The boardroom was the country club’s underused dining hall, with the tables pushed into one long, larger shape. The little tables coming together to become a single, theoretically better one - that was probably a good metaphor for the eight people sitting around it: the homeowners’ association. Their job was to better the neighborhood, to think as a joint mind, to solve the problems of dropping property values. Marty liked to call them superheroes of lawn-height. Jim said if the group had done anything, they had done too much. What the neighborhood needed, in his mind, was to abolish the HOA. Todd sat beside him, silent. Potentially offering a grunt of approval or dissent.
SueAnn brought the donuts, stale because the meeting happened at 6PM and she was happy to take the afternoon discount. Carla made the coffee in a large carafe that the country club provided. She had never washed it and it wasn’t certain if it had ever been washed. The group never finished the carafe. Brian said if he drank any of the coffee, it would keep him up all night. None of the others had as consistent an excuse, having accepted the coffee once, tasted its horror, and then vowed to themselves, never again. They just told Carla, no thank you.
Brian had higher aspirations and liked to run the meetings, though Marty was the chair. “Now team,” Brian seemed to think imitating a football coach meant he was motivating, “this is an important time for the HOA and I’m glad you all were on time.”
Michelle and Dustin stumbled through the door, two minutes late. They carried the air of the conversation they were having in the parking lot. Michelle’s cheeks were red and she was laughing, touching her right hand to her breast. Dustin seemed shocked that she was laughing, his bushy eyebrows high, his brown eyes downcast, his left hand scratching his head with a bemused grin.
“Ah, yes, the youth,” mumbled Jim with his mouth full of donut, “Brian is just about to sign someone up for judging Christmas lights.” Todd nodded.
Brian crossed his arms, thinking of some other topic to bring up so that he could prove Jim wrong. There were no other topics. “Yes. We need at least two members to drive around and decide who wins first, second, and third house, mail box, door, etc. An impartial judging, mind you. Then we’ll have the yard people put out the victory candy cane signs.”
“Christmas lights,” beamed Michelle, taking her seat with a chocolate frosted donut. “Oh, I just think they are so magical. I’d be happy to be part of the team.”
“Me too!” Dustin quickly replied.
Carla shot SueAnn a look. SueAnn pursued her lips and widened her eyes, leaning over to Carla. “An HOA romance?” she whispered.
“Doomed to fail,” Carla shook her head.
They next met in February and nearly didn’t have their six person quorum: Todd and SueAnn were out with the flu. Michelle and Dustin walked in holding hands. She had on a red sweater with a pink heart on it; he had on a button down shirt.
Before Brian could speak, Marty held up a hand, “We have a problem.”
“Yes,” said Jim, placing his fists on the table. “There are no donuts!” Todd nodded.
“No,” said Marty, “the house on Beechmore Street.”
The room sighed.
“The house on Beechmore Street,” he said a bit louder than the first time, “is still neon green.”
Michelle looked up, “Oh, it’s not neon. It’s more of a pear.” Dustin agreed.
Brian looked at Marty. “This is why dating in the HOA is not allowed. You can already see the voting block forming.”
Marty pushed the air away from him. “Whatever shade of green it is, it is definitely not approved. The homeowners have not followed the guidelines.”
“What’s the harm in a bit of green? It is not hurting anyone like my starving stomach is hurting me,” said Jim.
“Have we sent the official letter?” asked Brian.
“No, we have not sent the official letter.”
“Then let’s do that,” Carla said.
The room nodded.
In May, Michelle miscalculated the time it took for her to make it from work to the country club and arrived early. She had on her blazer and took her computer bag inside, just in case of thieves. No one was there yet, but the larger table was already formed. The dining staff must have done this before they left. She looked around and realized that she hated the wall paper, with its malformed fleur-de-leis. Who would foot the bill to get better wallpaper in here?
SueAnn walked in with her dozen donuts. “No Dustin today?”
Michelle gave a tight smile. “I worked late today; he’s meeting me here.”
“Of course!” She set down the donuts and took her typical spot on the west side of the table. “Are you excited about the summer picnic planning? I think the caricature artist is going to be a big hit.”
Michelle’s smile widened. “Yes! I’ve been thinking about the picnic a lot, actually. Do you think the other board members would be interested in a balloon artist as well? My friend’s kid had one at their birthday party and I loved it.”
The rest of the group had filed in, grabbing donuts. Carla arrived with the coffee, “Get it while it’s hot!” No one stood up.
