about the issue

Having always lived in Mt. Lebanon with its eclectic architecture, I get disoriented in a subdivision where every house or condo looks alike. “What if you walked into the wrong house?” I have mused on more than one occasion.

That “what if” became a reality this winter when my friend Val and I were visiting our mutual friend Susan in a lovely golf course community in Bonita Springs, Florida. Everything about The Brooks, where Susan lives, is perfect—lush links, lovely ponds and pools, an elegant clubhouse, posh plantings. The challenge—at least for me—is that the two-story condos in each subdivision are identical, and each address has a Unit 101 on the ground floor and a Unit 102 upstairs.

The afternoon we arrived, Val and I strolled to the pool to catch a few rays and read. Not surprisingly, we didn’t get much reading done because we never stopped talking. Realizing it was time to get ready for dinner, we grabbed cans of Diet Coke, locked the pool gate behind us and without skipping a beat continued our nonstop conversation as we walked.

The front door was unlocked, so we let ourselves in, walked down the hall, past the living room/dining room area and into the kitchen, where we thought we would find our hostess.

“Omigosh,” I said to Val, “Susan changed the rugs in the kitchen while we were out.  “Yikes,” said Val, “and she didn’t have a mirror on the dining room wall either. We’re in the wrong house.”

Just then, we heard the frantic bark of what sounded like a Rottweiler or a Doberman. EEEEIIIIIIII… We turned on our heels and were outta there in a nanosecond, leaving dribbles of soda on the kitchen floor. (The dog must have been crated, because he didn’t catch us.)

We ran a few feet further, let ourselves into the correct Unit 101 and confessed. Did Susan know the people? No. Should we write them a note? We couldn’t decide. They probably wouldn’t even notice the cola on the floor, we concluded, and spent the next four days intermittently guffawing about our misstep.

So what’s my point? In Mt. Lebanon, it is unlikely that people will let themselves into the wrong house—at least while sober—because residents take pride in making their homes unique.

Few houses are exact replicas of each other, and even when you find “matching” houses, the owners usually have taken pains to individualize with paint colors, lighting fixtures, shrubbery, walls, fences, walkways and additions, ranging from new entry ways to three-story bump-outs.

Sometimes improvements are a calculated investment; sometimes they’re a response to a growing (or shrinking) family, and sometimes, as in the case of the family featured in M.A. Jackson’s story, page 34, they’re a response to damage caused by wind, rain or fire. Whatever the reason, people all over town constantly are making changes large and small that set apart their houses, distinguish our town, and from Val’s and my perspective, make it hard to innocently break and enter. Thanks.