Up the Down Staircase–or not

stairs       I’ve stumbled around for weeks now trying to think of something new to add to the topic of “breaking the rules.” Every time I think I might have an idea, someone else uses it and they do it better. That’s annoying. :-)

Several months back, I was returning from a meeting with a woman from my church. She’s on the county board in one position or another—always has been—and at present she’s on the zoning board. I don’t know what this involves, but as we drove along, she commented on a house that’s recently been constructed in the woods over a quarter mile off the road. There were rules, she said, governing how far from the road you could build a new residence; however, no one seemed to adhere to those rules anymore.

Hmmm, I said (I’m very profound), what’s wrong with building way off the road if that’s what you want to do? Why is it anyone’s business?

Well, she said (she’s also very profound), that’s just the rule.

But why? I wanted to know.

She didn’t know why, but she knew it was the rule and that was enough for her. It wouldn’t have been enough for me, but she’s 86 and I wasn’t going to argue the point anymore because I wasn’t building a new house anyway.

I went to elementary school in an old building with two floors and a basement. All the stairs were in two sets: one set for Up and one for Down. (I’d be willing to bet they’d been built with one set for girls and one for boys—it was an old school—but that’s neither here nor there. I just thought it would be interesting to know.)

Now, there was a good reason for the Up / Down rule. Even in a small school—there were 200 of us in 12 grades—it was quite a thumping crowd when class let out, and it would have been completely unsafe if we’d been going in both directions at once.

Every once in a while, if there were no teachers in the hallways and it was that kind of day, some of us went Up the Down Staircase. Or vice versa. And I capitalized that because it’s the title to a movie I’ve seen but can’t remember. We did that simply to break the rule. On account of it was, you know, there.

Because something is a rule isn’t a good enough reason NOT to break it. Breaking a rule just because it’s a rule isn’t a good enough reason TO break it. Right?

Works for me. Admittedly, I think it’s more important in some things than others. Like the rule that says First do no harm—if you choose to break that one, I don’t even want to know you. But if you go the wrong way on the stairs because you’re in a hellbent for leather hurry to get a kid to the doctor, hey, that’s a no-brainer.

So there I am on rules, and I realize on the reading-back-over-looking-for-typos that I’ve said Absolutely Nothing New. Thanks for reading anyway. Have a good day. Take the stairs when you leave. No, not those that little people are pounding down—the ones over there. And while you’re at it, write a book about a musician or a basketball player—I’ll bet it will be great. Sentence fragments, dangling participles, prepositions in the wrong places, and all.


Up the Down Staircase–or not — 24 Comments

  1. This was a fun post, Liz!

    As an American who lived in the over-regulated UK and now in under-regulated South Africa, I’m still not sure where I come down on rules like the house-distance-from-road one. I rolled my eyes when Britain introduced a fine for “hogging” middle lanes on highways, but now that I commute by car in a country that doesn’t require insurance or ANY kind of vehicle safety inspection, I sometimes miss those anal British traffic cops!

  2. Your post made me smile, Liz. When I was a kid, one of the things I loved to do was run up the down escalators. I’m sure the grown-ups didn’t approve, but during those moments, I didn’t care. I’ll admit, these days I tend to confine my rule breaking to my stories, but it’s still a lot of fun. Cheers!

  3. An enjoyable post, as I nodded in agreement as I went along. I do see the reasoning for some zoning codes–but distance from road, no :) I’ve been in my current place since 1999. It was sold to us as an acre and a half–perfect for our retirement needs, we thought, looking ahead (we’d downsized from 40-plus acres in another state.) Last year, I contacted the county assessor for one reason or another to be told I could have a piece of land that small in the rural sections of the county–the code called for three acres minimum. Well, I asked, what should I do? That’s what we had been sold. He was silent for a moment, then said, “Well, you must have bought before the rules were made.” LOL.

    • I’m sure glad they didn’t get insistent you buy some more land. Here in FL in my sister-in-law’s neighborhood, they’ve decreed that lots for new construction must be at least two acres, but at least they’ve decided to let everyone else stay!

  4. *raises hand* I too break Certain Rules That Seem Idiotic. I go In the Exit at Walmart all the time, esp in cold weather, since it’s closer. I would probably be the one on the wrong staircase, lol!

