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Apr/May 2008 Fiction

Camp Sycamore: at Home in Nature

by Natalie McKelvy


Chapter One

When Helen Morris and Kurt Garrett bought their dream summerhouse in Michigan, they thought they'd discovered paradise.

Old, small, 1-1/2 story, brown, it had a beautiful though distant view of a small, inland lake near Kalamazoo. The nearest neighbor was 100 feet away on one side, and no one was on their left. When they weren't admiring the view of the lake, they could admire the deer wandering through the adjacent lot, which, by some lapse in their normally well-functioning brains (they were both lawyers), they thought would never be developed.

It was the proverbial "sylvan glen," resplendent in second-growth oak and maple trees and carpeted with trillium and other gorgeous spring flowers every May.

Yes, for some reason they thought it wouldn't be developed. Perhaps because the community where they lived, Camp Sycamore, was mostly second homeowners, very rustic, and had "construction standards."

You couldn't build just any old thing. It had to "fit in" with the rustic surroundings, be less than 1-1/2 stories high, and couldn't be within 30 feet of the neighbors, or something like that.

They weren't clear because the previous owners of the house, the Keenes, had said the lot next door was owned by people "who'd never sell," who kept it as a buffer for their house on the other side of the glen.

But "sylvan glens" had a short life expectancy in an area where property values were climbing. And it was a sad day when two attractive people in an upscale vehicle appeared in front of the glen, gazing on it adoringly and pointing at various trees and plants.

Helen noticed them right away, since few cars went down their little dirt road at the far end of the Camp.

"Kurt, you've got to see this," she said in alarm, pointing to the beautiful people, a handsome couple in their forties. "I think something's up with the lot next door."

Kurt jumped out of his chair, where he was reading some trashy mystery novel, and ran to the window. It was a late fall day. The leaves were falling; the glen was ablaze in color.

"Oh, no," he said, his whole body sagging. "I think we're fucked."

They stared at each other in horror.

Indeed, they were "fucked." The beautiful couple, the Carringtons--Ken and Theadora ("Thea" to her friends)--were, indeed, the new owners of the lot.

And they had big, big plans for it--all the while professing their "love of nature" and "conservation ethic" while building a giant, essentially two-story house (it had dormers popping out all up and down the roof) resembling a rusticated two-flat apartment building in a major city.

It was 4,000 square feet, had five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a "great room," a full basement--complete with an eternal sump pump sucking water out of it on a steady basis--and a giant fireplace plastered with "faux rocks" made of cement.

It took two furnaces to heat the place and a giant air-conditioner ran all summer long, grinding away within 15 feet of the Garretts' bedroom window.

The house managed to push the limits on every aspect of Camp Sycamore's lauded building restrictions, which, frankly, had pretty much been violated and circumvented by everyone for the last 50 years--ever since the Sycamites, as they were known locally, had started getting richer after the Second World War and had installed indoor plumbing.

But no one had pushed the rules to this extreme.

The Carringtons had set a new low in flagrant violation of the "sense" of Camp Sycamore. Everyone else's house looked like the slave quarters or the blacksmith's cottage in the cute little village under the gaze of the "big manse" on the hill, for the lot where the Carringtons built actually had a small hill.

And their mansion sat on top of it--carefully blocking all sunlight on that side from the Garretts' house and blocking their beautiful, though distant, view of the lake.

The Carringtons, on the other hand, had a fabulous view of the lake, especially when they installed a viewing tower that pushed up through the roofline and added another half story to the already two-story house.

They just called it a "large dormer."

The building approval committee, a group of mentally enfeebled fellow homeowners charged with "enforcing" Camp Sycamore's building restrictions, had simply been overrun by Ken Carrington, who'd submitted a first set of plans--drawn by an expensive architect--even more elaborate than those actually built.

The first plans had clearly violated major restrictions, and the committee had overwhelmingly rejected them.

But then Mr. Carrington had gone back and had them redrawn--at a cost of another several thousand dollars--and the new plans didn't require "too many" variances, and no one on the committee wanted to fight with a future neighbor, and no one on the committee lived near the new house, and well...

And, well, Mr. Carrington donated $70,000 to the construction of a new clubhouse for the camp, and that was it.

The committee gave their approval.

The Garretts had protested vigorously--well, "vigorously" for them.

Now in their sixties and retired from lawyering--they'd both worked in a large bank in Kalamazoo--they'd paid more than they would have for their little brown house in the woods, with the expectation that it would always have the view of the sylvan glen next door.

Now they were staring at a great taupe wall--to "blend in" with nature, of course--and had no view of the lake.

They'd written a letter to the building committee "voicing our concerns that the proposed house does not fit into the spirit of Camp Sycamore and encouraging the committee to exercise its option to disallow this project under Section 4, paragraph c, 'maintaining a rustic environment in keeping with nature.'"

And so forth.

The committee members yawned. The neighbors across the street squawked weakly that "the house was too big," and that was that.

