Did I Say That? One man’s junk is another’s exercise of free expression

There are two types of homeowners — those who are meticulous about their yards and have scrupulously pruned shrubbery and well manicured lawns with statues of Venus de Milo bathing nude at bird fountains. Then, there are those whose outdoor sculpture generally consists of four or five cars in the driveway and on the lawn, one of which is a monster truck with 66-inch tires and another that’s covered in grime, green dust and bird poop because it hasn’t been driven since Monica Lewinsky was a household name.

My wife grew up in a home with a yard that looked like the gardens at the palace of Versailles. I, on the other hand, grew up in a home where the yard resembled Rye Playland on Friday night, largely because my father was, to quote my mother, a “junk collector,” and he collected his junk in our yard since there was no more room in the basement, the garage or the shed. (This was before those storage facilities with names like Westy, Besty and Beastie became as popular as Starbucks.)

Scattered throughout our yard were wheelbarrows, spare tires, cinder blocks, garden tools, bird houses, bird baths, bird feeders, rusty bikes, wading pools, lumber, a compost bin, a dozen 5-gallon pails that contained tomato plants and other objects of indeterminate origin. From time to time, you’ve probably seen homes like this … and moved to the other side of the street for fear you might contract an infectious disease or be accosted by Herman Munster.

In fact, there’s one such home on my street, which leads me to believe my father may have been reincarnated as my neighbor, whose yard bears a suspicious resemblance to our old homestead in Pine Rock Park. As a rule, I don’t believe in reincarnation, but I think I’ve stumbled upon the exception to the rule — convincing evidence it can occur in rare circumstances, and this is one.

Many communities have enacted ordinances against eyesore properties. After residents complain and holler for six years to the mayor, the newspaper editor, zoning officials, the school board, health officials, the dog catcher and the local pastor, the town takes action. Eventually, the dispute is resolved in a final climactic showdown when the errant homeowner, in a public display of righteous indignation, takes a stand on his front lawn, wielding a 12-gauge shotgun while shouting, “This is America! I have a Constitutional right to freedom of expression!”

At that point, he — or she — is disarmed, handcuffed and carried away to a new life behind bars with limited opportunities for freedom of expression, while the cleanup operation is left to his heirs or the town Public Works Department at great expense to the taxpayer. Fortunately, they didn’t have those laws in my father’s day or I might never have been born because he would have been in the prison yard growing tomatoes.

Now, what I’m about to say is somewhat controversial … I admire that homeowner. Freedom of expression is, indeed, part of our Constitution. It’s in there somewhere, at least I think it is, although I often get the Constitution confused with the Declaration of Independence like many of our political leaders. I’m referring to whatever document guarantees us the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the unbridled acquisition and public display of junk. When I look at some exhibits in leading New York galleries, I see little difference between them and our backyard, which leads me to conclude artistic expression is in the eye of the beholder or junk collector.

Furthermore — and this really scares me but not as much as it scares my wife — I think I inherited the junk collector gene from my father because in recent months I’ve found myself leaving the garden hose sprawled across the lawn, along with yard tools, the wheelbarrow, a snow shovel ( just in case we have a stray nor’easter), 15 bags of mulch I may not get around to spreading for a few years, two empty pallets and a compost bin. This situation makes my wife sneer, “This yard is starting to look like your home in Pine Rock Park!” To which I promptly respond, “Back off! This is one of my inalienable rights!”

She, of course, is a self-professed neatnik with obsessive-compulsive tendencies, while I’m more of a free form kind of guy who believes in storing his valued possessions on his night stand, or the front lawn as a second choice. What else can I do? The shed is full, the garage is full … and you can forget the basement.

You may contact Joe Pisani at joefpisani@yahoo.com