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  • It used to be my custom to read about dictators. Real-life despots or iron-fisted rulers of mythical banana republics -- it didn’t really matter. I relished any example I could find of absolute power corrupting absolutely.

    But over time I came to realize that, like Tolstoy’s happy families, all dictators were basically alike. They thought alike, they acted alike and their heads were stuffed with the same paranoid fantasies. I lost interest in them. I turned my attention instead to everyday people who had been granted just a little bit of power. How would it change them? Would they use it wisely or for gain? Would they be willing to relinquish it?

    This morning I got to see for myself. My wife and I were summoned to appear before our homeowners’ association’s Architectural Review Board. We were met by five men of unsmiling mien. I wanted to mumble, “I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition,” but that would have put me in the middle of a Monty Python skit and the situation was already bizarre enough on its own merits.

    Our crime? We had replaced some dying turf with drought-resistant ground cover. Florida is in the midst of the longest, most severe dry spell in 80 years. We didn’t want to make trouble or flaunt the rules. We just wanted to conserve water during a crisis that is only going to get worse. There is a law on the books which states that the planting of a Florida-friendly landscape supersedes any homeowner association restrictions. No matter. We had sinned and sinned bad, man. We didn’t just step on their toes; we trod on their LAWNS!

    They had rejected every landscape plan we’d submitted, so the outcome of today’s meeting was never in doubt. But this time we got to see our foes in the flesh rather than by certified letters threatening us with escalating fines unless we saw the light and mended our ways. It was a real education. They deflected any attempt at lightness or humor. I’m sure they viewed themselves as upright defenders of the status quo, while I found them rude, condescending and quite taken with the power that had been bestowed upon them to make their neighbors happy or miserable as they saw fit.

    They ruled against us, of course. All in all, it was not a pleasant experience yet I walked out of there a smiling man.

    I imagine our five opponents are learned men and, as such, know a lot about many things. I’m just a one-trick pony. I know how to make films. I know how to make them go viral. And I don’t like bullies.

    Image source: The MacQue blog
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