What if the committee turned this guy down? What if he sued? He had lots of money. The head of the building committee had been sued once before in connection with his job and didn't want to risk that again.

Besides, in the end, no one really cared enough except the Garretts, who were now referred to as "the poor Garretts," since they had the misfortune to live next door to this monstrosity--named "Fern Glen" by the Carringtons after Thea had landscapers plant ferns by the front door.

Everyone apparently believed such a horror would never be visited on them--or they might strike it rich and want to build one themselves! Who'd want a precedent of truly restricting growth when your own family might some day have the money to build something really big "on the lake" for your ever-expanding gene pool?

So, in short, the Garretts were fucked.

And that led to some interesting relations with their new neighbors.

 

The first thing that happened was the Carringtons started treating the Garretts as pariahs. Apparently, not only were the Garretts expected to approve of Fern Glen's complete obliteration of their view and nearly everything else that made their own house a pleasure to live in, but they were supposed to like it. The very idea that the Garretts had actually written letters to the building committee voicing their disapproval of the project set the Carrington's teeth on edge. They were rich; they had two lackluster teenaged children in expensive private schools. They were "nice." Why weren't they loved by the neighbors?

Well, they were--by the contingent of real estate lawyers and developers who lived in Camp and thought the place needed to be "classed up" with bigger, more expensive houses.

But, they didn't live next door to the Carringtons, and they were in the minority.

The Carringtons fluttered around with the pro-development crowd and bad-mouthed the Garretts mercilessly.

The Garretts, in turn, bad-mouthed the Carringtons to everyone who would listen until they realized no one really cared--just as long as nothing ugly was built next to them, or they were going to build it themselves.

The end result was the Garretts and the Carringtons didn't speak to each other, short of polite hello's when their paths crossed on the road or they were heading down to the sandy little strip of beach on Lake Farkas--the little lake where the Sycamites congregated for beach fun.

This reticence was strange, since the Garretts felt they knew the Carringtons intimately. After all, Fern Glen was practically an extension of their own house, it was so close to the Garretts' little brown house--which, incidentally, looked like Fern Glen's garden shed set just a few steps off into the brush. Naturally believing that they were "at home in Nature," and that they were living on a massive hill with sweeping views instead of jammed in between two smaller houses, the Carringtons had built their house with many large windows and sliding glass doors.

This meant the Garretts could watch the intimacies of Carrington family life in great detail. From their own kitchen, they could watch the Carringtons padding around their "family room" in tee-shirts, sweatpants, and--occasionally--underwear. They could witness fights, reconciliations, parties, and family discussions, since the whole wall facing the Garretts was either windows or sliding glass doors.

The doors led to a patio that laid out in all its elegance right under the Garretts' kitchen window. One day Ken and Thea were on the patio nuzzling each other in matched lounge chairs. Helen was making macaroni salad in her kitchen and glanced out her window to see Ken slip his hand into Thea's blouse and pull her toward him.

Helen shut her curtains.

Then, ten minutes later, she heard sewer water running. Every time the Carringtons flushed the toilet of their first floor bathroom, the Garretts could hear the water running through the communal sewer to the street.

Love-making must be over, Helen thought, opening her kitchen curtains only to realize some Carrington offspring must have voided because Mom and Dad were still grabbing at each other on the chaise lounges.

It was then that Helen decided she'd had enough.

She opened the window, screwed up her courage, and raised her voice slightly (you could hear the cat burp, the houses were so close): "Are you two done yet, or are you really going to get serious out there?"

Startled, Ken and Thea looked around, Ken removing his hand from her bra. They stared speechless at Helen, who was now waving cheerfully from the window.

"Let me get my video recorder," she said. "Maybe we can get you on the net."

Then she grabbed both ends of the curtains, yanked them closed over the window, and stomped off to the living room, where Kurt was reading a newspaper.

"I went postal," she told her startled husband. "We need to do something about that horror next door or I may kill someone."

And that's when the Garretts started what came to be known as "the campaign."

 

The campaign wasn't something really organized. The Garretts were too old and pooped-out to engage in organized battle, but it had some lovely touches.

The first was when all of Thea Carrington's rhododendrons died.

Thea loved rhododendrons. She'd planted six of them around Fern Glen and carefully looked after them--or rather her landscaping company did.

Helen got some herbicide and sprayed all the rhododendron bushes with it. This was easy to do since the Carringtons lived in Grand Rapids, where Ken ran a highly successful company that manufactured cardboard boxes and other shipping materials. They only came out to Fern Glen on the weekends.

The Garretts, on the other hand, now lived full-time in their house.

So Helen had lots of unobserved opportunities to do mischief.

She thought she shouldn't be too obvious about her guerrilla tactics, so she just sprayed one big red-flowering rhododendron one week, then waited a week before attacking another. The bushes shriveled and died.

Thea frantically consulted her landscaping company and even ran out to the local health food store to try to find some "organic remedy" for her plants' ailments.

