Commentary

Saunders: Banning sofas on the porch? That's just tacky

bsaunders@newsobserver.com June 13, 2012 

Look out, you food-hoarding, gun-loving, camouflage-wearing conspiracy theorists: the government really is on your front porch.

Literally. A few days ago, the Durham City Council approved an ordinance striking down a Southern tradition. It banned indoor, upholstered furniture from front porches.

You read right: you can no longer indulge in one of the great Southern comforts known to mankind - coming home after a hard day’s work and plopping down with a cold one and chatting with your neighbor on that genuine imitation Naugahyde couch you dragged onto the porch because it’s too tattered for the front room but not raggedy enough for the trash heap. And if your neighbor is a pretty little thing who Sweet Thang doesn’t like, you may find yourself sleeping on it that night.

Not only is the banning of sofas from the front porch an assault on a cherished Southern practice, it’s also an assault on poor people. Do you have any rich relatives who’re going to hold onto a red pleather Barcalounger whose guts are held in place with silver duct tape?

You can sympathize with city officials even if you, like me, view keeping a battered easy chair on the front porch a constitutional right. Ric Hester of Durham’s Neighborhood Improvement Services told me sofas and such sprouting on porches and in yards “has become almost an epidemic in parts of Northeast Durham.” On some streets, he said, “it seems like every other house” is guilty.

That’s too much even for me, a dude who not only appreciates tackiness but who worships at its altar. Still, at a time when your garbage man will chastise you for putting a plastic milk jug in the trash can instead of in the recycling bin - oh, so I’m the only one? - it seems incongruous of the city to hassle people who are really buying into the recycling movement. It ought to give them blue ribbons.

A warning from Wilson

I warned you about this 14 years ago when a group of busybodies called the Wilson Appearance Committee persuaded that city to ban indoor furniture from front porches. That it has come to such a pass in Durham is our fault. We should’ve protested instead of passively accepting it when our Wilson brethren and sisteren were being assaulted by the good-taste police. Who knows how effective a massive protest - a front-porch sit-out? - would have been in halting the spread of such a law?

Just as when Sherman passed through here on his gloriously destructive march to the sea, another cherished Southern tradition is falling to another Northern movement. I figured nobody born down here is going to object to a couch on the porch, unless they’ve been colleged Up North, but Hester said his department receives three to five complaints a week from people who can’t abide their neighbor’s louche and waterlogged faux-leather front porch loveseat.

Whither Rockingham?

Regardless from whom the complaints originate, I want to be around when they spread down to Rockingham, where people have had indoor furniture on porches and yards for as long as I can remember. If you turn down a certain street, you’ll probably see porches and yards adorned not just with sofas but with the rear seat of a beloved but trashed 1977 El Dorado.

I love living in Durham, but face it: the Bull City isn’t Mayberry, and the only thing a gutted plaid sofa on somebody’s front porch assaults is a sense of decorum.

The same can’t be said for other threats to community comity. Why, if we sit back and let government tell us what we can do on our front porch, next thing you know they’ll be telling us what we can do in our bedroom.

Oh yeah: it just did that last month. Remember that marriage amendment?

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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