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Know the West

A Proud Member of PAOBHA


My house is a previous-owner-built oddity with small, random additions, situated on a rural county road along with a line of other houses, most of which are nicely bewildering in their construction and habitation. There are goats in backyards, a donkey that escapes fairly regularly, a mishmash of people who want to live outside of town.

On top of the hill sits the one fancy-schmanchy house around here — a $1.4 million newly constructed mansion. This thing commands the landscape; it blots out an entire foothill. My neighbor, Poppy, told me recently that she’d baked cookies for the new residents, the Hummers.

"Oh, is that their last name?" I said.

"No, we just call them that. Because of their Hummer."

I snorted. "Does anyone know their real name?"

"No," she said, in a disgruntled voice.

And so it has become Neighborhood Speak. The Hummers have the biggest RV anyone has ever seen. The Hummers bought a huge statue of a bronze elk, which keeps blowing down (we find this funny). The Hummers are never at the potluck at the Grange. The Hummers don’t take walks like the rest of us.

Perhaps we should be ashamed of ourselves. I wonder. Because there’s an honest-to-god strong bias against rich people around here, and I’m its unofficial spokeswoman. Maybe we’re not biased against wealth per se, but the show of it.

And I’m starting to think we should get more vicious and vitriolic about our feelings. Yes, indeed. Our gossip is our way of bouncing our lives against others, so as to clarify our own decisions. Our snarling hatred is a way of letting people know they’ve gone too far. That was my thought of the day, and I was telling my good friend, Tim, about it, as we hiked in the mountains. I was huffing along as I tried to explain my ever-increasing hatred of these large houses, and I wondered whether or not I should be reining it in.

"Who knows," said Tim, stopping to look at the view. "But you should belong to Pahooba."

Pahooba? It was like the noise a whale would make. "Not familiar with it," I said.

He looked at me, shocked. "P-A-O-B-H-A. People Against Ostentatious and Boorish Housing." He gave me a wink.

"But, Tim," I complained, "that just spells P-A-O-B-H — Paoob."

"Oh, yeah. We added ‘Association.’ It sounds better that way."

Tim warns me, as any friend should, to look inward: I’ve got my own bad habits (I live on my nice county road, and drive into town), am the owner of a large-enough house (2,000 square feet), and so on — all those things that the Average American doesn’t like to admit to, or doesn’t even see.

"I know, I know," I mumble. But still, what about the Greek adage, ‘Everything in moderation’? Isn’t it okay to voice concern about the people who have seven bathrooms? The average size of a house has doubled in the last 40 years. There are two people living in a monstrous house and an RV that matches. Is that OK?

It’s hard to admit to flat-out dislike, and so I guess I could pretend I don’t feel it. But I do. And I think the Earth feels it too.

My hatred — let’s just come out and call it that — is starting to reach epic proportions. For a shy, introverted writer, I’m exhibiting strange behavior. Last week, I literally snarled at a man who stepped out of his Hummer (with a RE/MAX Real Estate sign on it) at the grocery store parking lot. I stared at him with disgust all the way into the store. (We should add a ‘T’ to the acronym, to include Transportation; I’ll bring it up at the next PAOBHA meeting.)

Probably I have some deep-rooted psychological problems. I realize that. Some need to displace anger, or low self esteem. All right, then. Fine. I dislike that RE/MAX Man, and I want him to know it. Every four minutes, an acre of agricultural land is developed in Colorado, much of it to make way for high-end homes. Call me a hick, but I’d rather have a trailer house next to me than a hulking monstrosity. I want him to know that, too. And I want him to care.

After seeing Al Gore’s movie, I’ve decided to quit being PC-ishly kind and quiet about this prejudice of mine. Let me just shout it out: If there’s an inner circle in hell, I hope it’s reserved for people who have more than say, four bathrooms, two cars (especially if either gets less than 25 miles to the gallon), a house over 4,000 square feet, and maybe even people who like those little yippy white dogs. (And I think I’m being generous here.) Let them be stuck in a small confined space, devoid of anything beautiful, for a few years.

I should seek help, I know. So I went to my favorite source of psychological advice: The Internet. And here I am advised that as a prejudiced, angry person, I need to clean up my act: "If you are not constantly checking your opinions of others for bias, you are not successfully controlling your prejudice. Disliking others is costly. Hostile people are less open-minded, less understanding, less socially responsible, and more likely to have chronic heart disease."

Well, I’ll work on it, because I don’t want to have a heart attack. Although global warming will probably get me first. Because of those people who build huge houses. People like the Hummers. Who I will continue to snarl at.


Laura Pritchett is the author of a collection of short stories, Hell’s Bottom, Colorado, winner of the PEN award; and a novel, Sky Bridge, winner of the WILLA award and finalist for the Colorado Book Award.