All to naught. All six rhododendrons died.

Kurt, though as disgusted as his wife by the Carringtons, thought that plant death was enough.

"They'll catch us," he warned Helen, who'd announced that causing Thea Carrington even a fraction of the pain that Thea had caused her was so satisfying that she didn't care if she got caught.

"I mean I do care," she said to the alarmed Kurt, "but how are they going to catch us? I'm not exactly walking around with a smoking can of weed-killer."

But she did assure her husband that she would get rid of the empty cans of herbicide in their little storage closet, which she did.

Concurrent with her herbicide campaign, she started a plan of harassment. A lover of German opera, one Saturday morning she put the CD's for the entire 16 hours of Richard Wagner's "Ring Cycle" on her CD player, opened all the windows on the side of the house facing the Carrington's and cranked up the volume.

Then she and Kurt left for the day.

"It will be an uplifting experience for them," she told the alarmed Kurt, who'd counseled against such hostility. The Carringtons liked country and western music and light pop music. The closest they'd ever come to opera were a few musicals they'd seen over the years.

When the first piercing tones of Wotan's argument with Fricka, his over-reaching wife, started streaming through all of the Carrington's wide-open windows and sliding doors--- it was a beautiful morning in May--at 6 AM, the Carringtons wondered if a hoard of singing German tourists had descended on the Garretts.

After an hour of this loud warbling, Thea finally called the Garretts. No answer. Ken manfully went over and knocked on their door: no answer.

The Germanic gods continued all their melodic bickering, complete with thunder, lightning, and occasional shrieks, which though they fit in with the plot and music, were still disconcerting.

The Carringtons thought madmen had taken over the Garrett property. They closed all their windows.

They could still hear those singing, arguing gods.

Finally, they decided to "go shopping" while their son and daughter headed to the beach.

Four hours later, they returned--just in time for the "Ride of the Valkyries" in all its majestic--and extremely loud--glory.

Still no Garretts.

By 5:00 that afternoon, they'd decided to just go home.

The Garretts returned at 9 PM, just in time for Valhalla, Siegfried, and Brunhilde to all go up in noisy--and musically glorious--flames and with no Carringtons in sight.

Even Kurt felt a sense of wonderful revenge.

"I think we're on to something here," he said.

"Maybe we should do 'Parsifal' next week?" Helen said.

But even they hated that opera, and they didn't want to be too obvious in their tactics.

"We'll have to think of something else," they resolved.

And they did.

 

The next weekend, they went to Chicago and let Kurt's 25-year-old nephew, Peter, use the house. "Invite all your friends," Kurt told the young man. "Have a good time."

Peter was surprised. His Uncle Kurt was considered such a stick-in-the-mud, and Peter was the Garrett family's official party animal.

"Beach party!" Peter e-mailed all his friends.

That weekend the house was filled with eight men in their twenties, their assorted girlfriends and wives, and an ocean of booze and drugs. The culmination was a spontaneous decision to go skinny-dipping in the lake at two in the morning, have a bonfire on the tiny beach, and then stagger noisily back to the house at 4 AM for some more drinking, dope, and exceptionally loud rock music.

The Carringtons didn't sleep a wink that night and some drunken guy named "Eddie" peed in Thea's fern garden, right in front of the patio sliding door, where Susan, their teenaged daughter, was sitting in front of the TV.

Eddie, a good-looking guy, gave his dick a proprietary and obvious shake and waved at the 16-year-old--who waved back and came to the door.

A few giggles, blushes, and charming finagling by Eddie, and soon Susan was over at the Garretts', enjoying the party. Her parents found this out after she tripped off the burglar alarm sneaking back into their house at 7 AM, smelling of beer, with her eyes glazed over from smoking marijuana.

Her father grounded her for a month and took away the keys to her late-model sports car--a gift for her 16th birthday--for a similar period of time.

The Carringtons left Fern Glen early that Sunday morning--the only time the Garretts' was quiet that weekend.

Peter and his friends left Sunday night, leaving enough garbage, beer bottles, and soiled furniture and bed linens to keep Bernice, the Garretts' cleaning lady, busy for a full day.

Helen and Kurt decided that maybe having Peter and his friends over for the weekend was more than they--or their house--could bear, though Peter's opinion of his aunt and uncle had climbed since he'd been allowed to trash their house.

"We need to do something a little less self-destructive," Helen told Kurt as they surveyed the damage to their house on first arrival. How had Peter and his friends torn down the living room drapes, they wondered. "Maybe we should just sell and move somewhere else," Kurt said, picking up an overflowing ashtray. "I mean, this is pointless. They're not going to tear down that house; the rest of our neighbors are going to build similar monstrosities. What are we supposed to do?"

"So where are we going to go?" Helen said.

"Out to the countryside. This time we'll buy lots of land--40 acres--and build in the middle of it."

"I'd settle for 10 acres and a manufactured house," she said.

