I’m worried about my neighbors.
They’re looking to me for guidance, and I’m failing them.
No, sorry, I didn’t mean to mislead you. They’re not looking to me for guidance the way people often use the term guidance.
They’re not looking to me for spiritual guidance, for example. That would be unwise. I was a clergyman for 15 years, but the fact that I’m not a clergyman anymore should rule me out as a source of spiritual guidance. If you come to me for counseling, I’ll counsel you to go somewhere else for counseling. That’s about the extent of my wisdom.
And my neighbors are certainly not looking to me for financial guidance. That would be even sillier. (I bought my wife an extravagant gift. She, ever the gatekeeper, asked, “Is it paid for?” “Sure,” I replied. “I put it on the card.” She gave me the weirdest look. Then she returned the gift.)
My neighbors look to me for a different kind of guidance. Not spiritual. Not financial. Not even political — even though I would be totally happy giving them instructions about how to vote.
But no. My neighbors consider me a valuable source of guidance on a completely different level.
I help them find their way home.
This is not a difficult function for me. My house is bright barn red, and sits on a corner, very close to the road, like all the best 202-year-old houses. (Oh, let’s be more precise: My front yard is about as wide as crime-scene tape.) So of course, if you live in one of the nearly 50 houses in the neighborhood adjacent to my house, you learn to turn at the red house on Linebrook Road. You don’t read street-name signs, you don’t squint at your odometer. What nonsense. You go on auto-pilot, you doze at the wheel if you want to, because you know when you see that big red square looming over the road, you turn just before it. It’s simple.
This year, however, it was clear that the bright barn red had seen redder days, and a new coat of paint would be necessary. But as my wife and I began scraping off the old paint, it wasn’t just old paint that came off. Great hunks of rotted clapboard siding were peeling off the side of the house. By the looks of the garbage gathering at our feet, it seemed that the clapboards might never have been replaced since Timothy Morse Jr. built the house in 1817.
This was no longer a job for humble amateurs. So we placed a call to our trusty contractor, Shawn Cayer of Windhill Builders, and asked him to work his magic. Soon he had a team of workers erecting scaffolding, prying siding, and exposing the 19th-century bones of our house. In no time, however, they had replaced the wretched rot with beautiful brand-new clapboards. Beautiful brand-new unpainted clapboards.
Which means, my house was suddenly beige.
It wouldn’t stay beige, of course — but it would take a few days for the painting crew to arrive.
In the meantime — trouble.
“A new color for your house!” one neighbor remarked.
“Beige! So modern!” another said, barely masking the disapproval.
“I love the new color!” an elderly neighbor offered, with a smile. “It’s been barn-red since 1888!” It’s possible she watched the original paint job.
These few neighbors who loved the new color were clearly not the drivers, the commuters, the folks who rely on the big red house to tell them where to turn. Before long, I was hearing from the working-stiffs demographic — via email, text, and a single, plaintive, old-fashioned voicemail.
- “Doug, where’s your house? I’m in Topsfield.”
- “Dude, did you paint your house? I was past Hood Pond before I realized!”
- “Doug, it would have been nice if you had at least notified your neighbors that you were changing the color of your house. My Zachary was late for his classes at Pingree today. Thank you very much.”
- “Yo, I must have turned the wrong place. There’s a red house on the right at — eh, never mind. Can you call me?”
And this plaintive tweet on Twitter:
- “#SomethingStrange. #MyNeighborhood apparently #obliterated. Can’t find street where I always turn to #gohome. #Batterylow. Someone find me, please. #BoxfordPoliceStation.”
A couple days later, the painters arrived. The house is now red again. Timothy Morse Jr. can rest in peace.
And my neighbors, too.
I want to serve my neighbors well. I really do.
YOUR ATTENTION, PLEASE — GUIDANCE SYSTEMS: GO.
Doug Brendel lives in the red house close to outer Linebrook Road, and offers clear directions to passers-by. Follow Doug’s charity at NewThing.net.