Allow me to begin this week's metaphysical deep dive with a burning question regarding a clash of civilizations: What happens when Americana meets America?
"Americana" is the place of an oft over-glorified past, of motherhood, apple pie, houses that needn't be locked and gooey happiness on every street corner, from sea to shining sea. "America" is the land of the aggrieved, of women's rights under attack, lawsuits over the pies, alarm systems guarding the houses, danger lurking on the street corners and as to the seas, well, if they are shining, it's from the reflection of discarded aluminum cans.
The pleasant St. Louis suburb of Ballwin is one of the places where the civilizations appear to co-exist in peace. Setting aside the miles of obligatory strip malls, it's a charming community, with well-kept subdivisions of middle-class homes with basketball hoops adorning garages and beautiful foliage whose maturity attests that this suburban genre of the American dream has been with us for half a century and counting.
Ballwin is also the place where the following controversy rages: One of its tranquil subdivisions is the site of heated conflict over what to do when sacred "indentures" (subdivision-ese for "rules") are affronted by young girls learning to pitch softballs in one of its picturesque backyards. In short, at the behest of a cranky neighbor (he claims he wasn't alone, as if it matters) — and over the stated objections of just about everyone living on the street (who signed a petition supporting the softball players) — this nefarious playing of catch has been ordered to cease and desist.
The Country Creek Homeowners Association voted to prohibit one Christe Boen-Mirikitani from giving softball pitching lessons in her parents' backyard. How pathetic. Yes, she was "operating a business" there, but she was teaching kids pitching, not selling vapeware. It's understandable when homeowners complain about a neighbor who's truly loud or obnoxious. But teaching young girls softball in the backyard?
Especially galling is that Boen-Mirikitani is a former world-class athlete, the pride of Ballwin before becoming the target of one its HOAs. Growing up as Christe Boen in this very subdivision, she learned to pitch in the same backyard and went on to lead Parkway West High School to a state championship and the University of Missouri to the College World Series.
Boen-Mirikitani is now a chiropractor who spends a grand total of eight hours per week giving paid softball-pitching lessons to girls ages eight to eighteen. She was doing it in her parents' backyard — "my field of dreams," she calls it — but she has temporarily relocated to some batting cages while she rallies neighbors' support. She has retained the services of attorney Jay Kanzler (my KTRS radio partner) should they be needed.
The situation evoked a Post-Dispatch column by Tony Messenger, who laid out how ridiculous the situation was. His story should have shamed the Country Creek HOA into crawling under a rock, but it didn't. Neither did a recent KSDK news segment.
So now there's me showing up, hardly a momentous event, but I felt a burning need to advance the story. I decided I should be a man on a mission: Find Mr. Wilson.
As much as it pains me to be old enough to say it, one of my favorite TV shows as a child was Dennis the Menace, which was a big hit from its debut in 1959. The show was pure Americana. As you probably know, Dennis was the lovable protagonist who tortured his parents' charmingly cranky neighbor with the greeting "Hello, Mr. Wilson!" before doing something to drive him nuts.
When I read Messenger's piece, there was no question in my mind that Boen-Mirikitani had encountered a latter-day Mr. Wilson, a cranky senior. There was no reason to assume that, but when you're from a certain era, it just seems like an obvious inference.
Well, I was wrong. Boen-Mirikitani told me the guy's name and where he worked — it was no secret, as he was outspoken at the HOA meetings. And after employing my vast investigative journalism skills (OK, I went to LinkedIn and did a Google search), I discovered that "Mr. Wilson" turned out to be a millennial about half my age who works in digital marketing for a bank.
That's right: The guy annoyed by young girls pitching softball in the backyard pitches bank advertising for a living. Call me crazy, but I find bank advertising far more annoying than softball, and digital advertising far more annoying than almost anything, especially when it mystically appears on my cellphone with a message like, "Hey, we see you just drove by a car dealer. Need a loan?" Such is life in today's America, where privacy is as outdated as a wall phone.
But this isn't a story about what annoys me. It's about what annoys this latter-day Mr. Wilson, heretofore to be identified as "Bank Marketing Guy."
When I reached out to Bank Marketing Guy, he was annoyed that I used LinkedIn to find him, which is at least a bit ironic. And then he was very forceful about how his identity must be kept private, which is at least a bit amusing. That actually isn't Bank Marketing Guy's call, not after he's spoken out at a neighborhood association meeting.
Even so, I'm not mentioning Bank Marketing Guy's name nor his bank because I don't want to be to him what he has been to Boen-Mirikitani, which is mean and hurtful. His effort — or, as he insists, the effort of other unidentified angry neighbors, for which he claims he has been unfairly singled out — is utterly unnecessary.
I visited Boen-Mirikitani's parents' backyard last week and saw the scene of the crime: an area about fifteen by fifty feet tucked into a corner of the yard abutting some lovely foliage that blocks the view of a little creek behind it. Boen-Mirikitani pointed to where Bank Marketing Guy lives on the other side of the creek, but you can't see his house because it's blocked by the trees.
She was teaching Monday and Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. and Tuesday from 4 to 8 p.m. Apparently, some lights she used briefly for lessons at dusk were visible (and perhaps even irritating) to Bank Marketing Guy.
Oh, and there were sounds. Yes, the houses are close enough that the noise of a softball popping into a glove and people cheering on the students could undoubtedly make their way into Bank Marketing Guy's ear-space. "Kids playing in the backyard is the greatest sound on earth," says one of Boen-Mirikitani's neighbors.
Not to Bank Marketing Guy and the HOA. ("There have been multiple complaints from several adjacent homeowners and none are saying it should stop," the HOA says in a statement, "but simply asking that the business be moved out of the subdivision.")
I don't know or care whether Boen-Mirikitani is breaking some subdivision sacred covenants. Before there was digital marketing, subdivision indentures ranked on most people's top-ten annoyance lists. And as the petition she's gathered shows, the people on her parents' street appear to value the simple decency of her work. That's good enough for me.
In fact, I say the HOA and Bank Marketing Guy owe her an apology. I'd suggest they bake some cookies for the girls, even if that might require health department inspections necessitating a special assessment.
Meanwhile, I should return to my initial question about what happens when Americana meets America. If Mr. Wilson is now being portrayed by millennials, here's my answer: nothing good.
Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann and Jay Kanzler from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).