They stared at each other. Helen's eyes started tearing up.

"I don't want to leave," she said. "I like it here. I just want to get rid of that," she said, gesturing at the Carrington monolith now hulking over their house in the dark.

"But, my dear, it's only going to get worse," Kurt said. "Those idiots next door are only the first wave. Think of the peace and quiet if we moved somewhere more rural."

"All I think of is hunters and snowmobilers trespassing on my property and some guy running a meth lab down the road," she said, heading toward the kitchen to make a cup of comforting herb tea. She looked out her window, once a delightful view of the fairy forest where she could watch the moon rise over the ghostly waving of the trees, and all she saw was a big, black wall. The little blue lights on some of the Carrington's many electronics appliances bleeped on and off. Someone hadn't set the timer on the DVD player properly, among other annoyances. No more twinkling stars, just twinkling LED lights.

Helen felt herself stiffen; she just stood there, staring at that horror next door. She went back to the living room with her tea.

"I feel like we live in Manhattan with mosquitoes," she told Kurt. "We should leave."

They both sat on the sofa, away from the spot where someone had spilled a beer, and looked mournful. Helen cried softly. Kurt was simply morose.

"Let's sleep on it," he said.

They sadly went to bed, and sadly woke up the following morning, the monolith blocking the sun that used to stream into their bedroom window on summer mornings.

"Let's go," Helen said, "But let's go out with a bang."

And that's when they cooked up their scheme to avenge themselves on their neighbors, not only the Carringtons but everyone else in Camp Sycamore.

They sold their house to Douglas and Joseph.

 

It took a lot of time and energy to find Douglas and Joseph, but find them they did.

By day, Douglas and Joseph were a well-mannered pair of gay businessmen in their forties. Douglas was an interior designer; Joseph was a computer systems analyst.

But, by night, they were party animals. They knew every gay or lesbian party creature in the greater Kalamazoo area, and they happily invited scads of them to their summer house every single weekend of the year, the only exception being the one, sad weekend when Douglas' mother died and the two of them repaired to Grand Rapids for the funeral.

Otherwise, they were party, party, party.

It hadn't been easy to find them. Helen and Kurt had talked to a number of real estate agents, most of whom told them that they couldn't turn away prospective buyers because they weren't hedonistic and homosexual. That was discrimination and there were laws against that.

Then a friend of a friend of Kurt's hooked him up with a more loose-living "realtor," and before Kurt and Helen knew it, three or four gay couples--either gay or lesbian--paraded through the house.

Two turned it down flat because of the Carrington's house next door.

"What's that?" a finicky gay guy with taste said, "a bed and breakfast?" He and his partner didn't even bother to come in.

But Douglas and Joseph thought the Carrington's house was so ugly it was funny. "Who built that?" Douglas asked. "Mad King Leopold? What a mess." And he didn't seem to mind that it blocked the light and stood like the Great Wall of China on their doorstep--probably because he and Joseph didn't come alive on weekends until after dark.

They spent much of Sunday sleeping; they wouldn't be awake to see it.

Besides, Helen said, the Carringtons loved to party, too. Kurt gave her a surprised look when she came up with that lie.

"You'll really like them," she told Douglas. "They just like to get down."

Kurt rolled his eyes.

And so Douglas and Joseph bought the Garretts' house while the latter moved to a more rural area where they built a manufactured house on ten acres off a dirt county road--that just happened to be the main road to a major methamphetamine lab about one-half mile away.

The fellow who sold them their land, an old man in his eighties, looked puzzled when they'd asked about "meth labs" in the area.

"Never heard of the stuff," he said. "Use it on fields?"

Now they could see the stars at night--serenaded by the parade of loud speeding cars and occasional gunshots at all hours of the night until the police shut the place down nine months later. Then their next-door neighbor took up trap shooting on his property--pop, pop, pop went his gun for hours on Saturday, and deer season came around and they had to shag three drunken, belligerent hunters off their property.

But otherwise, they liked the place and were happy they'd moved.

The Carringtons, on the other hand, weren't so sure.

 

At first, Thea and Ken were very happy the Garretts had moved. They'd been so obviously hostile and noisy. Thea was sure Helen was losing it. That was why she'd played that awful howling opera music and threatened to take videos of Thea and Ken just relaxing on their own patio.

She told Douglas and Joseph how happy they were that the two men had moved in.

"That Helen Garrett had some pretty strange habits," was all she said when the two men--looking like a pair of elegant male models--came over to officially meet them the day after they'd moved in.

They sat around the Carrington's "great room" and drank gin and tonics, Douglas making all these polite remarks about "Thea's great sense of color"--all the rooms were painted white--and her "wonderful sense of style"--everything was made of overstuffed leather and near a giant, flat-screen TV. They must have had four of them in the house.

Thea was so touched she gave them a tour, Douglas all serious and in "awe of your great taste." Then the two men went home, laughed themselves silly over the Carrington's ostentation, and started unpacking.

