Vital Signs


This is a tale of two cultures.  The first is that of the 1960’s Britain where I grew up.  By and large, the taxpaying householder was still the unchallenged master of his domain.  The phrase “An Englishman’s home is his castle” hadn’t yet been tainted by satire or irony, nor by any hint of spurious egalitarianism.  If you engaged someone to sell you goods or services, with certain rare exceptions he did so strictly on your terms.  Britons upheld the essential employer-employee contract because, in the later words of Mrs. Thatcher, there was no alternative.

Fifty years on, here in Seattle, the relationship between the homeowner and his suppliers has changed appreciably.  The young men and women who periodically knock at my door to insist that I move my car or cut my trees, the better for their own state-funded intrusions on my property, do so without the least pretense of respect, let alone deference.  Because I’m middle-aged and repressed, I call them “Mr.” or “Miss” Smith, as the case may be.  They call me “Chris.”  When a county employee recently called to discuss the troubled matter of my neighborhood’s drains, I found myself confronted by an adolescent coated in designer stubble, with several bits of metal puncturing his face, clad in tennis shoes, and reeking of cigarette smoke.  A pleasant enough chap,...

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