It’s 4:24 AM, and I’ve been awake since before 3AM, pondering life, the nearly full moon, and the phenomenon of the mouthguard which refuses to stay in my mouth while I sleep. Mostly, only on nights such as this one, when, try as I might, I cannot meditate away the monkeys chattering in my brain, sleep eludes me and knashing of teeth disturbs what little rest I find. My teachers tell me that this is all an illusion, the ‘problems’, the conflicts which seem to manifest as physical realities are, in fact, a reflection of my own mind, and I believe them—I do. I pray for peace, knowing that when my mind is still, the world is not such a bad place. And yet, I fret.
Yesterday, (which is now last week, since I failed to finish this post until now), I found myself thrown into chaos by the receipt of three pieces of paper. These innocuous forms, printed in triplicate, state that I am, according to the County in which I reside, the county that I am the fourth generation of my family to own property, work and pay taxes in, a criminal. My great-grandparents would be proud, would they not?
Alfred and Maggie moved to the County of Pinellas in 1962, a year after I was born, right around the same time that we were returning from Germany, where my father was stationed and where I was born on an Army base. Alfred and Maggie were modest people, shopkeepers from upstate New York who moved South, as many did and still do, to enjoy their golden years in sunshine. They had grapefruit trees, which Maggie would climb a ladder to tend into her nineties.
Maggie had one son, and he and his wife, retired schoolteachers, built their home in the then-new neighborhood in which I have lived longer than any other place in over fifty years—in 1972, theirs was one of 29 homes built, to add to the 135 built since 1958. In 1977, they helped my mother purchase a house one block over, when her marriage and the transient life of the military, ended. This house is the one which is now known as ‘Casa Seranita’: the home of elusive serenity–for my mother Anita, until her early demise in 2001. This is the property which the County has deemed inappropriate for use as a teaching facility or a demonstration garden. This is the home of two citations for misconduct earning me an appearance in court next month. The criminal courthouse, where I have been only once in over thirty years to serve for jury duty, is seven miles from where the prior three generations of my family are all buried. I am as close to a Florida ‘Native’ as most white folks can be—my daughter was even born in Tampa.
Why so much detail on local family history? Because, for nearly as long as I have lived, at least one family member has been paying property and sales taxes in Pinellas County. That’s over fifty years and thousands of dollars per year. I personally have owned and paid taxes on not just one, but five properties in the past ten years alone. That is quite a sum, all told. Certainly more than I have paid for anything else, other than mortgages–and it has bought me, not appreciation, but criminal justice.
I could spend a lot of time pondering the ‘why’s of this situation, and I have—questions like “Why is it necessary to make citizens feel like criminals, or to treat them as if they are, when the infraction is pretty much a difference in opinion about what a yard should look like?” Here, we live in a state where the water tables are in such peril that a dry spell causes sinkholes to swallow homes, and where the contingency plan for salt water intrusion is, well, that it will—intrude, that is. And yet, those of us who choose to educate not only ourselves, but others as well, on such “Florida Friendly” practices as rain water catchment, conservative water usage, and Xeriscaping are often labeled as some kind of pariah?
Justice, indeed. We shall see whether there is any such thing, on August 8th, 2014. Please, do come along, and let your voice be heard—I certainly intend to share my feelings, along with graphs, charts, petitions, photos…perhaps an example or an attorney or two!