How the West Was Won
by Kristin Armstrong
Illustration by Chris Nickels
I’m pretty sure that the neighborhood I live in used to be considered the boonies. The scrubby cedar trees and half-dead grass in the front yards (the other half eaten by the legions of deer that have overtaken the area) have an unkempt look reminiscent of the days when this was considered “country.” This ain’t no nicely manicured West Austin enclave. It’s farther west. More like the Old West.
There is a neighbor with a dingy RV parked in front, à la Cousin Eddie. I wonder what goes on in there, but then don’t really want to know. There are neighbors with yards and driveways cluttered with kids’ riding toys, parked askew, never put up. Christmas lights twinkle all year round. There are cool old hippie couples who work in the yard when it’s nice out. There are old cars in driveways, under pollen-encrusted car covers. There is even one of those wooden Little Free Libraries, stocked with seriously good books, next to a stand with dog poop bags and Adirondack chairs if you want to stop and read awhile. There is a half-built, precarious-looking treehouse, which stands (OK, leans) as a testament to parental good intentions and the rapid passage of childhood. One lady sits on her front porch and smokes, literally all day, barely visible to people passing by, but you can smell the smoke and hear her coughing. One cute old couple has plastic lawn furniture set up on the shady front porch under an American flag, and they greet people and wave, sipping iced tea or lemonade. One neighbor stands outside in a robe in the morning, tossing feed to the deer community that gathers religiously on his front lawn. Handwritten “Fawning Season! GO SLOW!” signs are tacked up all over the place, and traffic halts while huge deer families meander across the road and change their mind to go back across again. There is always the ambivalent fawn that can’t decide whether to go for it or not, so we wait on him too. People park in the street and have lots of stickers on their cars, letting you know where generations of children went to school, who was an honor student, what kind of dog they have, whether they own guns or eat meat, and what their tastes are in music and politics.
But just like the real Old West, new people are coming in and taking over the territory.
In between the little ranch-style older homes and the characters who dwell there, new people are snapping up homes, razing them, and building big, new, modern homes. If a “For Sale” sign is posted outside, blink and it will be under contract. Blink again and the lot will be empty. The old homes are modest and secluded, and the new homes are wide-open with lots of glass so you can watch the inhabitants at night like a backlit diorama. The contrast side by side is both artistic and ironic. In the new homes, fancy chandeliers twinkle within, and front yards have actual sod and landscaping. Expensive SUVs and Sprinter vans are replacing the dusty old Suburbans and wood-paneled Wagoneers. These new people are definitely gussying up the joint.
This ain’t no nicely manicured West Austin enclave. It’s farther west. More like the Old West.
Sigh. Now I need to up my game. It reminds me of why plastic surgery is a bad idea, because once you fix up one thing, other things nearby look like hell. Now I notice that my house needs a nip and tuck. The wood on the front gate looks dry and sun-scorched and in need of sanding and staining. The back patio and front wall are mildewed and need to be power-washed ASAP. The outdoor furniture needed to be replaced two summers ago. The entire house actually needs to be repainted, inside and out. There is some wood rot under the kids’ windows, and the overworked upstairs AC unit is dripping water onto the driveway. The grass in the front yard can only really be considered grass when it’s rye season. Otherwise it’s pretty much trenched by new driver tires and consists mostly of weeds and clovers that resemble grass only because they are green. The “landscaping” is mostly land and no scaping and is comprised of scraggly rosemary bushes and a couple agave plants, because apparently the finicky deer don’t eat those. The metal roof is covered in pollen worms and dead leaves, and the gutters are overflowing. I can’t remember the last time I had those cleaned out. The trees need trimming, because they have those clingy, spidery, air plant mollusks all over them. But every time I think of doing it, it’s the wrong time of year. I planted a garden once, a few years back, when I was feeling springy and inspired. Now it’s dirt surrounded by stacked rocks and boasts a harvest of a couple toppled wire tomato cages and some weeds. It needs to be fertilized and replanted.
All this talk of chores and projects is making me feel tired, inept, and overwhelmed.
I probably either need to move, win the lottery, or marry a handyman.