Friday, February 5, 2010

Aesthetic . . . And Totally Worthless

As part of a homeowners association, I’ve come to expect home exterior upkeep in the area, corresponding colors throughout the neighborhood and a lack of rogue vehicles on the street or on front lawns and porches for months at a time. In general, I’ve come to expect aesthetic bliss.

It’s clear most HOAs have property values in mind. My HOA is no exception. We’ve got these really expensive, fancy-looking cast iron mailboxes, which must add tremendous value to the homes since nobody seems to mind driving to the post office to drop off their outgoing mail. Why must they drop off mail at the post office when they have their own mailboxes? Good question.

The said expensive, fancy-looking boxes don’t allow for mail pickup. The mail carrier has no access to the inside. He can drop stuff in, but he can’t fit his hand inside to take stuff out -- the mail slot is far too narrow.

“You can hang your outgoing mail halfway out the slot,” a neighbor suggested.

“What about when it rains?” I asked.

OK, so Southern California doesn’t get much rain. But the problem extends beyond wet outgoing mail on wet days. Sometimes, when hanging my outgoing mail halfway out the slot, it falls back into the box. I can’t afford to have my mail slip back into the box. I live in a nice area, which means I’m paying my bills at the last minute. If my payments slip back into my box, my mail carrier doesn’t deliver my mail. As a result, I get late-charged.

“Why don’t you bring your outgoing mail to the post office or to one of the general boxes on the street?” asked a neighbor.

I refuse to spend time, gas and wear and tear on my vehicle to use another mailbox when I have a mailbox -- an expensive, fancy-looking one -- on my own property. No, I’d rather spend time, energy and wear and tear on my nerves complaining about it.

Perhaps you, too, have had similar problems where aesthetics have won out over function. I know of an entire city whose bus riders fell victim to this ridiculous phenomenon.

Citizens of the said city asked their city council to address the lack of bus shelters around town. People were tired of waiting at bus stops in the pouring rain. The city council dove right in. After all, three of the council members were incumbents in an upcoming race for seats on the next council.

“We must shelter our citizens,” was how the discussion began. The end was more like, “It doesn’t matter that the slats for a roof don’t shield our citizens from the rain. These shelters must beautify the city, unlike those eyesores in the San Fernando Valley.”

The said city council eventually installed the said worthless (practically roofless) bus shelters. Indeed, the shelters were worthless. But they were aesthetically pleasing and the premier shelters in the area.

I was shocked at this display of stupidity. As a father, I felt I had an obligation to teach my growing son the difference between good and bad, right and wrong, functional and “Who came up with this stupid idea?” So I stood up. I showed my son that you have to take action against stupidity.

I made a weatherproof strap with an “outgoing mail” sign on one end, which could dangle outside the box. I attached a binder clip on the other end of the strap to clamp onto my outgoing mail, which could sit inside my mailbox. When my mail carrier sees the sign, he knows I have outgoing mail. He can tug on the strap and pull the mail through the slot.

My outgoing mail now stays dry in wet weather, and I don’t have to hang my bills halfway out the slot and worry about them falling back into the box, out of my mail carrier’s reach.

So maybe I didn’t truly stand up against stupidity. Maybe I joined in. Maybe I didn’t teach my son anything worthwhile. But my invention is sure aesthetically pleasing and the premier outgoing mail system in the area.

-November 2009

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