By the time they'd painted assorted rooms and settled into the house two months later, the place was a tribute to grace and taste--a perfect little cottage with varnished, knotty-pine walls, comfortable chairs, and beautiful nature photography on the walls. It looked like the quintessential rustic cottage in the woods.

Then, with that done, they moved on to the serious business of partying.

 

Chapter Two

Their partying took many forms, but the first really set the tone. It was a "small" housewarming for 150 people. Before the Carringtons--and the other neighbors--knew, there were about 50 cars parked all over Camp Sycamore, along roads, pulled into the few remaining empty lots and blocking all traffic to Douglas and Joseph's house.

Nearly two-thirds of the guests were gay men and lesbians. The gay men repaired to the beach where they wore thongs, flirted shamelessly with each other, and ogled the teenaged boys of Camp Sycamore.

The Sycamites fled in a herd, leaving the sodomites in possession of the beach. The latter had a bonfire and roasted hot dogs to midnight, then all went skinny-dipping. Someone brought a boom box and the houses within 200 yards of the beach on Lake Farkas were treated to a serenade of torch singers, reggae, and the soulful warblings of Edith Piaf. (Douglas was a major fan.)

Then about 25 people repaired back to the house and danced and drank until three in the morning when they left for Kalamazoo in a noisy chorus of drunken good-byes and effusions over how much fun they'd had.

Five or six stayed on for even more fun the next day when the whole crop of them--well, maybe only 75 or so--returned for a catered picnic on Douglas and Joseph's tiny lawn, accompanied by the music of a live jazz quartet.

To assuage the neighbors, Douglas and Joseph invited all of them, most of whom showed up to see how much money these men really had and to see what a large group of gay men who loved to party looked like.

A number of the women went home wondering seriously if some of the male-model types happened to be bisexual and were looking for girlfriends. But by and large, most neighbors went home thanking their stars that such party animals hadn't moved next door to them.

"The poor Carringtons," they murmured, much as they'd murmured "the poor Garretts" when the Carringtons had built Fern Glen.

No one, with the exception of the drunks, thought Douglas and Joseph were an asset to the neighborhood.

In the lead on that view were, of course, the Carringtons, who were horrified to discover what their new neighbors were really like.

"They've ruined Fern Glen for me!" wailed Thea into Ken's arms that fateful night--actually it was two in the morning of the next day. "It used to be our little haven in the woods. Now look at it!"

Ken had patted her back and said, "Well, maybe this is just a one-time blow-out. You know, a really big party and then they'll quiet down."

Thea gave him a look like he was a congenital idiot. "I don't think so," she wailed. "This is the first of many."

Nevertheless, they'd put on their game faces and gone over to "make nice" to the new neighbors.

They hadn't seen so many drunken, dancing, good-looking men in one spot since their wedding twenty years earlier.

Thea instantly thought of protecting her 15-year-old son, Tim, from the depredations of these homosexuals, but Tim was not interested in men. He went over to Douglas and Joseph's that night to drink and smoke dope for free. And he brought some of his friends to the couple's later parties.

Douglas and Joseph greeted the Carringtons that night with great cordiality, before realizing that Helen Garrett had fed them a line of bull about the Carrington's liking to party.

It took them 15 seconds to realize that they really didn't care.

"Let them call the police," Douglas told Joseph, who just laughed.

And the Carringtons did call the police, several times that summer.

They came, they told Douglas and Joseph to "turn it down," the two men looked chastened, and the noise level of whatever party was in progress went from ridiculous to just, well, loud.

There were still lots of cars and drunks wandering Camp Sycamore, admiring nature, I suppose.

The local township had a poor noise ordinance. Camp Sycamore had none.

And no one had ever said you couldn't park cars all over the place.

The Carringtons despaired.

Helen Garrett heard all about it from Steve and Deborah Hunsberger, who lived on the far side of Camp Sycamore and belatedly kept the Garretts abreast of the doings of Douglas and Joseph.

Helen and Kurt celebrated that night by going outside and watching the moon rise in nearly complete quiet.

They toasted each other with herb tea and felt completely vindicated.

"Vendetta," they murmured happily.

And a true vendetta it was.

 

Thankfully, winter came and everyone in Camp Sycamore went home, except Douglas and Joseph, of course, who partied all winter--though now it was more dinner parties for eight to ten than parties for 25 to 50. The Carringtons stayed in Grand Rapids.

While roasting chestnuts in their rebuilt fireplace one January weekend--the Garretts had lacked the money to rebuild it and had never used it--Douglas and Joseph and four of their friends reviewed all the "fun" they'd had that summer.

Camp Sycamore was certainly a "gem," they decided. So natural. So rustic. So accommodating to the debauched. They'd had a marvelous time that summer.

The only thing missing--truly the only thing--was more room for the partygoers to stay overnight. Couldn't they build something a "little" bigger?

