Check Your Rights At The Gate

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Remembrance of Things Wooden: The Catholic method of splinter therapy.

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Fix-It: The handyman cometh, some assembly required.

Stuck in the Median With You: And I'm wondering what it is I should do.

Hockey: Not for the squeamish or the toothed.

Check Your Rights at the Gate: Your condo association rules strictly prohibit laughing at this article.

Procrastination: Confessions of a procrastinator in an age of immediacy.

Lyrics: It's got a great beat but you can't sing to it.

Dodgeball: Wherein a young boy finds glory in the dark ages of dodgeball.

Martha Stewart's Happy Holiday Advice: It's a good thing she's not twins.

Melaleuca: Hey, what's that moldy purple thing on your neck?

Cartoon: Ages of Man
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They wield their power with brutal abandon. They ruthlessly crush anyone who dares oppose their nefarious ambitions. They're comprised of some of the most horrific megalomaniacs in the history of human evolution. Nazis? Terrorists? IRS employees? Hardly. By comparison, such radical factions make Hitler look like Lambchop on Ecstasy. I'm speaking, of course, about condo and homeowners associations.

I moved into a Florida condo 13 years ago and quickly discovered, upon signing the contract, that I had surrendered my rights to such fundamental freedoms as the pursuit of happiness, freedom of expression, air, and water. I now belonged to them, as I read on the first page of the condo association rules when the forklift dropped them off at the house.

The first section dealt with parking:

"Let it hereby be ordained that the stated owner/lessee of the said condo in question shall be administered two parking spaces; a primary parking space and a guest parking space. No owner/lessee or other entity thereof shall be permitted to park in an assigned space unless the vehicle of the said owner/lessee shall bear upon it an affixation to be issued only by the condo association, stating the specific serial number assigned to the said spot in question, thereof, and in furtherance, the vehicle of any visitor/guest or separate entity thereof shall not be permitted to park in any prior-mentioned assigned space, nor within the properly assigned guest space, nor within the surveyable boundaries of the common grounds, unless said visitor/guest vehicle entity bears upon it the affixation of the duly notarized guest parking authorization ..."

I stopped reading six hours later, after getting to the part about how commercial vehicles entering the property without proper authorization would be subject to ticketing, towing, and strafing from air-to-ground tactical weaponry, unless, of course, it bore proper affixation, thereof.

Soon after moving in, I found that the tennis courts in my section were severely out of repair. Like a silly condo neophyte, I called my condo section representative to lodge a complaint. After speaking with his answering service, appointment secretary, and administrative assistant, I was given an audience that involved incessant genuflecting and ring kissing followed by a lengthy ceremony during which several oxen were sacrificed. He then informed me that the tennis courts were the property of Phase I, and, whereas I lived in Phase III, I had no voice in the affairs of Phase I. Attempting to compel Phase I to fix the courts would involve transcending a political and diplomatic hierarchy so complex it would be simpler to infiltrate the defense Department's experimental weapons file. I made an offering and left, opting to take up a sport that didn't involve a doctorate in political science.

A short time later, the association announced that our monthly assessments would be increased substantially to cover the cost of a security guard. Although I wasn't happy about the increase, I was relieved by the knowledge that a trained, expert security professional would be patrolling the grounds to protect me and my neighbors. A few weeks later, I was outside washing my car when I heard what sounded like a malfunctioning electric can opener. I looked up to see a man of at least 87 years of age riding a golf cart the size of a coffee table. He wore the uniform of a security guard; however, he was so frail that the patches on the sleeves weighed his arms down, making it difficult for him to keep his enormous trooper's hat from sliding down over his eyes. His utility belt, cinched tightly across his nipples, contained exactly the following items: a key ring, a walkie-talkie, and a notepad. The only function I'd ever seen him perform efficiently was screaming at the neighborhood children who delighted in pushing his golf cart/coffee table into the pool. He did, however, manage a third place finish in the seven-and-under division of the condo's Big Wheel 500. My security level was now roughly where it would be had I just been informed that my delicate brain operation was about to be performed by Howie Mandel.
The last straw came one day while I was watching a football game with some friends. We decided to have a pizza delivered. The association was painting (another assessment) and had taken down the unit numbers on the buildings. As a result, it was impossible for anyone who'd never been to your house to tell which building was which. My solution was to write the number of my unit on a big piece of cardboard and tape it outside my door, so the pizza delivery person would be able to find us. Little did I know that this was the condo equivalent of punting a beehive into a chicken coop. Within seconds, swarms of condo commandos wearing berets and armbands dropped their infrared night-scope binoculars and goose-stepped their way over to my unit.

In a deafening cacophony of shrill nasal bleats, they informed me that Volume 67, Chapter 423, subsection 49.783(l-q), Page 107, Paragraph , of the condo association rules, regulations and bylaws specifically "prohibits the affixation of any foreign object to common-element property, violation of which mandates severe fines, public flogging, and up to eight years in a Malaysian slave labor camp."

While they informed me of this, a second squadron of commandos noticed that one of my friends had not parked his car in the designated guest parking spot. Chanting like the witch's castle guards in The Wizard of Oz, they hoisted the car onto their shoulders and carried it off into a nearby field, where it was set ablaze as a sacrifice to Condar, the condo association God of War.

If I had a complaint, they said, I would have to attend the next association board meeting and file a grievance. Foolishly, I did. There I found a scene that made the Nuremberg rallies look like Toddler's Day at Butterfly World.

The president, who insisted on being called "mein obergrubenfuhrer" sat on an ornate throne in a dark, underground room lit only by torches. He ordered that a rebellious group of condo rule violators be punished for the heinous crime of fixing a flat tire on condo property without the proper permits. The sergeant at arms, a monstrous creature who resembled the demon spawn of Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine, was greasing the thumbscrews when I shouted, "This is insane! You people are berserk with power!"

Suddenly, they all turned their hollow gazes at me and began shouting, "Incubus! Infidel! He blasphemes the sacred condo law!" as they began pelting me with stacks of assessment-charge forms. Fortunately, I had a copy of the Constitution with me, and I flashed it at them, which sent the hordes reeling and allowed my narrow escape.

Recently, I read about a group of local activists who formed with the purpose of fighting the growing powers of condo and homeowner associations. The group disbanded shortly after forming, when their leader was run down and killed by what witnesses say appeared to be a coffee table driven by an aged scarecrow wearing a sombrero.

Mere coincidence? Perhaps. But, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to burn some sheep entrails in the sacred name of Condar.

Adapted from an article originally published in Life and Leisure magazine, April 1994.

2011 Steven Ricci

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