    Writing-wise, several years back my son watched me over my shoulder and told me,”Mom, my teacher (he was in HS) said a paragraph needed to have no less than 5 sentences. You only have 2 in that one.”

    I looked at him. “First you learn the rules and THEN you can break them.”

    “That’s not fair.”

    Maybe I’m just a rebel at heart? Nah; I’m a stickler for the obvious rules….but at 1am when walking home from karaoke, there’s no traffic but a red light, I still cross. Same thing if I’m driving on the outskirts of town. I walk diagonally from corner to corner (I wish crossing guards would let kids do that, instead of making us wait!).

    • That was a good answer, Molly. I remember trying to explain to one of my sons when he was writing a paper that sometimes making something readable, drawing a picture with words, was more important that following all writing rules, all the time. His paper had an extra red mark because of me, but it read beautifully!

  5. Good post! I was speaking to my niece yesterday and she lives in the town where I went to HS. OMG! The rules! You have to have your house a certain color. You have to have so many trees on the property, etc, etc. It’s absurd.

    • Hi, D. I think those “planned” neighborhoods are pretty, but don’t think I’d like to be quite that controlled. Life in the boonies is inconvenient, but our clotheslines, flags, paint colors, and fence heights (among other things) are up to us.

      • Liz, do you remember back in the 90’s, a little girl won a Sesame Street playhouse, but since it wasn’t ‘neighborhood compliant’ with their particular Neighborhood Watch Rules (or whatever it was), she had to give it up? I cannot IMAGINE being 6 years old and being told, ‘I’m sorry; you won this but it’s against the rules so we have to give it to someone else.’ I think they even went to court over it.

        IDIOTS! It’s a PLAYHOUSE!

        • I think I remember that. Reminds me of a little of this deal lately when the little girl shaved her head in empathy for her friend who lost her friend to chemo and the charter school she attended wanted to suspend her from attending school because she didn’t adhere to dress code and would be a distraction. Don’t even get me started on that one!!!

    • Hi, Jeffe. In my heart, I think I’m still one who loves to go up the down, but in reality I’ve made peace with rules that don’t drive me over the edge. (Though I’m still doing a bit of foot-stomping and ranting about those that do.)

  6. Hi, Liz! Sometimes, in writing, rules are meant to be broken.

    As far as house set backs, in specific neighborhoods, there is a regulation set back. It’s called streetscaping and on very old streets is very noticeable and stunning.

    We had two staircases in school with the same rule. lol

    • I’ve seen this in old neighborhoods and I agree it’s beautiful, but I guess I assumed people WANTed their houses set that way, not that they were regulated to do it. (Naivete is one of my more obvious charms.) The one I was talking about was rural, with no other houses within a quarter mile. I assume the rule had to do with fire and police services, but I’m not sure even of that. Thanks for coming by, Vicki!

  7. As far as set back, sometimes that’s to ensure safety in case of fire…distance from hydrants and that sort of thing. And sometimes those zoning rules have to do with what someone thinks makes for a more attractive neighborhood. Such as no fences in the front yard. I’m very protective of my property lines and strongly believe in fences…so you won’t find me living there!
    Anyone remember the book “Up The Down Staircase” about a young teacher in the inner cities? Profound…she and her students spoke English but she found out they did not speak the same language

    • I thought it might be, though we don’t have hydrants anyway. The movie I mentioned in the post was made from that book. It’s okay with me if neighborhoods are like that–they ARE pretty–but like you, I don’t want to live in them. :-)

  8. Liz, the first thing I thought of when I looked at your picture of the lovely house set far back from the road was “That’s an awful lot of lane to plow in the winter. How are they gonna get out of there?” How can you tell I live in Canada and we’re still in the grip of a winter of record snowfall and cold?

    • LOL, Jana. I live back one of those lanes, too, and I’m glad not to have been there this winter! I love our lane and our privacy(in summer)and even though I would never buy so far off the road again, it would bother me if someone told me I couldn’t!

  9. I’m still that “kid” who wants to know, “But, why?” So I agree with the fact that just stating that something is a rule isn’t enough. Every now and then those rules need to be dusted off and re-examined to see if they’re still applicable.

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