Day 38. As I wander the streets of Chatsworth alternately towing and being towed by a small dog and listening to tales of the treatment of slaves in Antonine Rome, my eyes pass over the many low rise American houses. They are so familiar from all the American TV I’ve watched. There are some things that seem to be universal. If you have a house in this city, you’ve probably got a lawn and a garage.
The lawns are not what we call a lawn in the UK. They’re tame. A shallow tightly cropped rectangle of turf, laid across the pipes and sprays of integrated sprinkler systems. They mark the soft boundary of the private property. A place to send your husband to do some work outdoors when he’s getting underfoot. Stuck into the lawn will always be one of a number of different signs, or sometimes more. The most frequent is “Warning, armed response.” With a picture of a gun. If you stand on my lawn we can shoot you. We have burglar alarms all over the place. Big men in vans will teleport to this location and put a cap in your ass if you so much as bend a blade of grass.
The next most frequent sign has a picture of a coyote on it. “There’s a coyote in the area. It wants to eat your dog and your children. Fear it.” And a blurry cctv image of the offending animal, in case you want the boys to teleport over their van and put a cap in it’s coyote ugly ass for daring to come over to your lawn eating your dogs. Darn coyotes.
The other sign is infrequent and less relevant now. It’s on dead lawns. It’s smug. “Thank you for letting your lawn die. We appreciate that you are helping the environment. Water is precious.” Hooray for you, subtext hooray for me because not only did I do that months ago but I made these little signs to patronise the people who got there after me. Less relevant now as it has been raining non stop for weeks. But we have just come out of a catastrophic drought. To the extent that some people have dispensed with their lawns altogether and made a sort of zen gravel rockery type thing.
Then there are garages. Garages are also a whole different kettle of fish. The guy in the house next door to me has a corvette in the driveway. A highly tuned, high end sports car. It’s been raining for weeks and the corvette is lying getting wet outside. Why? Because in his retirement, he is constructing an extremely intricate model village in his garage. Every day he sits with the door open tinkering with detail in his magnum opus. It would probably never occur to him to put the car in there. “Garages ain’t for cars round these parts. Garages are for men. Men who do important construction works on small scale towns.” Yep, they’re the American equivalent of the garden shed. I shot a short in a garage that had a load of disco lights, two damp guitars, an ailing drum kit and some enthusiastic paintings. In Larchmont the garage has music kit and weights. You can train and jam simultaneously. In the house I’m looking after?
It’s remarkable and wonderful, this garage. Plus a little bit terrifying. A few blogs ago I mentioned that I am more of a geek than I let on. So I recognise some of this stuff. But this is row upon row of beautifully arranged, beautifully painted Warhammer 40k miniatures, organised according to faction on specially made shelves. It’s a proper collection, with the hallmarks of hours of work. These things take time and precision to paint.
Space Marines, Eldar, Necrons, Tyranids… It’s a branch of geekdom I passed up on as a teenager as being too involved. It’s an amazing sight the garage. But it renders the garage the province of one man, as it is all very fragile and precious. There’s a film crew coming here in a day or so and I have been told to pass on to them that it is out of bounds.
I find myself wondering what gets made in garages across the states. What mad follies never see the light of day but endlessly occupy a retired chartered accountant until he goes gaga and forgets about it? What vast precious collections of books, cards, figures, consoles etc end up in an estate agent’s skip or a yard sale for tuppence? Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.
I wonder what I’d put in my garage. I wonder what you’d put in yours.