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Hey you, Mr. Town House, living in the Laurel-Reston-Germantown-Woodbridge suburban hellhole at the end of a 78-minute-on-a-good-day commute. You want to see evidence

of your quality of life? Just take a butter knife from the drawer. Plunge it into

the drywall enclosing your living room, and cut out a small hole. You’ll find a

thin layer of insulation, which comes apart like cotton candy. Pluck it out of the hole. Next, take a couple of jabs at the fiber board; it’ll crumble on impact. Now all you got is the cheap vinyl siding that masquerades as your house’s protective shell. You can cut through the vinyl or simply push against it until the whole panel comes off.

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This is your Valhalla—a three-bedroom town home you bought for $110,000 in Columbia. In the District, you figure, the same mortgage would have fetched you a cramped condo near Dupont Circle or some run-down house with drafty windows in some inner-city war zone. Your place is fully carpeted, with tiled bathroom and a little deck out back. It’s new and clean. And your neighbors look nice. It’s the perfect scene for you: white walls, white carpet, white people.

So you don’t really mind that your new house has all the structural integrity of a mobile home minus the wheels and the propane tank. If you think about it, you’d be better off in a trailer park. At least there you could throw your empties on your front lawn without getting hassled by the watchdogs in your planned community. At least there you could paint your shutters funky colors without triggering a brouhaha at the next homeowners meeting. At least there you wouldn’t be throwing away something more precious than your HBO, ESPN, and remote: your individuality.

Like a well-trained platoon, you and your neighbors do the same things at the same times. After dinner, you all pull away from the same faux-cherry dining table, take a left into the same foyer, dash into the same first-floor bathroom, and back one out in time to pour the same Diet Coke into the same oversize plastic cup before you head down to the same basement TV room. You plop the same New Release from the same Blockbuster into the same VCR. When you’re ready to shut it down, you sleep in the same bedroom on the same sheets—Bed, Bath & Beyond, after all, was having a sale just as you moved in.

Your assigned parking spot is No. 89. And God help the motherfucker who thinks he can get away with leaving his Mitsubishi Eclipse in No. 89. You’ve got the number of the towing company on your cell phone speed dial. The only time you’ve met your neighbor was when you sicked the tow truck on his son-in-law, who was unschooled in the religion of planned-community parking. No one messes with No. 89 because your car is your

life. You need it to get groceries, to go to the movies, to go out

on a date, to go to work, to meet friends, to cruise 12th Street and peep at whores.

But that’s OK because you never have to walk anywhere. You don’t have to walk past the homeless guy who insults you when you stiff him for change. You don’t have to walk past flower vendors who can barely speak English. You don’t have to worry about getting blindsided by bike messengers. You don’t have to walk past moviehouses that show films with subtitles. You can appreciate the cherry blossoms and the monuments from your car. You don’t have to worry about where you’re going, because out where you live, life is one big cul-de-sac.