Imagine this scene.
You’ve had a long day. You are late to work as usual and looking to score some coffee. You’re willing to risk the walk of shame to get it. Lauryn at the front desk will give you the eye; your supervisor will glance down at her watch, sending a surefire signal that she knows; you don’t care.
You had tossed and turned all night. Your dog was barking at what was probably a squirrel up past his bedtime. You feel done before the day has even started. You mope, but you’re hopeful. Coffee will be coming soon.
Then you remember you have a meeting to attend. It won’t be about anything; they rarely are. The only importance it has in your life is that it will be keeping you from your beloved. And because you are miserable, you mumble to your co-worker, as you plop down on a chair in the conference room, that you missed your coffee for this. And because Bob has the non-discriminating tongue of a goat, he reminds you that the lounge area has coffee.
As if you didn’t know. As if you didn’t know that some pleasure hating troll creeps in early in the morning and brews a pot of bitter water flavored like coffee every morning. Your simple response is, Yeah, but…
Your voice trails off in a sigh of dejection.
At lunch time you run into Kathy who takes up 15 minutes of your time talking about the latest thing her dog did and the new laundry detergent she just discovered the other night. Quite unexpectedly, she says. I was being adventurous, she says. When she pulls out her phone for the picture portion of the interaction, you start bouncing like you have to pee and tell her so.
What you packed for lunch last night is unappealing to you now. Fuck. You’d love a pastry to wash down this bland excuse for a meal. You promised yourself on Monday you’d eat healthy all week. This is Wednesday.
So the drive home is tedious. The weather is beautiful and you want to put your windows down, but the traffic is dense and you can feel exhaust fumes seeping into your skin and your lungs. It’s only when you see your street that some hope arises in your worn out soul. You pull into your driveway and look at up at your home. The front door is brown. Brown. The front door should be a reflection of the person who lives in the home.
Is the universe sending you a message, you wonder? Is your life brown? You do the logical thing and sum up your entire life by reviewing this one day. Your life is brown and rotting.
Maybe if you paint it. Periwinkle maybe. A Nantucket blue? In all honesty, you don’t even know what Nantucket blue might be, but you like the sound of it.
You remember with vexation that you aren’t allowed to paint your front door. You live in a community. With a Home Owner’s Association. They told you when you moved in that you were signing up for a brown door existence, but you only saw the romance. You saw some stranger mowing your lawn on Saturday morning. You saw conformity. And now conformity has you in it’s clutches. The gates at the entrance to conformity are brown. Not like chocolate. Like doo doo. But you drank it down like a chocolate milkshake, didn’t you? And it was delicious going down, wasn’t it? All that sense of security and keeping the weirdos out. You felt like you deserved that. You had come up in life.
Now you’re coming off that high and realizing that someone else, someone who doesn’t even own your home is telling you that you can’t paint your front door a lively canary yellow or vintage dusty rose. The hell am I doing with my life, you ask yourself.
You start imagining the neighborhoods of your childhood. The pleasure of an unusual house. The giddiness of knowing that adults weren’t perfect. You were reminded of it every time you drove past Mr. Murphy’s house with the overgrown and weed-spotted grass, rubbish on the porch, rusted car on the lawn. You were reminded of it every time your parents complained about what an eye sore his house was to the neighborhood. You remember, also, the money your family would spend to travel to quaint little towns with such interesting architecture. That seemed to be, in those days, the primary criterion for any vacation destination. You remember taking blurry and too dark and diagonal pictures with your disposable Kodak, being disappointed weeks later when they were finally developed and still, somehow still, being satisfied.
When did you drink in a brown door? When did you relinquish the freedom to choose?
When you were in your final semester of college and realized you had no job lined up. You were so absorbed in learning. You always had your notebooks ready for taking thorough notes. You always had your hand raised to pose questions, or offer comments. You were thinking of what other classes you’d like to take. More creative writing? Dance? Photography? Sociology? So many options. And then, one day, it hit you like a rock to the face, like the sudden slamming of a textbook onto the cold ground.
Your rosy-cheeked and almond-eyed friend declares with pride that she’s found a full-time job at some law firm. The name is such and such. No one really cares about the name but her. Pretty sure she is more impressed by the name than what they actually do there. Surely, if she knew they worked for the mob she’d stay on just to tell people she works for such and such and associates. She’ll probably grow old behind a desk, you worry. But she’s too excited and you aren’t sure if it’s just your jealousy talking; so you keep quiet and smile and hug her.
And your heart is pounding like a heavyweight champion is beating blows against your chest. You have no job. You have no job. You have no job. And that was the day you accepted the brown and grey and beige. Though you learned in an art class that beige is actually a shade of brown. Which makes sense if you think about it. And they are all dingy. And they are dingy so that they don’t show dirt. The Association would prefer not to do much cleaning of homes. They say it’s for the sake of saving Homeowner’s money.
You were tired. Everything was so planned; so thought out. No visual clutter. You hadn’t stopped working since your first job out of college. You had to prove that your degree was worth it.
Now you sit in meetings that will have no bearing on your life in a year or a month or a week. They tell you that you have to pay attention. This is important, they say. They seem to say that a lot. Damn, you worked so hard. In college because you loved it. At the company because you had to. You were paying rent and your friends were getting married and buying houses. You had to buy a home. You weren’t some kind of loser. But you were too tired to plant the garden that you’d always wanted, or maintain a healthy bougainvillea that’ll climb up the wall and frame your pretty green door. You were too tired to worry about things like the lawn. You thought you’d visit the community pool more. Imagined swimming in the mornings for exercise. So you bought the house with the brown door that may not change. You look at it now. You look down the street at all the other brown door houses lined neatly side by side by side. You make a decision.
You place your foot on the brake. Place the car in reverse and head to the home improvement store. How long will it take to paint a door anyhow? The traffic has died down now and you roll your windows down; take off your jacket.
Let them come for me.
By the time someone notices, informs the committee, by the time they formulate a friendly but firm letter, wait some days for you to response, by the time they realize you may not have responded and send a 2nd notice, come knocking, you’ll have a good month of looking at your shiny black door. The hot pink bougainvillea will look beautiful beside it.
Your heart is glad, and you buy a second can of paint for the kitchen.
During a period of time, I was feeling stale and frustrated with life. I lived in a community with a Homeowner’s Association. I turned into my driveway every day and looked at this brown door and it did nothing for me. The interior of my home was drenched in color and life and the outside was dead. I planted colorful flowers in huge terra cotta pots. I placed a bench beneath the window and a little table for coffee. These things helped. But that door was a thorn. A missed opportunity. So, one day, I threw a fit and painted it, though it was against the rules of the association. Thankfully, all I got were a few pointed comments about my robin’s egg blue door. I didn’t care. I didn’t change it. And miraculously, no one did anything.
I have lived for a long time by the motto: “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” And that experience really solidified this philosophy in my mind. Maybe philosophy is a strong word, but I really do abide by it quite often.
I also learned something living in that community. I learned that weird neighbors will continue to show themselves in various ways regardless of the conformity of paint colors on the exterior of our homes. And sometimes they make for good stories. Sometimes they make for an interesting day. They will always make life more colorful. Of course, I cannot speak for every situation; some people are just weird weird or obnoxious to the point of fueling rage. But maybe they’ll move away. And at the end of it, you’ll have a story to tell. I sure hope so.
Thanks for reading way down to the bottom of this loosely semi-autobiographical narrative. And don’t forget to always look for ways to break free from the chains that bind you. And seek happiness in large and small ways. And don’t be so afraid. And remember: What’s the worse that could happen?