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Poem: "The Picket Fence Committee" (original) - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "The Picket Fence Committee" (original)

Complete thanks to the efforts of various audience members is this poem from the Monster House series.  It's the linkbacks perk for the September 6, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl.  The following people posted linkbacks: marina_bonomi, janetmiles, thesilentpoet, meeksp, xjenavivex, wyld_dandelyon, aldersprig, and minor_architect.  Special thanks to minor_architect for handling the verse-by-verse post during the fishbowl.

This poem comes near the beginning of the Monster House series, shortly after the purchase of the house.  We get to learn the name of the street and see how the house interacts with an unwelcome interloper.

EDIT 9/8/11: Read a revised and expanded version.


The Picket Fence Committee


Not long after moving in
to the house on Hollow Oak Drive,
I met the Picket Fence Committee.
They billed themselves as one of those
"neighborhood beautification" groups,
but their plans seemed lacking
in both neighborliness and beauty.

"This house is a disgrace,"
the tall man grumbled.
"It's bringing the property values down."

"Yes," I said through my teeth,
"that's why I could afford to buy it."

Just then a loose board gave way
and dropped his foot through the front porch.
Cursing loudly, he pulled his leg free.
He had to crawl under the porch
to retrieve his shiny black shoe.

"... heap of ... falling-down, dilapidated ..."
More complaints floated up through the porch floor,
and as he scrambled back out, ended with,
"... and ought to be condemned!"

I leaned over the rail and said,
"Well, the ad did  specify it as a fixer-upper."

"Then fix it,"
he said tightly, "up."
He shoved his shoe back on
and stomped away.

"Don't worry," I said, patting the porch rail.
"If that stupid committee proves too much of a nuisance,
I can always hang a No Trespassing sign or something."

As it turned out, the house
proved capable of expressing that sentiment
without my assistance.

When the man came back the following week,
prying at the siding with demands that I repaint the house,
he got his fingers soundly pinched by the gingerbread.
I waved a handful of sample strips at him and shooed him away.
I also ignored his advice.  I mean, honestly:
who puts white  paint on a Victorian?

The suggestion to replace the lovely old ironwork fence
with a white picket fence ended abruptly
when the gate opened a wide rip in the man's pants.
Criticism of the wild condition of the oak trees
was cut off by a hail of acorns.
The sidewalk shifted to trip unwelcome feet;
the driveway manifested sharp nails into tires.

"I've heard stories  about this place,"
he said.  "I'm beginning to think they're all true."

I gave him a bland smile.
The realtor hadn't said any such thing,
but I had my suspicions.

The next time I saw him, I warned him,
"We're having the chimneys cleaned today.
You might want to step back."

"Fireplaces are archaic and dangerous,"
he huffed, glaring at me. 
A load of soot and trash burst from the chimney
and rained down, leaving a bird's nest on his head.

So it went, repairs and recriminations
proceeding apace.  My girl and I did what we could
and hired what we couldn't do ourselves.
Soon the house was presentable if not perfect,
the yard tidied, and all ready for winter.
In spring there would be time to add flowers
and more of the loving little touches that make a house a home.

The last time I saw the man
from the Picket Fence Committee,
I was raking leaves in the front yard.
He stopped his car in the street and yelled out the window,
"I don't see how you can stand to live in that dump!"

"It's easy," I replied,
"as long as I remember about
catching more flies with honey than vingear."

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Current Mood: busy busy

18 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
fayanora From: fayanora Date: September 7th, 2011 06:20 am (UTC) (Link)
HUZZAH! That house knows which people suck eggs.

This reminds me a bit of the apparently sentient gate on the house the Addams family have.

Also reminds me of the 2006 "Monster House" movie. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0385880/
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 7th, 2011 06:35 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad you like it.

Yeah, the movie trailer looks like it's drawing on the urban legend of the house-that-eats-people.
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 7th, 2011 07:26 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yay!

It is a fun setting.
my_partner_doug From: my_partner_doug Date: September 7th, 2011 03:55 pm (UTC) (Link)

Possibilities for revision on this one

I usually keep any suggestions and criticism off-list, since I have plenty of RealSpace access to the poet-in-question, but when I pointed some things out to her regarding this poem, her response was to tell me I should post it as a comment here, and open it up for further discussion among her readers. So, here goes!

We're told there's a "committee", and the first verse reinforces that notion with the use of words like "they" and "their"; the second verse provides us with a means of distinguishing one of its members by describing him as "the tall man". But from that point onward, the only interactions are with that single individual -- where's the rest of the committee?

"...their plans seemed lacking..." implies that some, if not all, of the other committee members shared some aspects of The Tall Man's character, so why is he singled out for all misfortune? Were the others amused by or annoyed at his travails? Or victims themselves?

Also, why is he the only committee member to return to the house and continue the harassment? Every re-appearance specifies "he" rather then "they" -- were the rest of them permanently scared off by unreported events during their first visit? Was the charm of our narrator sufficient to win all but the one curmudgeon over to the new owners' way of thinking? Or (more likely in my mind) was the interest of the collective group gradually whittled down by the recurring "accidents" (not to mention the repairs and improvements), 'til only the most stubborn of them refused to surrender?

