Racing out the door at 7:35 this morning to get my 11-year-old to school, I see something pink fluttering on my windshield.
“Don’t tell me that’s a ticket,” I growl, teeth clenched. “If that parking lady has given me another ticket...There’s no way.”
I get out my iPhone to snap a few shots, proving I am in front of the sign, not behind it. I’m legally parked--in front of my house, no less. My daughter, hunched over with a 50-pound backpack, motions for me to unlock the door, but I’m clicking away, trying to show all angles of the sign in relation to my car.
“Mommy, please. We’re going to be late.”
I harrumph and get in the car. “I can’t believe this has happened again! Grrrrr. I was parked in front of the sign. Can you believe it!”
Yesterday afternoon when I parked my car on P Street, I made sure to be at least a few inches in front of the EMERGENCY NO PARKING sign. The sign has been there for months, the result of a construction job on the block. Basically there’s a space between two signs where you can’t park between 7am and 7pm. While that’s been inconvenient for neighbors, I don’t begrudge the construction. People need to park somewhere when working on a renovation. And the workers are nice. The few times I have been in their space, they’ve politely knocked on my door and I’ve moved my car immediately.
Last month the same parking enforcer gave me a ticket in the same place. That time my car jutted past the sign by about four inches. I’d meant to contest the $50 ticket, but before I knew it, it had doubled. Now I owe $100. I’m planning on paying that. But then today happened.
“Mommy, calm down. You’re not doing any good talking about it. Can you put on 99.5?”
I clear my throat, “Please?”
She lets out a sigh, like she’s dealing with someone who’s just escaped from a rubber room. And let me tell you, I wouldn’t mind being in one right about now.
“Please could you turn on 99.5, Mommy.”
Sometimes tickets are the price we pay for living here. And I’m no rose when it comes to parking. I’ve racked up my fair share of fairly issued tickets. I also know these government workers are doing their jobs. But couldn’t there be a little more common sense or just plain empathy involved in the process? Seriously, two inches over a line? What about the price we pay when we’ve been unfairly ticketed? Just before Christmas, the same officer (whose name is at the bottom of the citation) ticketed me for not having my Zone 2 sticker adhered to the windshield. I had not scraped off the previous sticker, and adding a new one would have been in my line of vision. Still, the sticker was clearly visible, resting peacefully on my dash board. I tried telling the enforcer that when I saw her pulled over in the the tell-tale white compact DC Parking vehicle.
“Excuse me, are you Officer G_____?” I asked with all the politeness I could muster.
“Well, you just gave me a ticket for not having my parking sticker attached to the windshield.”
She nods as I babble on. “I’m trying to get to a gas station where they have one of those scraper-thingies, but in the meantime, could you please not ticket me? I live right here and I’m legal. I promise.”
A few days later, I got another ticket for the same offense. And in the comment section, she’d typed, “Vehicle unoccupied.” Vehicle not occupied? Of course I wasn’t in the vehicle. I don’t live in my car. That’s what I wrote in a letter sent on December 26, 2011 to the Department of Adjudication when I contested the tickets. I just checked online and see that two $50 tickets have not been dismissed. Which brings me to a grand total of $250 owed to the DC Government. I would contest again, but am now afraid I’ll get booted in the meantime.
Perhaps I’m paranoid, but it seems this particular enforcer is out to get me.
What are the rates for a rubber room these days? I’m sure they are less than all the money I’m forking over to the DC Department of Treasury.
“Okay, you need to move the horse to where the bird is,” Katherine directs from the side of the room. She has stepped back from our tree-trimming session to assess ornament symmetry.
“Do you not see that, Mommy? What were you thinking, putting all those pears on one side?” She walks up closer, pointing her finger at three glittery pears hung next to each other like Orion’s Belt.
“Really?” I say, stepping back for perspective. “Huh, you’re right. We need to spread them out a bit.”
I stare at her, thinking, What have I created? My 11-year-old is turning into a mini-me. She is taking the art of tree-trimming to new heights. Just as my own mother did. Just as I do. I’m not a Mommy Dearest mom, and neither was my mother, but we are both aesthetically obsessed when it comes to the tree.
I wish I could let things be. I wish I could let go and allow the mayhem of the holidays to flow over me. Breathe. Accept. Chill.
But I’m not hardwired that way. I’m hardly a perfectionist. Ask anyone who knows me. A friend calls me a catastrophile. (There are the piles of paper in various corners of my house, which I’ll discreetly shove under chairs or in closets when tidying up. Which is why some bills go unpaid--a result of being hidden in places I can’t remember.) But I do want things to look a certain way. Some might call my devotion to dim lights and votives a borderline psychological disorder. I’ve been known to dim the lights in friends’ homes when they’re not looking. After all, who wants their living room to have the ambience of an operating room?
I have standards. And at Christmas, it starts with the tree. As I learned from my mother, place the biggest, shiniest items on the inside branches. That way, the tree glows from within, particularly when you place the lights just so. Then make sure to have a nice mix of old and new: children’s hand-made treasures, flea market finds, found objects from nature, like dried hydrangea, or store-bought ones from Target. I have a few red ornaments, but I gravitate toward shades of green and silver. All of these things combined create not just the tree’s look, but it’s soul. The key is in the mix--and placement.
With A Charlie Brown Christmas playing in the background, our decorating session is winding down. We are at the tweaking stage and Katherine looks pleased. Until she catches a glimpse of our angel tilting precariously. Climbing on a chair, she uses her lacrosse stick to adjust the angel’s
Clearly, the ornament does not fall far from the tree.
Our pocketbooks may not be plump with cash these days, but that doesn’t mean we need to skimp on Christmas decorations. In fact, look around: your garden, the grocery store, the sidewalk. Inspiration may be closer--and less expensive-- than you think.
Friends coming over for a drink and you don’t have flowers? Check out your yard for supplies. Grab a branch and hang a few ornaments from it. On one twig, I used glittery pears. On another, I dangled a bird ornament I bought at Target for $3. You could also add twigs to paper whites or orchids to dress them up.
And think about getting the most out of your--or your neighbor’s--magnolia tree. After all, every tree needs a little pruning. Full disclosure: my magnolia branches came from a generous friend’s yard. And, yes, I did ask for permission.
Nandina bushes are another good bet. I have them outside my back door. I’m actually not a big fan of red, but I’ll use a sprig of berries this time of year in my powder room.
As for the mantle, a few pilfered magnolia branches, combined with some pears (real and ornamental) and votives, make for a chic display. And it didn’t hurt my wallet. Who says you can’t be festive and frugal?