All heads instinctively turned in the direction of the monstrosity next door.

"Well, of course, we can," said Douglas, who'd wanted to build bigger since they'd first bought the Garretts' house. "Look what's next door to us." He sipped his mulled wine. "Just think of all those rooms I could decorate."

Everyone laughed and smiled and toasted the fun couple.

And they submitted their plans for "Oak Hollow," their "updated little get-away," to the Camp Sycamore building committee that spring.

 

Oak Hollow made Fern Glen look like an out building. While Fern Glen had covered much of its lot, Oak Hollow covered nearly all of its, Douglas and Joseph feeling that a building was nicer than too much nature. After all, they could all look at the trees on other people's properties.

And they needed the room. Where were all their guests going to sleep? That was the whole point of building Oak Hollow: adding bedrooms and sleeping space.

And add them they did. Actually, they just flattened the Garretts' old cottage and built huge.

They dug a huge hole in the ground, poured a full basement, and managed to build a three-story, 5,000-square-foot house (compared to the Carrington's 4,000-square-foot one) by arguing that the Carrington's "viewing tower" actually made their house three stories, too.

"Well," Joseph had argued to the Camp Sycamore building committee, "if they can build a three-story house, why can't we?"

And the committee, the very picture of contemptible timidity, had caved in. They were all volunteers, they didn't want to be sued, the house wasn't near them, they didn't want to offend anyone, and what if they themselves wanted to build a bigger house, yada, yada. It was the same arguments they'd run through when the Carringtons built Fern Glen.

And here they were again.

And they got the same results: a huge house, except this time it was more rustic.

While the Carrington's was a bland dump, Oak Hollow was a tribute to over-the-top, rustic kitsch. While the Garretts' small cottage had been a rustic beauty, Oak Hollow looked like a hunting lodge from Montana squeezed into a tiny little lot. Instead of heroically overlooking thousands of acres of ranch, it overlooked Fern Glen's roof and the entire house next door. The Bileaths' cottage looked like a newsstand in comparison.

Oak Hollow was built of logs and rocks. It had three fireplaces, acres of dark pine paneling, dark pine floors, and rustic light fixtures made of deer antlers. Giant pine logs spanned the giant "great room," which looked like a hotel lobby to a hunting lodge and dwarfed the Carrington's. Placed vertically, other pine logs held up the roof.

The furniture was made out of logs and more dark wood. The artwork consisted of lots of portraits of handsome young men dressed as cowboys in very tight pants.

There were six bedrooms, four bathrooms, and the entire basement was filled with bunk beds--built of logs, of course--and designated as "the bunkhouse." In a corner, the ever-needed sump pump swigged away happily in its own private bunk room--lined in pine paneling, of course.

The house could easily sleep 30 people.

The dining room had a giant refectory table with enamel-ware plates and cups. So many people could stay in the place, they'd have to feed them in shifts from their industrial-sized kitchen.

It had a worn-out sign, "Chuck Wagon," hung over its entrance.

Douglas and Joseph loved their new house.

The Carringtons were aghast.

Everyone hoped this excess was the last.

But it wasn't: now Douglas and Joseph's friends wanted to buy in Camp Sycamore.

And that started some further fires.

 

The first pair who wanted to build were Kathy Ballard and Deva Litchfield. Kathy and Deva were a happily mated lesbian couple in their forties who had assembled an entire selection of multinational, adopted children, mostly from Asia. They had four of them, all under the age of six, who trundled behind them like a brood of slant-eyed goslings following their well-fed mothers. (Kathy and Deva liked to eat.)

Kathy and Deva were both in advertising: Kathy had her own very successful advertising production company in Kalamazoo. Deva worked for a big drug company, designing packaging.

They were wildly creative, wildly impulsive (hence the four adopted children when one would've done), and instantly found Camp Sycamore to be an open palette for their creative juices.

They bought a modest ranch on the other side of Camp from Douglas and Joseph and immediately submitted plans to expand it. The building committee felt their adrenaline surge: these were lesbians and friends of Douglas and Joseph. All their radar went up.

Kathy and Deva submitted plans that no one on the committee could understand. No one on the committee was an architect, and no one cared to learn. Plus the plans were laid out on small pieces of paper, there were lots of them, and they had lots of numbers and arrows on them.

Right.

So the committee members each hoped someone else on the committee had looked at the plans, and when no one really said anything other than, "It looks complicated," they approved them. Besides, Kathy and Deva had submitted plans in the dead of winter when no one was at Camp. If the committee couldn't meet in person, its members couldn't discuss the plans, and phone calls and e-mails were so tedious, and Kathy and Deva were just expanding an existing house, and yada, yada.

The plans were approved.

And Kathy and Deva started building what they called "the giant wedgie."

 

The giant wedgie looked like a pyramid laid on its side with the pointed end facing forward, where one entered. The architect incorporated the existing house by demolishing it and just leaving the basement. (That was shown in the plans submitted to the committee, but you really had to study them closely to figure it out.)

