what I want from our new house. I’ve somehow allowed myself to become a neighborhood snob and there are certain things about the communities that we visit when looking at homes that I consider to be non-negotiable deal killers. They are so ingrained in my subconscious that I’ve only recently become aware of them but, in no particular order, here’s a list of what I’ve slowly realized are the things that I cannot tolerate in my new neighborhood.
  1. Garages with neon beer signs or banners for sports teams hanging in or around them.

    To me, this just reeks of a bunch of middle aged dumbass. As far as I’m concerned, I run into far too many people that are my age who have yet to get over the fact that their college days are behind them. I’m fine with you liking sports and beer but advertising your affiliation for Bud Lite and the Texas Longhorns seems a little juvenile.

  2. Status cars.

    If every house has a Mercedes, BMW or a Charger parked out front, there’s obviously some kind of pissing contest going on that I want no part of.

  3. Jet Skis, Dirt Bikes or 4-Wheelers parked in the driveway.

    I know right? You probably read that and your mind immediately leapt to some sitcom image of a redneck drinking a can of Keystone and wearing overalls but around here, nothing could be further from the truth. These loud-assed machines are the accoutrements of upper-middleclass weekend warriors and 40 year old men who’ve yet to be told that despite their many successes, they still most likely have several different kinds of learning disabilities.

  4. Crocs or Flip-flops.

    If I see too many people wearing them, the neighborhood is out of the question for me.

  5. Community bulletin boards and HOA newsletters.

    Whoever the person was who first decided that everyone living within a few blocks of one another had to be constantly stuck up each other’s asses was probably a very awful person. I’m all for getting to know your neighbor and expecting them to keep up with their shit but a community that actively polices everyone via a citizen committee seems like a wormy little ‘Lord of the Flies’ type of situation.

I’m sure that there are other prejudices of mine that I’ve yet to identify but these are the main ones. The existence of any single one of them (except the flip-flops) doesn’t rule anything out entirely but if they are all present then my interest in the place is over. Last night, I was trying to explain this to Dana (who I thankfully discovered also feels this way) and I said that I just don’t want to live in the Uncanny Valley.

There is a theory that as robots and computer generated facsimiles of the human form become more and more realistic, our emotional responses to them will be increasingly empathetic… right up until the point that the representation crosses the line into the realm of revulsion. For instance, the Akibot is cute but the Repliee is creepy as fuck. As technology develops to a degree at which we can’t tell the difference between what is real and what is computerized, our opinions of the machines will once again swing towards the positive. That gap between creepy and indiscernible is called The Uncanny Valley.

I think of these planned communities a lot like I think about the Uncanny Valley. Sure, they seem like nice places and all but if the socialization is that structured and organized then there’s got to be a cog loose somewhere. Perhaps I’m being too hard on these Stepford subdivisions but still, they creep me out and they definitely are not a place where I would want to live. Like I said, I guess I’m just a different sort of neighborhood snob.


  1. I'm glad there aren't many housing developments with homeowner associations here in Maine. It's still pretty rural outside the cities (or what passes for cities, compared to other places). I couldn't live in a neighborhood like that with the kind of people who would embrace a neighborhood like that.

    Ideally, I would buy a charming 100+ year old farmhouse, complete with ghosts (inside) and chickens (outside), on 100 acres in the sticks. That's how I want to roll when I'm ready to buy a house. All I need is a job.

  2. Ideally, we would too. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that we have a kid who's about to be entering the public eduction system and all of the neighborhoods (at least around here) with 100+ year old farmhouses tend to have jacked up schools. Of course, we could continue to send her to private school but then there's the money factor in that. Essentially, we can't afford a bigger house and private school so we at least have to find an area with the best schools for her that we can.

  3. You have to be a snob when it comes to buying a home. Its' not like you're buying a Blu-Ray player that ends up not to your standards. I wish I'd been more of a snob when we bought our house. Don't get me wrong; I love this house, but it's the neighborhood that sucks. My neighbors are intellectual dullards who do the garage and Jet-Ski thing.

  4. Ugh. I could never, ever, ever, ever live someplace with a HOA. I can't imagine why anyone would. As far as being a neighborhood snob, I completely understand. To me, this is an absolute requirement in buying a new place.

    On the other hand, I DO really like my neighborhood - probably because it bears approximately NONE of the incestuous traits you describe above. Our neighbors are friendly and laid-back and we mutually look out for one another in a non-intrusive way. I love that the people who live here are diverse in just about every category there is (age, ethnicity, marital status, etc.) and that I have a great farmers market to walk to 3 seasons out of the year. It all depends on what is important to you. I really hope you guys find a place that strikes the perfect balance for you.

  5. Really it's the homeowners closest by that will affect your experience. If you can meet at least one of them before moving in they can give you a feel for what you're in for. I sold a condo this week, we did a final walk through Thursday night. A breathless determined little neighbor lady followed us up all three stories wanting to engage the new tenant. Thankfully my client was able to kindly establish boundaries and shake loose of her. I tend to be highly annoyed by these kind of intrusions and come across too harshly, I guess I'm a typical Realtor. Neighbors are amazingly forthcoming with how things are in any neighborhood. Realtors hate neighbors.

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  7. I agree with Frani on this one. Every house we've purchased (with the exception of the first one) we have made it a point to meet the neighbors. They'll let you in on the kids in the neighborhood, the types of neighbors, etc.

    PS: Jeff has a neon beer sign hanging in our garage above the kegerator, which happens to be next to a Denver Bronco banner and a velvet picture of Elvis hanging on the wall. Does this mean we can't be friends?

  8. I can be friends with you, just not with Jeff.