Max Parsons, a 35-year-old Coast Guard statistician, likes nothing better than to watch old science-fiction movies, the kind he knew he could get on literally dozens of channels if he had a big white satellite dish installed in his suburban Fairfax County yard.
But Parsons, like many Washington-area residents, lives in a planned community, and while Fairfax County allows its residents to have the dishes as long as they obtain a building permit and meet certain requirements, his Herndon community of Franklin Farm does not. There, television antennas must be hidden in attics, fences must conform to eight architecturally approved styles and satellite dishes are verboten.
Last month, Parsons, who calls himself "a Star Trek freak," thought he had found the perfect solution to his problem -- an Arlington company that sells satellite dish antennas hidden inside patio furniture.
But that's when his troubles started.
Parsons, who once fought with his neighbors in Franklin Farm over the sky-blue car covers he draped over his Cadillacs ("I told them, 'These cars are Cadillacs. I'm not dragging down the value of the neighborhood' "), is now waging another esthetic battle -- that of the electronic picnic table.
There have been blunt letters and anonymous telephone calls and, tonight, a discussion of Parsons' picnic table and of satellite dish antennas in general is scheduled by the Franklin Farm architectural review board.
"Of course, I'm disturbed," Parsons said. "This is not a $29.95 Radio Shack antenna. This is almost a $3,000 unit."
He bought the picnic table for $2,990 from Compusat TVRO Systems Inc. in Arlington. The 6-foot-diameter dish is enclosed in a maroon and gray striped umbrella, with fringe; the wiring is enclosed in the umbrella's pole and buried underground. It was installed behind Parsons' home on July 15.
C.A. (Mac) McGillen Jr., general manager of Compusat TVRO, said Parsons' table is the first in the Washington area, and that he is scheduled to install a second one in Columbia, Md., today. After getting numerous calls from people who want to skirt neighborhood rules that don't allow satellite dishes, McGillen said he plans to begin marketing his product nationally soon.
"We found, from the numbers of calls we've had, that a lot of people resent the fact that they're not permitted to have satellite antennas in their homes," he said. "So we'd like to think of ourselves as peacemak- "The reason I installed it is because the community doesn't regulate picnic tables and umbrellas." -- Max Parsons ers. We'd like to have the authorities be like Jesus towards us, and say 'Blessed are the peacemakers.' "
The reception -- from his television set, not the neighbors -- was "phenomenal" after the satellite dish was installed, Parsons said yesterday. Aside from old science-fiction movies, he was able to receive two all-Disney stations for his children. "I get 150 channels," he added, proudly.
Soon, however, the anonymous complaints began rolling in to the community architectural review board. "They just wondered how he could do it, when we said 'No satellite dishes,' " explained Sharon Austin, executive director of the Franklin Farm Foundation.
The major objection was on esthetic grounds. "Normally, a picnic table umbrella sits at something of an angle, but his tilts completely to the side," said Ellen Freihofer, the community's architectural review board chairman.
"He has to point it so he can get his transmission," she added, "but he's not home during the day, and he doesn't bother putting it straight when he's gone."
Even Austin, who said she had no particular bias about Parsons' picnic table, wondered what might become of Franklin Farm if more of the disguised dishes were allowed.
"I would question how it would look in the winter, with all these picnic tables sitting around," she said.
Four days after the picnic table was installed, Parsons received a letter from the architectural review board, asking that the table be removed within 30 days.
Parsons plans to appeal. "The reason I installed it is because the community doesn't regulate picnic tables and umbrellas," he said.
Parsons said he even changed the umbrella covering. "I thought red was a little loud, because it will be up in the wintertime," he said. "So, I had another cover made. A dark brown and beige. It matches the accents on my home, and I thought it blended a little better."