Share your thoughts! Could/should this poem be reworked to reflect any of these considerations? Curious minds want to know!
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: September 7th, 2011 06:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, I agree with pretty much all of these points. The only Plan I have thus far managed to formulate for myself for Mr. Grumpy is that he was trying to get the house condemned and demolished (and perhaps replaced with a park or something that met with his approval?), and that the house being bought at all has interfered with this, and there's no pleasing him now. But that's not a committee, and it's only approximately consistent with his littany of complaints. Is there disagreement on the goals of the committee?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 8th, 2011 01:19 am (UTC) (Link)

Hmm...

Thinking about it, I suspect he was in favor of removing the house, possibly replacing it with a new house or a park. (To be fair, it was in rather unsightly shape prior to renovation.) So that probably contributes to his behavior. Once he's lost his chance at getting rid of it, he's down to whining about whatever he can find wrong.

The goal of the committee seems to be making the neighborhood look like the American Dream. Freshly painted houses, close-cropped lawns, conventional decorations. These are people who like "normal." They'd have had better luck moving into a ticky-tacky neighborhood than one that's a mix of very old and newer houses. (Both types coexist in Champaign-Urbana, a largish town that we frequent.) This may wind up connecting with the huldrefolk later, who are very good at faking normal.
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: September 8th, 2011 05:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

I wonder if there was potential profit in it for him beyond aesthetics and "not dragging down property values" (which is potential material profit) -- if he was planning to buy the place cheap(er) and redevelop it, or thought he could get redevelopment contract if he could convince the city/neighborhood to take the property "for the public good".

Yes, the huldrefolk would probably make him quite happy as neighbors, as long as he never was never forced to see/acknowledge their reality.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 8th, 2011 09:04 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

>>I wonder if there was potential profit in it for him beyond aesthetics <<

Possible, though likely beyond the scope of poetic discussion.

>> Yes, the huldrefolk would probably make him quite happy as neighbors, as long as he never was never forced to see/acknowledge their reality.<<

Is it evil of me to contemplate connecting one of his kids with one of theirs?
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: September 15th, 2011 12:11 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

Is it evil of me to contemplate connecting one of his kids with one of theirs?

No more so than any of the other ways you torment your characters.
kitrona From: kitrona Date: September 7th, 2011 09:33 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Possibilities for revision on this one

I suspect that he has a personal emotional investment in getting the house either torn down or made more homogenous with the rest of the neighborhood. Maybe he can see it from his house or when he drives through every day and he's the kind of person that just can't /stand/ when something doesn't fit; maybe he took a dislike to the owners because they're "weird" and he just has to stomp out anything that doesn't make sense to him.

I've known people like that; if you make a decision they don't agree with for your life, they criticize and make it clear that they strongly disapprove and think less of you for choosing something they wouldn't.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 8th, 2011 01:26 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Possibilities for revision on this one

>>Maybe he can see it from his house or when he drives through every day and he's the kind of person that just can't /stand/ when something doesn't fit; maybe he took a dislike to the owners because they're "weird" and he just has to stomp out anything that doesn't make sense to him.<<

I think both of those apply. He already didn't like the house, and then people moved in who are just like the house, and he just flipped out.

>>I've known people like that; if you make a decision they don't agree with for your life, they criticize and make it clear that they strongly disapprove and think less of you for choosing something they wouldn't.<<

That's basically the theme of this poem. In fact, it appears in several other poems in this series as well. The flip side is that normal is overrated, nobody is really as normal as they seem to be or like to think they are, and a more flexible outlook generally works out better in the end.
kitrona From: kitrona Date: September 8th, 2011 02:08 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Possibilities for revision on this one

*snrk* Yes, my mother would not care for this series.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 8th, 2011 01:11 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Possibilities for revision on this one

I'm open to adding more committee members onstage; it would fit better. I suspect that the number of visitors would get whittled down by the antics of the house.
janetmiles From: janetmiles Date: September 8th, 2011 02:04 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Possibilities for revision on this one

My assumption was that "he" was the current president of the homeowners' association (or the Committee), and so it was his responsibility to keep all the houses in the neighborhood in compliance.

But then, I've heard lots of HOA horror stories.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 8th, 2011 03:15 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Possibilities for revision on this one

>> My assumption was that "he" was the current president of the homeowners' association (or the Committee), and so it was his responsibility to keep all the houses in the neighborhood in compliance. <<

I get the impression that he's in charge of it, yes.

>> But then, I've heard lots of HOA horror stories. <<

Me too, and I've heard little good to counterbalance. They seem to make demands without offering resources for improvement, which is rarely good. I also tend to take a dim view of trying to force other people to do things, particularly if those in charge are self-appointed and/or can't readily be voted out when they prove themselves a nuisance. Such things are often just a way of harassing people who don't fit in.
je_reviens From: je_reviens Date: October 3rd, 2014 06:21 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Possibilities for revision on this one

I read the expanded poem first and then this one.

I like this one better. However I do see where Doug was coming from and why he had those ideas.

You might be aware of my own issues with an HOA that led to my suffering thru foreclosure, bc the head of the HOA wanted to take possession of my property rather than let me sell.

I assumed the tall man was the head of this committee. And why does he act this way? Bc he is In Charge Of The Neighborhood and everyone who lives there must do as he says. Or he will Make You Sorry.

I know that the head of the HOA made me very very sorry. And he enjoyed every minute.
kitrona From: kitrona Date: September 7th, 2011 09:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, very nice! I'm entirely in sympathy with the house... unique is beautiful!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 7th, 2011 09:56 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

I agree: unique is beautiful. *ponder* Which is a pretty good theme for this series overall, right up there with "When everyone is different, everyone belongs."
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