I first noticed him about a month ago, directly across the street from me, staring intently at my house. He would break his gaze occasionally and scribble furiously on a little notepad.
No, he wasn’t standing there — he was seated comfortably in a very luxurious golf-cart, on the sidewalk, at the edge of my neighbor’s driveway. He looked lean and angular and snappy in his white and dark green Polo shirt and freshly pressed brown shorts. His golf cap wasn’t the cheap canvas kind with air-holes in it and the adjustable Velcro band in the back — this cap was fitted, and would’ve retailed in the pro shop for about $35.00.
Of course the left chest of his Polo, the cap, and the side of the cart were emblazoned with the moniker of the “homeowners association” (HOA) that regulates every nuance of my domestic life, from the color of the rubbish receptacles I use (Terracotta Canyon Red for the recyclables, Santan Village Adobe for the regular stuff), to their positioning on trash day (“Association member must take care to securely fasten lid on all repositories, and place them no more than three feet to the right of member driveway, on the surface abutting the Association common curb” – which I think means “the street” — I haven’t asked), to the number and type of plants that populate the front, back, and side yards of each member’s property.
I hadn’t seen too many of these vehicles up close before — and to be locked eyeball-to-eyeball with an actual association employee — well, that was an unusual occurrence, for sure. You might see the “official use” Lincoln Navigators with ultra-dark window tinting driving around town now and again, or the golf carts stuffed tight with top dignitaries at Fourth of July or Veterans Day extravaganzas, but to be this close to an actual investigator, well, this wasn’t an everyday treat, that’s for sure.
At least not to a working stiff like me. Maybe this kind of interaction was common to the retired and disabled and chronically unemployed, but, again, for Johnny N it was a bit of a shock to be so squarely in the cross-hairs of one of these selfless and very likely non-bribeable bureaucrats.
I stood in my driveway and glared at him. Or tried to … but his sunglasses blocked his eyes. His mustache would shimmy and undulate while he wrote … but no emotion was visible. After he finished his staring and scribbling he nodded briefly to me and sped off — at the legally proscribed 7.5 miles per hour.
I had forgotten about the encounter until about a week later, when I got an e-mail (and a letter) from the HOA. It said there was a “housing” matter for me to address, and I could find it at a certain link — I only need point and click and it would all be made clear.
So I did — and up popped a photo of my house, obviously taken by my friend the gumshoe. All in all it was a tranquil picture, featuring my car, the driveway, a little bit of the garage, the tree to the right of my driveway, and some of the cacti to the left of it. At the bottom of the photo the following caption appeared:
I searched in vain for what the violation was, but no explanation was given. It gave me “three business days” to fix the issue and listed a phone number to call if I had any questions.
I was very nervous.