Carla turned to Michelle, “Did I hear you mention a balloon artist? I love it when they make the weiner dogs.”
“Yes! Do you think it would be a good idea to get one for the summer picnic?”
Dustin laughed as he took his seat. “How many artists does one picnic need? Isn’t a caricature artist enough? We need to leave funds for food and prizes!”
Michelle crossed her arms and looked at Dustin. “Really?”
“‘How many artists does one picnic need?’” she mocked. “Like artists would have a turf war or something!”
Brian walked to Marty. “Hey Marty, how are things going on Beechmore?”
“Not good.” Marty shook his head. “Not good at all. They haven’t responded to any letters and the last one I sent was ‘Final Notice’. Their house is still neon! It mocks the institution of the homeowners’ association. I had a dream that I went over there with a can of beige and painted everything, including the windows.”
“Is it time for fines?” SueAnn asked.
Jim muttered, “It’s never time for fines.”
Marty turned to face the room. “I know we all want to discuss the picnic, but before we get to happier topics, I think it is time to fine the Beechmore house.”
Brian stepped up beside him. “We have to have law and order in the neighborhood. I fully stand beside you, Marty.”
“I don’t think we’ll have a quorum today,” Carla spoke to Brian, Marty, and Jim. “SueAnn and Todd are on their August vacations and Michelle just texted me that she doesn’t want to see Dustin, so she’s not coming.”
“Couldn’t she have texted that hours ago?” Jim asked.
“If there wasn’t an HOA, we wouldn’t be wasting our time right now.”
“Yes,” said Marty, “but then who would place a lien on the Beechmore house?”
The other three sat in silence. Finally, Carla asked, “What’s a lien?”
“It’s through the court system. We say that Beechmore owes us money, their fine, and then the owners can’t sell the house until they pay us off.”
“We can do that?” Carla asked.
“It’s in the bylaws,” Marty said. “I didn’t want it to get this far, but we’re allowed to charge $200 per day.”
Jim whistled. “I can’t vote for that.”
“No need to worry about that,” Brian said. “We don’t have a quorum. But, uh, what is the general feeling in the neighborhood about the Beechmore house? Are people up in arms? Would they be happy to hear that we put a lien on them?”
Marty tapped his right index finger on the table. “It’s what the bylaws say. What else are we supposed to do?”
“Let’s table this until we at least have a quorum,” Carla said.
In September, Marty ensured there was a quorum. He called, he texted, he said he would learn how to telecon people in if he had to. After all that work, he forgot to be on time, so now the seven of them sat in the room, making small talk, trying not to look at Dustin or Michelle.
Dustin was leaning over his chair at Michelle, who was staring at the wallpaper instead of him with her arm tightly crossed around her. “Michelle.”
She grunted and Carla and SueAnn gave each other the look.
“Michelle, I’m sorry. You were right, I was wrong. I was just intimidated. I never thought a girl like you would be into a guy like me and… I made poor choices. I wouldn’t do that again.”
She flicked her eyes over to his face and then forcibly rolled them.
“Please, give me another chance. I bought tickets to the art museum. They are doing an exhibit on the impressionists.”
Jim yelled across the room, “Brian, aren’t you second in command? Let’s get this over with.”
Brian sat up straighter in his chair. “Yes, I am second in command.” He reached into a bag at his feet and pulled out a yellow legal pad. “Standing Agenda Item Number One: any lawns that have not been sufficiently mowed?”
Jim barked, “All yards are within their god-given height.”
“I’ll mark that as a no. Standing Agenda Item Number Two: special event planning. It’s September, we don’t plan anything until the Christmas light competition, but there is the consideration of Halloween.”
Todd raised his hand and the room grew still. “I have always thought of Halloween as a dangerous holiday. We send children to run in the street, the street used by cars. I would like to section off a piece of the neighborhood to be a trick-or-treat destination and not allow motor traffic.”
Brian nodded. “Sure thing, Todd. Never thought about it, but a reasonable thought. Would you take the follow-up to contact the county for constable support?”
“Last item on my list is the HOA elections in November. Traditionally every term is four years, so Todd and SueAnn are up. Anyone else considering stepping down?”
Michelle raised her hand. “Things are getting pretty busy at work. I’m considering stepping down.” Dustin slumped lower in his chair.
Brian shook his head. The earnest nature of Michelle brought them credibility and youth was good for property values. “Let us know your decision next month and then we can send out the email for nominees.”
He flipped closed the yellow legal pad. “Well, that’s all I had. Guess we can adjourn for the month.”
