Neighborliness is in short supply on Smoothleaf Lane in Gaithersburg. The only thing in shorter supply is common sense.
At issue are three mini-bicycles belonging to Susan Guzman's three children, Rebecca (6), Jack (4) and Anna (18 months). Like many kids in those age brackets, the Guzman offspring don't always put their stuff away at night when their mother asks them to. In fact, back in late March, the Guzman kids went several days without ever putting their bikes away at night.
Major tragedy? Not to me or you, or to anyone with an ounce of insight into the way young people behave. But apparently life is different on Smoothleaf Lane. In the last week of March, Susan Guzman received a scorching letter from the Amberfield Development Homeowners' Association. It demanded that she put the bikes away, each and every night.
The letter called the left-around bikes a "safety hazard," which Susan concedes. The bikes were sometimes left on the sidewalk in front of her house, rather than on the front lawn or the front walk. Passersby could easily trip on the bikes in the dark.
However, the letter also called the bikes an "eyesore," and implied (to Susan, at least) that she might be kicked out of her rented home if she didn't tuck the bikes into beddy-bye without fail.
"I'm paranoid now," said Susan, even though nearly three months have passed and an uneasy truce prevails. "I had assumed that homeowner associations existed to prevent true blots on the landscape, like corroding washing machine shells and rat-infested mattresses, not to harass the parents of small children."
Jeff Wolff, president of Management Group Associates Inc., which manages Amberfield, said it's the "contractual duty" of his company to send out warning letters "at the board of directors' wishes." He acknowledged that "most people get offended at receiving letters of this nature." However, the board wanted to make Susan aware of the problem, Jeff said. "A parent is still responsible for his kids," he observed.
Why such concern over three small bikes? Because Amberfield wants to retain "curb appeal" to prospective buyers who might drive through, Jeff said. Asked if he considers children's bikes an enemy of curb appeal, he replied: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
Interesting that Jeff would mention beholding, because that's exactly what prospective buyers can't do at night (unless they have infrared telescopes). Have you ever heard of anyone house hunting after dark? Have you ever heard of a potential sale that went sour at any hour of the day over three children's bikes? Me neither.
But the far bigger question is why Jeff and the homeowners' association felt it had to apply such heavy muscle to Susan. She doesn't (and didn't) object to cleaning up after her kids. She objects (and objected) to a threatening, impersonal letter from people she has never met.
Amberfield ought to learn the value of neighbor-to-neighbor chats. Those protect not just property values, but people's feelings too.
Thanks to Bob Freitag of Mount Rainier for this sighting:
Aboard a delivery van stopped for a light at Queens Chapel Road and East-West Highway was a sign on the back door. It read:
GUARANTEED OVERNIGHT DELIVERY
The bumper sticker on the side door read:
SEND A KID TO CAMP
Are you a rounder-offer? Shirley R. Regan of Fairfax is. As a result, our annual fund-raising campaign on behalf of 1,100 local underprivileged kids is $30.38 richer.
A few days ago, Shirley noticed the running total that I publish regularly at the end of this column during our drive. The day she looked, our bottom line was a scraggly, uneven, untidy $40,459.62.
"A much too irregular sum," Shirley huffed. So she decided to bump it to $40,490, which she calls "the more attractive figure."
Bump roundly appreciated, Shirley. Copycats appreciated too. And don't feel restricted to rounding off the sum you see below each morning. Rounding off also works if your checking account is scraggly, uneven and untidy. Once you help us with your gift, your balance will end in nice, neat zeroes, and some of our neighbors will be a little closer to spending two weeks in the Virginia countryside.
TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp, and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.
In hand as of June 18: $83,509.09.
Our goal: $275,000.