The wedgie was made of steel and glass--mirrored glass. Most of the walls were glass--mirrored glass--so when you walked by you could see the woods, the houses next door, and passing cars all reflected back at you.

It was a giant, jeweled--well--overturned pyramid that certainly didn't blend in with its surroundings. On a hot, sunny day, the ambient temperature around the reflecting glass was 140 degrees or more, creating its own mini-climate that cooked anything that came near it.

During migration, the birds crashed into it by the dozens, their little carcasses littering the ground and feeding the delighted raccoons, who scuffled around the place all night, munching and howling.

Kathy and Deva put owl cut-outs all over the surface to scare the birds away, but to no avail.

The carnage continued.

The inside was a mishmash of winding corridors, cantilevered stairs, and "sleeping platforms," where the children bedded down at night like baby hawks in their aeries.

The architect must have been hallucinating when he designed it. Kathy and Deva were when they gave him his instructions. (They liked a little mood elevation every now and then.)

But the one thing they got right was the size: it was huge and, of course, covered most of its lot. Not only did it tower three stories--or maybe four; who could tell?--over its neighbors, it allowed them to stare into brilliant images of themselves as they peered out their own windows.

All that mirrored glass. And, of course, the giant wedgie reflected all that light back on them on hot days. All of Bunny Burleigh's impatiens and ferns died that summer in the focused heat of the giant wedgie.

Bunny started keeping her Yorkshire terrier, Victoria, in on hot days.

The giant wedgie became known as the "attack house."

The Sycamites were up in arms. "These people" who were building these horrible houses had to be stopped. Something needed to be done. How could we let these houses be built? We should change the building guidelines. We should get going on it now.

Then the summer season ended and everyone went home and forgot about it.

That's when the Reeveses appeared.

 

The Reeveses were actually very, very rich and didn't need another house. They had three already, scattered around the tourist destinations of North America. But Juvonia Reeves had lived her whole life in Kalamazoo and was sentimental about the place. Her husband, Vestus, who owned a string of luxury car dealerships in the Midwest, liked to humor his wife, who had fallen in with Douglas and Joseph and thought herself "artistic."

She decided Camp Sycamore was "adorable."

So she and Vestus built a huge, antebellum Southern mansion--covering the entire lot, of course--two doors down from Douglas and Joseph. Douglas had talked her into it.

The Reeveses were black--very dark-skinned. Douglas thought the house, named "Mossback House" by its new owners, would be a comment on slavery.

The Reeveses thought it a great joke. They even had a little statue of a stable hand in livery with a lantern in his hand--yes, it lit up at night--in front of the house.

The statue had white skin and blonde hair.

The Reeves's house was flood-lit at night and looked like a national historic site of a pre-Civil War mansion somewhere outside of Natchez.

The multi-colored lights played on the three white columns of the front porch. The house towered three stories and had a dramatic cupola on top where the Reeveses installed a carillon.

It played every Sunday afternoon at three for fifteen minutes, usually a happy rendition of "Dixie" and "Camptown Races," until even the Reeveses thought it too obnoxious.

They replaced it with more soothing music.

You haven't lived until you've heard "I Heard It on the Grapevine" played on--bells. The Reeveses were major Motown music fans.

Ed and Cheryl Fulkerth, who lived between the Reeveses and Douglas and Joseph, freaked out. On one side was the antebellum South. On the other was the gay bunkhouse. Both dwarfed the Fulkerths' little two-story, clapboard house. Keith Fulkerth, Ed's father, had built his house in the 1960s, and thought he'd "gotten away with something" by building two stories when, of course, you were only supposed to build 1-1/2 stories.

Clearly, he was now completely outclassed by the lawlessness of his neighbors.

Besides, all the neighbors did was party. When Oak Hollow wasn't filled with gay men in tight pants pretending to be cowboys, the Reeveses were entertaining to the sound of blaring Motown music--and their carillon--at all hours of day and night.

The day Juvonia Reeves tottered over to the Fulkerths' on stiletto heels, a martini in hand, wanting to know if she and Vestus could rent the Fulkerths' for two weekends that summer--they were throwing two big parties and needed more sleeping space--was the day Ed snapped.

"Buzz off, you old whore!" he yelled at her, slamming the door in her face.

Juvonia was shocked. Vestus was shocked.

They called their lawyer.

And the lawsuits began.

 

If the "new people" at Camp Sycamore could afford to build giant houses, they could afford to hire big lawyers. They could entertain any attack of pique by filing a lawsuit.

And they did.

The Reeveses sued the Fulkerths for defamation of character and assault. Ed Fulkerth had been basting a turkey in the kitchen when called to the door and had waved the baster at Juvonia.

The charges were ridiculous, the judge would throw the whole thing out of court, but the Fulkerths would still have to pay $1,000 to hire a lawyer to defend them.