Marty sat posed at the front of the table, laptop out in front of him. Across the screen in big letters was the word ‘Lien’ and then a blinking cursor. It was unclear if the document was his talking points or the votes he hoped to tally. He tapped his fingers on the piece of the laptop below the keyboard. It was time to make waves.
Todd walked in with a police officer in tow. “Marty, this is Officer Lopez. He’s here to discuss the car-less trick-or-treat route.”
Marty’s finger stopped their tapping. “You want to make that the first topic of the agenda?”
“Then I’m going to the bathroom.”
As he pushed his way back into the room, he finished tucking in his shirt. “Have we decided on Halloween?”
“Yes,” Brian said. “It is an idea that will add value to the neighborhood.”
“Splendid,” he responded as he made it to his seat. “On that same topic of neighborhood value, we need to finalize the vote on Beechmore St.”
The room shifted uncomfortably.
“Their house is still a non-HOA approved shade of green. We are not the beach.”
Michelle sighed. “I talked to Deborah the other day, the Beechmore’s house owner, and she just doesn’t have the funding to repaint her entire house.”
“Well, she should have come to us prior to the painting.”
“She just moved in. She didn’t know. I, for one, can’t vote for the lien.”
“Me either,” Dustin quickly chimed in.
Jim confirmed, “It’s against everything I believe in.”
Officer Lopez cleared his throat. “I know this isn’t the part of the agenda you invited me for, but liens are a nasty business. The house is at least painted. It could be worse.”
Marty slammed his hands on the two tables that formed the large table in front of him. “We’re an association to uphold the bylaws. Who votes to put a lien on Beechmore house?”
Marty, Carla, SueAnn, and Brian raised their hands.
With a sigh, “Who votes nay?”
Michelle, Dustin, Jim, and Todd raised their hands.
Dustin asked, “What do we do at an impasse?”
“You need a majority to place the lien.” Marty closed his laptop. “Are you still quitting, Michelle? That’s what Brian said.”
With Brian’s face red like a tomato, Michelle politely answered, “I will be stepping down.”
The table was swollen with extra table appendages to accommodate the three additional chairs. Marty’s normal seat was tight against the wall and he had to shuffle to get back there. His belly was pressed against the table edge with the upper-belly resting on the wood.
“November is for introductions. Say your name, your street, and an interesting fact about yourself.”
The three new faces looked at each other, deciding who should go first. “I will,” said a woman with a pixie cut. “I’m Jackie. I live on Sycamore Street with my husband and three children. I ran for HOA because I really appreciate the work you did and I thought I could be a good help on making sure our neighborhood keeps its charm.”
Jim called out, “Which part is interesting?”
Marty sighed, “You’ll get used to him, Jackie.”
Her face grew hot, “That’s true. I must have missed that part. I play drums for a cover band.”
Marty nodded approval. “That is interesting. Who wants to go next?”
The man stood up. Put his hand into the pockets of his blue jeans. “I’m Dennis. My wife signed me up to run: we live on Beechmore street and there is this ugly green house across the way. Once we get that issue settled, I plan to step down.”
Marty nodded. “Well, we’ll be voting on whether or not to place a lien on the house in our next meeting! Happy to get your input.”
The third new member stood up and gave a wave. “I’m Sarah, live on Oak Lane. An interesting fact about me is that I like to go camping on the weekends.”
Dustin raised his hand, “Where do you like to go camping?”
“Lakeville State Park.”
“I love that place. Maybe we’ve been there at the same time.”
“Ahem,” Marty cut Dustin off. “With SueAnn’s term complete, we need someone else to provide snack.”
“I can do it,” said Jackie.
“Perfect, sugar is required.”
The new eight sat around the table. Dennis, Jim, and Brian were discussing the best way to care for a lawn in winter. Jackie was offering to clean the carafe for Carla. Dustin was asking Sarah for more details on her camping trips.
Marty walked into the room. “Before we say any other words, I’ve sent all of you the literature on liens and the color analysis of the Beechmore house. Who votes for a lien on Beechmore?”
Marty, Brian, Dennis, Carla, and Jackie raised their hands.
“Then it’s decided.”
Brian sat up. “We also need to decide the judges for the annual Christmas lights contest.”
“I’ll do it,” Sarah said, feeling a little funny that she didn’t get to cast a vote in her first real meeting.
“I’ll go, too,” said Dustin. “I went last year. I can show you the quickest route.”
Carla leaned over to Jackie and whispered, “HOA romances never last.”