Have you read “Bowling Alone”? I’ve had to. And for all the precious white-man’s-nostalgia that fills hundreds of pages of that book and many others, social capital has never been a positive aspect of society for me. The people who yearn for the days when everyone in town knew their middle name were never teenagers in that town. They never had their first boy or their first drunk obsessively reviewed and painstakingly remembered by the entire populace. None of those people (I’m looking at you, Dr. Putnam) ever question why their ancestors, neck deep in social capital, gave it some distance as soon as they could move West. And they also leave out the fun stuff.
Five years ago I took down a few young spruce out by the road and left a tall stump, stripped of branches, to put up a birdhouse. Before I could get to that step someone came by and nailed a plastic owl – the kind you use to scare off pigeons from your gingerbread – to the top of the stump. Ever since anonymous owl-lovers have decorated the plastic statue for every holiday. Bunny ears are followed by patriotic bunting, then plastic harvest flowers from WalMart, a Halloween costume (the pirate get-up with miniature parrot was a nice touch) and finally a wreath, Santa hat and red glass ornaments that generally last until the bunny ears come round again. He wore a tiny mortarboard for our son’s high school graduation and occasionally dons sunglasses at the height of summer.
Last night I came home to find the owl wearing a pumpkin head, and tonight I went out and added the wig. If the VeggieTales made horror movies (and they should) this would be The Bride of Punkinhead.
When you have real social capital, you can collectively and anonymously make a joke. That’s probably the real test of the concept – can you decorate the local lawn art and not be charged with vandalism? If your neighbor came on your property for the express purpose of putting sunglasses on your owl, would you call it trespassing? If not, you’ve probably got a nice little block party in store. Load up on cider and call everybody over – it’s a good thing.