To add to the injustice of it all, the Reeveses also sued the Camp Sycamore Homeowners' Association for harboring such vile criminals in their midst--or some other such nonsense. The Reeveses' lawyer told them it was ridiculous, but they paid him a lot of money so he dug something up.

The Camp Sycamore Homeowners' Associations had to pay an attorney several hundred dollars to represent them in court. The judge threw it out and ordered the Reeveses to pay the association's legal costs, but the Sycamites were rattled. No one had ever sued the homeowners' association before.

The entire building and sites committee resigned in terror.

No one would take on any of the jobs in the homeowners' association. Everyone was a volunteer. The association by-laws did provide that the officers of the association--the president, the vice president, the treasurer--were covered by liability insurance against lawsuits, but not the lowly volunteers of building and sites.

Review of any new building was now more lax than ever, since it seemed to be unclear if the officers of the association, who now were the only ones left to review building plans, were actually covered by the officer liability insurance if they were acting as members of the building committee.

The answer appeared to be no.

The officers quaked in terror.

Then the Carringtons of Fern Glen sued Douglas and Joseph, the gay cowboys of Oak Hollow, for continually disturbing the peace with their loud parties. Douglas and Joseph countersued the Carringtons for blocking their sunlight. The Carringtons had decided to add a rooftop terrace to their "viewing tower" and it did block more light to Oak Hollow.

The Carringtons also sued the building and sites committee--or its former members, since all had resigned--for allowing Douglas and Joseph to build such a huge house "clearly out of compliance with association building standards."

Douglas and Joseph also sued the same members for allowing the Carringtons to build their huge house "clearly out of compliance with association building standards."

All five former members of the committee had to hire their own lawyers to defend them from the lawsuits.

The lawsuits were all frivolous. The judge threw them out and made the Carringtons and Douglas and Joseph pay the committee members' legal bills.

But the damage was done. All the sheep ran for cover.

In one stormy meeting, the homeowners' association voted to dissolve itself. Let the rules of the local township and county govern at Camp Sycamore. The Sycamites had lost their taste for self-government.

 

And so Wheeler Township now found itself the ruling body over Camp Sycamore. Camp Sycamore's restrictive building codes hadn't been enforced, but at least they'd existed and offered some restraint.

Now the developers moved in.

Look at all those dumpy old houses. Look at all those empty lots. Look at those unpaved private roads.

And they started buying.

Bryant Development out of Grand Rapids bought up five houses and three additional lots and applied to Wheeler Township's planning board to build a "small" condominium development.

Nothing too big, their attorney told the board, just 14, two- and three-bedroom luxury units in three-story buildings that would have a small "nature area"--about 10 yards square--with two bluebird boxes and a small stand of prairie grass.

The planning commission thought it a great idea, especially since Bryant Development would widen and pave the road to their development, called "Rustic Roost." Now that Camp Sycamore had deeded its narrow, sandy roads to the county, the county and township were anxious to get someone else to pave and widen them and bring them up to county standards.

The Sycamites were up in arms. How could the township and county do this to them? Douglas and Joseph, the Carringtons, the Reeveses, Kathy and Deva--all forgot their squabbles, hired an attorney, and battled Bryant Development, arguing that to allow a multi-family development in a single-family residential neighborhood would destroy their property values.

Bryant Development replied that they'd paid a lot more for the five houses they'd bought than they would've if the area was single-family, thus demolishing the "falling property values" argument.

There followed much heated debate about the "rustic nature" of Camp Sycamore, its "unique" space, and even an attempt to dig up some endangered species--which was completely specious.

After incurring $40,000 of legal expenses and taking Bryant Development to court, "Carrington et al" lost the case.

Rustic Roost was built, as were Hidden Cove, Pond Run, and Oak Grove.

 

Today, Lake Farkas is encircled by luxury condominiums all vying for "views of the lake." It looks like a low-rise version of Miami Beach, though another developer is talking of a six-story condominium, so maybe it will inch its way to high-rise. Apparently, people can't get enough of that gorgeous little lake whose shores are now ringed with boat docks, decks, mowed lawns, overlooks, and buildings. On a warm day in the summer, the noise of motorboats and jet skis drowns out conversation. Wheeler Township still doesn't have an effective noise ordinance.

The little strip of beach is now a public beach and is jammed with people all summer. The township installed big lights to discourage drunken parties at night.

The Carringtons, Douglas and Joseph, the Reeveses, and Kathy and Deva now have mid-rise condominiums going up around them.

The Carringtons are planning to sell to someone who says he plans to turn their house into a bed and breakfast.

The roads are paved, there are streetlights, and traffic is heavy on the weekends. Someone's talking of putting in a strip mall on the corner with a grocery store to serve the newly dense neighborhood.

Despite sharing a lawsuit to "defend" Camp Sycamore, the Carringtons and Douglas and Joseph are still frosty with each other.

They independently despair of the destruction of their rustic retreat and cannot, for the life of them, figure out how it all happened.

 

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