Today is the annual meeting of the Capstone Ranch Homeowners Association. There will be barbecue. We have no idea what to expect, haven’t a clue yet about the attitudes along the street, the petty disagreements (though I’m already embroiled in one), and the alliances. David plans to bring up the absurd discrepancy in our water bill. We are both resigned to the notion that we will never know why we were charged for twenty-four thousand gallons of water when we weren’t yet living here. The month after we moved in we were billed for a modest eight thousand gallons.
The meeting takes place in the pavilion that looks over Double Horn Creek, up County Road 401 and across the street. Because of all the rain that’s been dumped into the area lately, the creek whips by rapidly and the grass is vivid green.
This is our opportunity to meet our new neighbors. Bryan, owner and representative of the development company, takes charge of the meeting. A slow-talker—an “uh” between every phrase—he has handed out copies of the agenda. There are only three items: approval of last year’s minutes; voting for board members; and new topics for discussion.
We move quickly through the first two items. The conversation about current activities and improvements is what everyone wants to spend time on. One concern is that responsibility for our fire safety has recently been transferred from the Spicewood's volunteer service to the Marble Falls Fire Department. My fellow residents fear that this transfer is an indication that we’re going to be annexed by Marble Falls, and no one wants that, though it’s not clear to me why this would be a bad thing.
An indignant man sitting at the adjacent picnic table complains that construction on the partially built house on the lot next to him hasn’t progressed in eighteen months.
“This is against the HOA rules,” he says. “Why do we have the rules if they’re not going to be enforced?”
“I’ll look into it,” Bryan tells him.
“That’s what you said last year when I told you that there’d been no work in six months.”
“We sent him a letter.”
“Which he ignored. If he ignores the rules then what’s to keep . . . ”
This breaking of the rules is something everybody seems to do on a regular basis. The people living here before us had a storage shed hidden in the brush out back. A man down the street conceals his boat behind his house, though boats and RV’s aren’t allowed on the properties. Dogs run free, though there’s a requirement that they be penned. Garbage containers are left on driveways, though they’re supposed to be out of sight.
Beside me, David introduces the water incongruity.
“It was that guy living out back of your house,” someone says. Everybody looks at me and laughs. I fold in half and duck under the table, appropriately embarrassed.
This is never going to go away. I confessed several weeks ago that there was no Herb, that my son had made him up. I hated looking like a gullible idiot, but I could hardly enter into relationships with these people when I’d lied to them—and then they gave the lie back to me, warning me with long-faced concern that a mentally imbalanced man has been living in the shack behind my property.
The formal portion of the meeting ends and we mill and load our plates. Most of the people are friendly, but one woman is noticeably chilly towards me. She turns her back when she sees me coming. She leaves the table when I sit. Her resentment is just one of those things that happens when the arrival of someone new shifts the dynamic. Here’s what’s going on: It was explained to me by the president of the HOA that dogs are not allowed to run free; they’re supposed to be penned or leashed. I quickly realized this isn’t the case—dogs are running all over the place. Trip’s not allowed to run free because, for one thing, he has no sense, and for the other, I have no control over him. When I tell him not to do a thing, he does it anyway.
The woman’s antipathy toward me is, in a way, understandable. Her little dog is vicious and, because she’s breaking the rules by letting him out to roam, every time Trip and I walk by and her little monster starts snapping and yipping at us, she must race out to fetch him before he attacks Trip. She’s a heavy woman and this racing is not easy. The first time she was apologetic, but the next time she had to come running, she grabbed up her little beast, and huffed to the house without speaking a word. And she hasn’t spoken to me since, as though I’m to blame for her dog’s behavior. She’ll adjust.
On a positive note, I enjoy seeing this small democracy in action. My new neighbors are engaged on a local level in a way that's new to me. So I look forward to participating in our egalitarian community where everyone seems friendly and finding sneaky ways around the rules appears to be the norm.