WESTLAND, Mass. It’s Sunday afternoon and Hal Hodges would rather be watching his beloved New England Patriots, but he’s up to his elbows in a legal brief that’s due at 8 o’clock sharp Monday morning. “No rest for the weary at this time of the year,” he says as he uploads a photo from his phone to his desktop computer. “I’ve got my game face on, except for that black stuff the players put under their eyes for some reason.”
Hodges is set to appear tomorrow in Dedham District Court on behalf of Myrna and Todd Grodolski, who have been cited by the Homeowners Association of Village II Townhouses for a twelve-foot inflatable dinosaur skeleton they’ve put on their lawn. The giant tyrannosaurus rex is an apparent violation of Article II, section 3.01(a) of the condo’s by-laws, but Hodges thinks he sees daylight to run for a touchdown.
“It’s not a ‘lawn display’ lawn display,” he says as he adds “Exhibit” tabs to the back of his legal papers. “It’s an article of personal property, a ‘chattel,’ that the Grodolskis can keep inside or outside their unit. So it’s none of those Nosey Parkers’ business.”
Hodges is known as the region’s pre-eminent practitioner in the growing field of holiday lawn display defense, a niche practice that has exploded over the past few years like an overinflated figure of the sort that appears outside suburban homes around this time of year. “The crunch begins in October with Halloween,” he says, “and continues with turkeys at Thanksgiving, followed by traditional displays of Christmas spirit, groundhogs and cupids in February.” While things slow down in the spring, there are leprechauns in March for St. Patrick’s Day and bunnies appear around Easter outside the residences of people who emphasize the candy aspect of the holiday rather than the passion and death of a major religious figure.
“They say it’s ‘tacky’ like that’s some kind of valid argument,” says Todd Grodolski. “The whole point of Halloween is to be tacky,” he says with a straight face as his wife pats his arm trying to keep him from getting too worked up over what is, after all, a piece of plastic that cost the couple $132.49.
The two leading sources of resistance to over-the-top holiday lawn displays are condo associations and municipal officials, who are charged with enforcing democratically-adopted laws. “Are you aware that our zoning code specifically prohibits inflatable lawn figures over ten feet tall?” Selectman Ed Phronig asked Attorney Mike Comasini at the Zoning Board of Appeals in this western suburb of Boston Monday night.
“Mr. Selectman Sir, I am aware of that provision,” Comasini replies, “but I would point out that the skeleton in question was not inflated and is therefore exempt from the scope of the regulation.”
“And what category, pray tell, does it belong under, Councilor?” Phronig asks with a sarcastic tone.
“Yard waste, which may be maintained on premises in a residential district until the next regular trash collection day.”