The right to equal criticism

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If Bethlehem were Pompeii and Vesuvius spewed molten gold The house on the corner is a goddamn nuisance.

Laura would probably put it like this: "Someone sure whacked them with the Christmas stick."

It's a big, beautiful house of tan brick, in the Prairie School–derived style that makes so many old Chicago houses so distinctive. We covet this house.

But the Christmas decorations—good lord. Not only is there a half-size crèche occupying half the front lawn, spotlit, but on top of that the whole house is covered in colored lights that flash in sync with the synthesized loop of carols blaring from the hidden speakers. When we walk past it at night, Ella skitters away from the place. I don't know how anyone inside, or even next door, can get any sleep. All together, it's seizure-inducing.

Honestly, it probably wouldn't be too bad if it weren't for the music. And I'd like to knock on the couple's door or leave them a note with a message to that effect.

But why haven't I? Because they're gay, and I don't want to somehow give them the impression that I'm homophobic. I know I'm being stupid, but when I've seen them out in the yard they look kind of belligerent, like they have chips on those broad shoulders, and I don't want to chance a misunderstanding.

I know we're not the only ones who find the house and its holiday deckage less than appealing. When Laura mentioned it to another couple we know from the dog park (a gay couple, I hasten to add), one of them said, "As long as that nativity scene isn't still out rotting in the yard in April."

Ghost in the wires Yes, that's the other thing, which no doubt ratchets up the annoyance. Last year, that couple didn't take their decorations down after the new year, and the crèche sat there well into spring getting dirtier and dirtier and bit by bit falling to pieces. By April it looked like an excavation from Pompeii.

Someone of my acquaintance (who will remain nameless) used to sneak into the yard every day and move the donkey a few inches at a time. No one inside seemed to notice the slow progress it was making across the yard. One of the magi lost a hand, also, and that hand somehow found its way from the lawn to the top of a telephone junction box on another house. Where it still sits. Eight months later.

Which is all to say that, through my complacent, cowardly inaction, I allow my neighbors to continue to be oppressed ... by denying them equal treatment under the laws of neighborliness. Because we'll never all be truly equal until we feel the freedom to say the same things to everybody that we'd say to anyone else.

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on December 23, 2011 8:23 AM.

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